Commissioning Art

You’ve found an artist you love but want a personalized piece by them. Maybe you have a piece or two by that artist already but have an idea of a painting you would like them to do for you. Maybe you made it to the gallery after the one you really 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. My recommendation is to start with a non-commissioned piece from the artist and live with it for a while. However, I do understand space and budget can be a limiting factor so going straight to a commission might be the best option.

After deciding to investigate the possibility of commissioning a piece, the first thing you need to find out is if the artist is willing to do commissions. Not all artists are willing to do so. If the artist is represented by a gallery, ask the gallery if a commission would be possible. If so, I recommend discussing the desired piece in generalities at first. Size is the first question you will need to answer as it will provide the baseline for the cost of the piece. If the price is within your budget, then you can proceed with more details. For me, 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 I had verified the commission was possible, I provided a sketch or verbal image to the artist, along with any needed images. The artist then returned a sketch of their interpretation of the project, I signed off and the artist produced the piece.

For another commission by a different artist, I simply told the gallery owner I wanted previously done subject matter “in daylight” and with the same color used in the previous piece. And for a different piece by that same artist, I simply stated what subject matter I wanted and told 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 are not in line with reality. Sometimes artists have backlogs or are preparing for shows. For our most recent commissions we were told it would be six months out. Whatever the case may be, do not factor in the wait time to 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 deal, you will need to make a down payment. The amount of the initial payment varies but is normally no less than half of 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 picture from high school in it. This piece is going to 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 at all 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 completely shocking when it comes to valuations, so nothing surprises me anymore. The point I am trying to make here is that when commissioning a piece, don’t do it for the value of the piece. 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 crack in the sculpture but do 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, be satisfied and grateful.

I know visuals help so below is the initial sketch I created of a proposed commission. I sent it to the artist via email and within a few days a tube with a sketch in the size of the proposed painting was delivered by the USPS. A while later the painting was completed and we were ecstatic. Note the the USS Enterprise is not in the sketch. That was left out of the sketch and agreed to be put in as a surprise for my husband. We’re both lover 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 – Bill Braun dropped off the piece below at the gallery and I was able to make the final payment and pick up the piece:

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

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