The Pros and Cons of Creating Commissioned Artwork for Collectors

By Steff Metal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Taking art commissions from collectors can be an excellent way for an artist to forge a full-time career. If someone enjoys your work, they might ask you to create a custom piece for them for their home, office, or as a gift. . . and working with the client to realize their idea can also be extremely rewarding.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard enough horror stories from fellow artists about the perils of taking on commissions that I’m not surprised many creatives avoid them like the plague. But commissions don’t have to be scary!

Below are a few of the advantages and disadvantages to taking commissions, along with some advice on what you can do to ensure that the commission process goes as smoothly as possible.

Advantages to creating commissioned artwork

There are several advantages to making commissioned artwork part of your overall revenue-generation scheme.

• Commissions fetch a higher price than the work you create for galleries and shops (you also don’t have to split the sale price) and for many artists, commissions make up the majority of their income.

• It can be extremely gratifying taking a client’s vision and ideas and bringing them to life. Commissions enable artists who enjoy working with people to focus their attention on responding to the collector’s desires.

• Corporate or business commissions often hang in public places like office lobbies, hotels, public spaces and public buildings. This leads to more exposure and a higher profile for your work.

• Many commission projects have an interesting brief, and offer artistic challenges you might not get through your own work.

• If you’re finding commission work through websites which connect buyers and sellers, there are often feedback ratings included for the people you are considering working for. This can be a great way to provide yourself some protection. If a buyer has a lot of negative feedback, obviously you should not be working with them. If they have an impeccable record and purchase from other vendors often, they’re much less likely to want to tarnish their score by being difficult.

Disadvantages to taking commission work

The biggest reason that commission projects fall through is because the artist doesn’t do their due diligence before they enter into the relationship. You’ve simply GOT to research the person or company who is hiring you. You need to know that they have a good history with business relationships (which is what this is) and that other artists haven’t had negative experiences working with them in the past.

Many artists who begin to work on commissions find they underestimate the time and effort required, meaning they under-quote their price, and end up spending months working on the project without any money coming in. Always ask for 50% upfront, and carefully work out how many hours you’ll need to finish a project, adding a 10% contingency to cover problems and delays.

Unlike galleries, shows or online shops where you have a simple retail relationship with your customers or the gallery, taking artist commissions means you’re providing services to a client, and it’s your responsibility to have a process in place to ensure you provide the best service possible. This means lots of initial meetings to determine the scope of the project, having the client approve initial designs and notifying them of changes, and drawing up a contract that offers protection for both parties.

At the end of the day, it’s all about planning ahead. Know how much time you’ll need, and figure out a price that’s fair to your client while compensating you for your talent and time.

If you can create good working systems for yourself and keep open lines of communication with your clients, commissions can be a great way to add some serious revenue to your bottom line.


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