How to Commission Art

Two people shaking hands in agreement.

You’ve found an artist you love but want a personalized piece by them. Maybe you already have a piece or two by that artist but have an idea of a painting you would like them to do for you. Perhaps you made it to the gallery after the one you wanted was sold. That’s where commissions come in. Commissioning a piece of art can be one of the most rewarding ways to add to your collection. I recommend starting with a non-commissioned work from the artist and living with it for a while. However, I understand space and budget can be limiting, so going straight to a commission might be the best option.

After deciding to investigate the possibility of commissioning a piece, you first need to determine if the artist is willing to do commissions. Not all artists are eager to do so. If a gallery represents the artist, ask the gallery if a commission would be possible. If so, discuss the desired piece in general terms with the gallery. Size is the first question you will need to answer, as it will provide the baseline for the cost of the work. If the price is within your budget, you can proceed with more details. As soon as the possibility of a commission became a reality, sitting with my idea for a week or two helped me refine the vision a bit more.

My experience was that when I was clear about what I wanted in the commission and verified the commission was possible, I provided a sketch or verbal image to the artist, along with any needed images. The artist then returned an illustration of their interpretation of the project. I signed off, and the artist produced the piece.

For another commission by a different artist, I told the gallery owner I wanted previously done subject matter “in daylight” and with the same color used in the previous piece. For a different work by that artist, I stated what subject matter I wanted and told the gallery to let the artist know I trusted her judgment explicitly. The way each artist or gallery will handle a commission will be unique.

Ask how long it will take to complete the piece. ETAs can be deal breakers for some if expectations do not align with reality. Sometimes, artists have backlogs or are preparing for shows. We were told we would be six months out for our most recent commissions. Please don’t factor the wait time into your budget. Be prepared to pay in full at the start of the deal and remain that way; you have committed, and it may come early. When you are ready to lock in the sale, you must make a down payment. The initial payment amount varies but is at least half the total price.

The commissions we have are some of our most cherished pieces. The pieces are stunning and deeply meaningful to us, but they are only that meaningful to us. One of the pieces is a tribute to our grandmother and has her senior high school picture painted into it. This piece will be a family heirloom and probably will not increase in value the way the artist’s other works will, but that wasn’t the point of the commission.

We currently have two commissions in the works by an artist we love. Both are subject matter she has done in the past. One of the two is a common subject for her and, thus, not unique. I can’t imagine those pieces increasing in value at the same rate as the other unique subject matter pieces we have by her. However, the art ecosystem can be utterly shocking regarding valuations, so nothing surprises me anymore. When commissioning a work, please don’t do it for the value of the work. Do it because you love the artist and believe the artist can do justice to your vision.

When the piece arrives the key things to remember are:

  1. You will be receiving a handmade work of art. Imperfections are inherent. I’m not talking about a hole in the canvas or a crack in the sculpture, but I expect minor imperfections.
  2. Your vision and the vision of the artist are two different perspectives. If the fundamentals of what you agreed to are met, appreciate it.

I know visuals help, so the initial sketch I created of a proposed commission is below. I sent it to the artist via email, and within a few days, the USPS delivered a tube with a sketch in the size of the proposed painting. So that you know, the USS Enterprise is not in the sketch. That was left out of the drawing, and the artist and I agreed for it to be put in as a surprise for my husband. We’re both lovers of sci-fi.

A few conversations later between the artist, gallerist, and myself (and partial payment), Bill Braun began work on the piece. Sometime later – I don’t remember how long it took – the artist dropped off the work below at the gallery, and I was able to make the final payment and pick up the work:

Bill Braun
A Trip Through Space
Acrylic on canvas
48″ x 24″

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