I recently was asked by a friend if I would paint a commission for him to give to a friend. A commission is nothing more than a custom order for a painting. It might be a vision you have in your head and you want to see painted.
It could be a memory you want to see immortalized. Maybe it’s your child, pet or car.
In this case, the commission for my friend was a combination of memories and a vision. He envisioned a memory for a friend of his that she no doubt had told him at some point. This friend had recently moved into a new home and being the caring friend he is, he wanted to signify the move with a painting. Now we all need thoughtful friends like that, don’t we???
Sometimes, I do commission paintings. If the subject is right and I feel compelled to do it, I’ll take it on. Typically, I like to come up with my own ideas. I kind of balk at the idea of being directed or told what to paint. Looking back at my career, I probably wasn’t the best employee. It’s in my stubborn Taurus nature to do what I think needs to be done and when. Truth be told, I’m actually afraid I’ll fail at being able to accomplish the painting to the person’s idealized version of what it will be.
So that brings me back to the commission painting from my friend. I told him upfront that I do not take direction and that I was not a paintbrush for hire. (Notice my fear triggers an immediate defiant response)
It needs to be absolutely clear that for me to take a commission, it will be done in my style and artistic voice. At the risk of sounding conceited, if you like my painting style then that’s what you’re commissioning. I don’t want to be handed any sketches of how you see it being done. Don’t get me wrong, I want to hear your vision for the piece, but it will be interpreted in my style.
Knowledge is power. Knowing what to expect is a good thing in my book.
After he learned of my position on following direction, my friend agreed and we got down to business.
His vision for this painting was of a mother and daughter standing at the edge of the ocean holding hands in front of a spectacular sunset. He had lots of other little details like a single flower, color of sand, color of water. Plants in the distance and a few others. Since we had agreed on “my rules”, I opted out on a few of the details that I didn’t feel added to the painting. Some things were just dictated by size. The size of the painting was just too small to accommodate all the things desired.
This is good to keep in mind when thinking of a commission. Simple sometimes really is best. If everything has prominence, then nothing in particular stands out.
In the end, my friend was thrilled with the final result. (thank God!) Now I’m hoping the recipient of the painting will be as thrilled as my friend is. Who wouldn’t be though really? What a kind and thoughtful gift, one that I’m willing to bet most people wouldn’t take the time or spend the money to go the extra mile and remember a memory told and to them and go as far as to have it captured and created on canvas forever. *Sigh.*
What makes this bittersweet is that the mother depicted in the painting has passed. I’m sure, after having lost my own mother, this will be a very emotional yet heartwarming gift sure to evoke a flood of tears like no other. I really do feel privileged in being able to provide that for my friend. I always say no one loves you like your mother, but in this case I believe she has a close runner up.
A few take aways I’d like for you to know about having a commission painted (from an artists point of view)
- Find an artist whose work and style you love (not what you can only afford). A lot of artists will work with you on payment arrangements – me included.
- Expect to pay more for a commission than a regular “off the shelf” painting. Anywhere from 20% up depending on the artist. If it’s something rather obscure, we are not going to be able to sell prints or reproductions of it easily. It takes up time from our normal studio practice and might not be something we’re stoked about painting.
- Agree on a size, subject matter, media used and how the painting will be delivered (like framed or unframed). It’s a really good idea to get a jump start on knowing the place where you want to display the soon to be commissioned piece. This will help you decide on the actual size you want the piece to be. Another good idea is to cut out paper to the size you think you want the painting and put it up on the wall so you will get an actual visual concept of the presence it will have. Don’t forget to add 2 – 10″ width and height for the frame if you plan to frame it. Usually paintings seem much smaller once you get them on the wall.
- Expect to sign a contract and be prepared to pay an non-refundable downpayment (how much is up to the artist, I want 1/3) to get the painting started. You will probably need to pay at least one payment half way through the painting. Final payment is expected before delivery. We as artists need to know you are for real on wanting the painting done, hence the non-refundable downpayment. We simply cannot afford to take your word for it that you want it done and will pay when it’s finished. Ain’t happening. If you bail on paying the final payment of the painting know that the artist probably will and has every legal right to sell that painting and reproductions to whomever they want.
- The artist always retains the reproduction rights to anything they paint. Just because you commission a painting of your pet Spike the bulldog, doesn’t mean you have exclusive rights to it. Us as artists have the copyright to reproduce for a profit the image any way we see fit. So just know, unless you are prepared to pay a hefty fee for exclusive rights (and the artist doesn’t even have to sell them to you) you might see Spike on coffee mugs, prints, pillows and the like. It’s another way for artists to have a revenue stream and to keep on giving this world the beauty of our art. This also means you have no right whatsoever to reproduce the painting you commissioned ever, for money or otherwise unless you have written consent from the artist.
- Too much information is good for a commission. I know this completely goes against what I was complaining about earlier, but we need to have all the info possible to paint you a beautiful painting and we need the right to leave out or include what we feel makes the best composition, layout and design of the overall painting. For people, pet, car or house portraits, this includes multiple good photographs where everything can be viewed well for reference. If you do not have good photos, a lot of artists (myself included) are willing to go and take our own photos since we know what we really need in the first place. You may have to pay a little extra for this as it takes gas and our time but is well worth it and will produce better results.
- Don’t make too many changes. Every artist wants you to be happy, but you will be despised and silently cursed if you nit pick or question every little thing. Remember, you picked the artist because you love their style – let us do our thing! This also brings up a good point to ask how many times you’ll get to see the painting before it’s finished for alterations, if any. If you’re having a person’s portrait this is critical, for other types not so much.
- Figure out a reasonable time table for the painting to be finished with the artist. (another reason we use contracts) If you say “whenever”, don’t text or call the artist a few days or a week later wondering when the painting will be done. To me whenever could be next December as far as I’m concerned. Be clear on your expectations.
- Understand the artist will want to use the final image for promotions and to otherwise accrue more work. To help the artist, you could be willing to give a good written review and allow the artist to use it on their website and/or other social media sites.
- If you’re happy, brag about the artist to everyone you know! We can certainly use the advertisement. If you’re not happy with the final painting tell the artist first, so we can have a chance to fix it. None of us are mind readers, including you. This is why it’s important to see progress photos of the painting to make sure it is still on the right track.
Having a piece of art that you have commissioned is always just a bit more special. It certainly can become a treasured and honored family heirloom. Remember good communication is key for good results. You have to both be on the same page. It should be and can be a good experience for both of you.
If you’re still around and reading this, bless you! I know this has been long winded but with the completion of this commission painting one thing led to another and this is what came of it. Thanks for reading! If you have an idea in your head you’d like to see me paint just shoot me an email here. Let’s talk about it, I promise to get over myself 😉
Learn more about me on the ‘About’ page in the menu at the top. I’m an artist – a painter mostly and an avid gardener. I paint a variety of subjects including birds, koi fish, my gardens, ponds and flowers as well as anything having to do with nature especially trees and tropical scenes. I also enjoy painting abstracts and have started created more and more of them. My most favorite thing to try to achieve in my painting is is mystery.
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