Making Commissions a (Joyful) Part of Your Business

Hello art friends,

A couple of weeks ago, I had several artists ask me for a post on commissions and so here we are. I want to talk not just about taking commissions as part of your business, but taking them in a way that feels good for you as the artist and takes as much stress out of the process as possible.

So, let’s talk about why you would even want to do commissions in the first place. What I personally love about commissions from a business perspective is that they are guaranteed money up front. If you have your contract set up correctly, you’ll take a deposit up front and the rest upon completion of your painting. I also charge more for commissions than for a painting available on my website. So financially they can be an important part of your business. I also like to offer commissions because people often want or need a painting in a custom size or color-way to fit their space. Offering commissions allows you to meet these client’s needs when they might otherwise not be able to make a standard sized painting work for them.

But the problem when you are just getting started offering commissions is that they can be stressful. Making something with someone else’s specifications in mind often takes the fun out of the artistic process, especially if you’re making work outside of your usual style.

Here are the three things I implemented in my own commission process to make thing enjoyable for me.

1) I never take on a project outside of my style.

I paint calm layered abstract paintings. So if someone wants to commission me for a portrait, or even just something in a color palette that I wouldn’t normally use, I confidently say no. If someone sends me a picture of another artist’s work and asks if I can make something similar, I say no to that too.

2) You need to do is figure out what it is about commissions you don’t like and adjust accordingly.

Making changes to the commissions process should make the work more enjoyable for you. For me, when I was just getting started painting commissions, I felt a lot of pressure to get the painting exactly the way I thought my client wanted it. And I found myself second-guessing my own choices and ending up with a painting I wasn’t entirely happy with. There was just too much pressure on the results when my process is very organic and intuitive.

So, I took off the pressure by creating two paintings for every commission. Often I would do one more in line with what I thought the client wanted. And the other I just let evolve naturally. And then I would let the client pick between the two. It worked out really well and I did that for several years until I felt more comfortable in my process. These days I still create two paintings to choose from about half the time. It’s what works for me.

3) Have a contract that outlines exactly what you are providing for your client.

Your contract should also include the payment schedule, and, most importantly, how many times you will make changes for the client. I find that defining all these things very clearly up front means I have very few problems down the line.

To review, in order to make the commission process more enjoyable, you need to say no to projects outside your style, figure out what you don’t like about the process and fix it (in my case that meant painting in pairs), and make sure you have a contract that clearly defines your responsibilities and expectations.

Then you’ll be on your way to growing a lucrative part of your business that you also enjoy.

All my best,


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