Ha! As I started this post I noticed the last one I made was not only from December, but was also about keeping on top of posting more regularly. Welp, guess that New Year's resolution was a bust right from the start! Oh well. There's always next year... right?
Anyway, for this month's post I'd like to share some tips on how to commission an artwork, particularly work that is unique and doesn't fit a specific format - like the requirements I have for commissioning my house portraits. I know I've posted something like this before, but it's always good to send out a reminder now and again. Often times when I'm approached by people for a commission they're not really sure how the process works. If you have an idea for a piece you'd like an artist to create for you here are some things you want to keep in mind when putting in your request. Granted, these are just general tips and each artist can do things a little differently, but going in with an idea of what to ask for and what to expect should (hopefully!) make the process easier for you and the artist you're working with. Ultimately it just comes down to: communication is KEY.
Know Your Artist So for starters, knowing what kind of medium the artist you're choosing works with is key. A lot of people think that being an artist means that we can do everything from painting and drawing to sculpture to pottery to photography. While we may enjoy dabbling in a variety of media, typically an artist will stick with one niche for a majority of their work. For example, I mainly do drawings/paintings of landscapes and still-life. If you come to me looking to commission a photo shoot or a woven basket sculpture... sorry, but you're going to be straight out of luck. Do yourself a favor and take the time to look through their portfolio to get an idea of what kind of work they do on a regular basis. That way you can determine if what you're asking for is something that's "in their wheelhouse" or if you need to look for another artist.
Once you've decided on an artist now it's time to approach them with information about what you want your piece to be. This is where you can make things really easy for the artist or really difficult. Providing the artists with details about what you want can be very helpful. Including (clear) reference photos can be even better. While artists are very creative people who can imagine something even cooler than what you initially thought of... we are not mind readers. Trust me, it would be so helpful if we were! You may think saying, "Do whatever you like, I trust you to come up with something cool!" is an artist's dream, but having no direction as to what you're looking for is a good way to frustrate the artist and wind up disappointed with the end result. Other details to think about are: How large do you want the piece to be? When do you need the piece finished? If sharing reference photos, are there things you want changed/removed/added in the artwork? What does your budget look like? These are all very important questions that should be answered before the piece has been started and then should be put into writing so everything is clear for both parties.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Conversely, dumping too much detail into a piece can also be a mistake. If someone asks me for a piece and throws a mishmosh of ideas at me it is a clear sign that they have no idea what they really want. Sometimes after sitting down and sketching some ideas out we can come to a clearer direction for the work, and sometimes I leave just as confused as I came in. If I don't know what you want, again, it is more than likely you will not be happy with the end result. When you aren't entirely sure what you want the final piece to look like I recommend asking the artist to sketch out two or three ideas for you and narrow it down to one composition before they begin the final piece. And if you still can't decide, maybe now is not the time to commission an artwork. Take some time to think about what you really want and come back when you have a clearer picture in mind.
How Much Can You Spend?
Many people have no idea what it may cost to commission an artwork. Truth is... it can be rather arbitrary. There is no standard for what artists charge for their work since a lot depends on what medium they work in - i.e. how expensive is it for them to purchase materials, how long it takes, their years of experience, how well-known they are, etc. And more often than not, people are shocked at how expensive artwork can be, even from artists that aren't famous. If you want to purchase artwork you need to be prepared to pay quite a bit for it and look at it as an investment. Art takes a lot of time to create and is expensive for the artist too; it's not just the cost of materials but other overhead costs that get factored into prices as well. Remember, artists are selling their work for income, not just for kicks. And please, PLEASE do not assume you can ask for a discounted price by offering exposure for the artist on your social media platforms. Quite frankly, that can just be downright insulting because you wouldn't do that for other professions, like plumbers or electricians... at least one would hope not! You may have heard a "colorful" song going around on Instagram that goes like this:
It costs that much 'cause it takes me *CENSORED* hours,
It costs that much 'cause I don't have super powers!
You need to pay for my skills
'Cause exposure doesn't pay the bills,
It costs that much 'cause it takes me *CENSORED* hours.
That's the truth of it. So if you are on a tight budget have a max price point in mind of what you are able to spend. If you at least know that much an artist can usually work with you to come up with something that will fit within your budget. If not, they can at least quote you a price so you know how much you will have to save up in order to commission the work at a later date. And of course, once things are decided - get everything in writing!
What if They Say No?
So what do you do if you come to an artist, ready with all the details about the piece you want and a budget in mind, and they say no? Well, first of all, don't take it personally. There are a variety of reasons an artist may be unwilling to take on a commission. They may already be booked with other work and can't accommodate your work in the time frame requested (which is why you should always plan well in advance for what you want!). Or maybe they've stopped taking commissions in order to focus more on selling their work through a gallery. Perhaps they are dealing with some personal, family or health issues and can't take on more work at the moment. You never know what someone is going through at any given time so again, try not to take a rejection personally. It rarely is about you. (Okay, maybe if you've had a contentious relationship with the artist in the past it may be about you... but that is typically the exception to the rule!) In any case, try to be understanding of whatever the artist's reasons are and either ask for a time when the artist is able to accept your commission or look for another artist to accommodate you. And of course, if your commission is accepted - BE SURE TO GET IT IN WRITING! Having a contract hammering out all the details including price, timeline, size, medium, etc. will protect you the client as well as the artist from confusion, misunderstanding and frustration.
Still have questions about what to do if you want to commission an artwork for yourself or a friend? Drop a comment or shoot me an email! And if you are an artist yourself feel free to share any other tips I may have missed.