How I Learned to Love Art Commissions

Guest blogger Brenda McMahon made it her mission to re-frame the commission, and turn art show angst into sales.



"Bodhi Tree" mural by artist Brenda McMahon. Read her article about taking art commissions at


Let me start with a big reveal… I used to be afraid of commissions, but I have grown to love them! Commissions are wonderful for two reasons: the work you are making is already sold, and a collaboration with a client can open up creative avenues you may never have otherwise explored.

I know, I know, you hate custom orders because the client is too picky, alters your creative vision and becomes too demanding, making you feel creatively stifled or micro-managed. I’ve heard all that, and early on I felt that way too. I must say, for me that feeling came from a place of fear of not being able to live up to the expectation. After moving through some deeper self-doubt, I have come to a place of joy working on custom orders.

One of the shifts that opened the pathway to custom work was re-framing my intention heading into commissions. I believe it is my duty to “serve” when I create a custom art piece. I encourage clients to communicate, to express what they want and share what they like about my work. After all, I am charging them a premium for this service, so it is their right to be a part of that creative process. In fact, I approach custom orders as a collaboration of the client’s desires with the artist’s aesthetic.

Commissions are rife with opportunity. I am at an art show and I see a customer connect to my work. We chat about the highlights. I ask questions about their needs and interest and all is going well. Then I hear the foreboding “But …. I’m just not sure” (aka No).  It is at this point where I can tell that the piece before them has captured their attention, but it’s just not the right one. So I shift gears and immediately move into the Custom Order Conversation.

“If you like this idea and feel this size would be perfect for your home, how about I create a wall sculpture just for you? Let me tell you how that works.” Now I have redirected the conversation. It continues without pressure and stays in the place of yes!


Installed mural by ceramic artist Brenda McMahon. Read her article about taking art commissions at


I have an opportunity to sell work that does not yet exist. These conversations also provide openings for more contact; to capture emails, forward information on the creative process, send images of completed commissions and client testimonials. The artist can schedule a home visit and gather more information. The list goes on and on. The sale is still open and still yes.

I have a few guidelines for commissions.

1. The Proposal.  My main goal is for the client to enjoy the process and love the outcome. That satisfies them, but it also satisfies me. In so doing, I write a detailed proposal, complete with beautiful pictures outlining what I will do and the estimated timeline it will take to do it. This is their first impression of me as a business person.

2. Signed Contract. Once the client agrees to the proposal, a contract is signed and 1/3 deposit is paid. Then the commission is official. Everything up to that point was complimentary.

3. Service. Once my work begins, I write and share a blog of the creation of their art piece. Each time I’m in the studio working, that night the client gets pictures. I consult with clients at critical stages (making/glazing/framing) to check in and see if there are any questions. I offer to deliver the artwork for free whenever I possibly can – and install it as well.

4. References. I always ask clients to write recommendations for me once a project is complete and the experience is still fresh. I post this on my website, my Facebook page and other websites of value. This also helps future clients make their decisions. There’s nothing like a testimonial “in their own words” to bolster a new project.

5. Photographs. I always photograph the finished work on the wall so others can see the artwork in the client’s home. They are proud, and I have value-added resources to share with prospective clients. This is validation, authentication, and transparency.

Commissions can liberate, rather than stifle your creativity. They can also spread the flow of income more evenly through your weeks, months and year so you are not living show to show. This relieves stress and helps you become a better salesperson and artist. If you are clear with yourself and your clients you may find that you, too, love creating commissions.



Ceramic artist Brenda McMahonGuest blogger Brenda McMahon is a ceramic artist, whose award-winning saggar fired vessels and dimensional wall art tiles have captured the hearts of collectors for over two decades. Her unique take on the saggar fire process along with her elegant burnished forms, has added to the desirability of her work. Brenda’s custom-designed wall sculptures are in scores of residential and commercial settings nationwide. She works and teaches in her St. Petersburg, Florida studio.



Want to stay current on cutting edge business articles from Artsy Shark, plus artist features, and an invitation to the next Call for Artists? Click below to sign up for our twice-monthly email. You’ll get all this plus opportunities and special offers that you can’t get anywhere else!

Sign Up For Updates!


  1. Thank you for the perspective, Brenda. I just sent out requests for testimonials from my clients to help me get going on this.

  2. Lisa, that’s great! I find testimonials work wonders. Good for you. And thanks for your input. Good luck and enjoy!

  3. Thank You Brenda, I am really inspired, I am an up coming artist .. I love art i have live all my life as an artist .. I am originally from Africa i want to touch people with my works ..I am ready to and prepared to learn more. Thank you

Speak Your Mind