10 Tips for Taking Art Commissions

by Carolyn Edlund

Is your art business set up for commission work? Use these basics to cultivate sales and help things run smoothly.


house portrait

House portrait, watercolor by artist Joe Sebes


Should you take art commissions? This topic leaves many artists hot or cold. Some have no interest, or have sworn off commissions due to negative experiences. But others seek out commissions as their entire business model.

Artist Joe Sebes specializes in house portraits, which puts him solidly in the business of working closely with clients to help bring their vision to life. Understanding customer concerns, heading off objections and maintaining frequent communications are all part of his job.

Sebes describes his approach, saying “When starting a commission, I hope that I have all the information needed to create the house portrait, such as season of choice and best view. However, as work progresses, questions will arise and must be resolved before proceeding. It is very important to be in communication with the client from day one.”

The artist strives to keep the client up to date on the progression of the work so that no misunderstandings occur. He says, “If a deadline is established prior to the start of the commission, I assure the client we will meet it. When I am satisfied with the project, I will submit it to the client for their approval. If any adjustments are asked for by the client, they are completed and the work is resubmitted to them for final approval. When I do it this way, there are no surprises as to what the client is getting. I know my work is acceptable prior to shipping.”

Do you also take on commissioned projects?  Avoid the headaches that sometimes crop up by planning ahead and being proactive with your clients.

1. Mention commissions as a regular part of your marketing.

If commissions are an important part of your business model (or you want them to be), state it up front. Advertise this by placing a Commissions page on your website. Promote commissions you have completed by sharing them on social media or on your website. And highlight commissions as a primary part of your marketing message.

2. Determine your terms and prices.

Plan out your process, know your prices, and be prepared to discuss all aspects of art commissions, whether in person, over the phone or through email. Will you charge an additional amount for a commissioned piece? Many artists do, considering the extra work involved. Determine your markup, and set up a system to solicit commissions and accept inquiries.

3. Communicate clearly with the client.

On your website and in marketing collateral (such as brochures or emails) walk the prospective customer through the commission process step by step. You might use a Q&A format to outline exactly how you work and what they can expect. Answer common questions to increase customer confidence immediately. Consider the questions most clients will have: How soon can you start? What is the turnaround time? How much will it cost? How much is shipping? Do you guarantee satisfaction? Can you mat and frame the finished artwork? The more information you provide, the better. This puts you in the position of being contacted by prospective customers who are informed and better “qualified” to buy from you.

4. Make it easy to request a commission.

Place a form on your website, or clear instructions on how to get in touch with you to encourage prospective customers to start the process. List your phone number with an invitation to contact you to learn more.

5. Have a signed contract before you start.

A written contract that is clear and straightforward can head off a lot of problems. Even if the commission is for a friend, a signed contract defining all the terms will reduce the chance of problems. Spell out the obligations and rights of each party, the price, payment terms and anything else relevant to the commission. Sample contracts are available online. Find one that works for you or consult an attorney to have one drawn up.

6. Require a deposit.

It’s a good practice to have the client pay a percentage of the price at the time of signing a commission contract, and 50% deposit is very common. You should determine whether that deposit is refundable or not, and whether additional payments toward the balance are due during the process of making the commission, and when.

7. Stay in touch during the commission process.

Communication is key to maintaining the trust of your client and ensuring a good outcome. Share “in progress” photos for confirmation that they are satisfied; these can easily be sent through an email or text. Get feedback to make sure you and your customer are on the same page. Then, submit an image of the the work for final approval, or make adjustments as necessary.

8. Get paid before delivery.

When the work is completed and ready to ship or deliver, the customer should pay the balance in order to receive it. Include any agreed shipping costs that apply in your final invoice.

9. Ask for a testimonial.

Happy clients are usually very willing to give a testimonial, especially when a piece of art has been created specifically for them. If you request a testimonial in person or over the phone, follow up with an email. This gives you written proof of their agreement in case any questions come up. Make sure to tell them how you would use their quote and their name when you are marketing.

10. Ask for referrals.

Personal recommendations are powerful ways to get business. If a client is thrilled with the commission you produced, they may be willing to tell friends and family about you, and send referral business your way. When you do get referrals, be sure to acknowledge it, and thank your client with a personal note. They will appreciate the recognition and may send even more business your way.

Do you take regular commissions? What other tips would you share to make the process enjoyable and successful?



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