Making Successful Art Commissions

Advice for preparing to accept commissioned art projects.

making successful art commissions

Editor’s Note: This guest post is by Alison Lansky. Check out the news at the bottom of this post for information on a FREE Online Event – Guerrilla Marketing for Artists Webinar with Barney Davey. It is sponsored by Artists Network. And, my 2-for-1 book deal is only on through this month, so check it out, too.

Once an artist starts to become fairly well known, it is inevitable that people will approach them to ask about commissioning a piece of art. This can be a daunting task for anyone, and it comes with all sorts of considerations to manage.

Four essential questions regarding creating successful art commissions:

  • How much should you charge?
  • Who retains the copyright for the finished artwork?
  • How does the artist maintain creative control and still involve the client?
  • What unique considerations or expectations does the deal include?

Proper preparation is a key to generating stress free, profitable art commissions.

There are many ways otherwise successful art commissions can go wrong for the artist, so it is crucial to be prepared. It is necessary to prepare yourself in advance so that when the issue arises you are ready to move forward without your judgment being clouded by the emotion of gaining your first commissions. The following suggestions will help you to prepare yourself to take on commissioned work as an artist.

It is not just about you.

One of the most valuable things to keep in mind is that creating a commissioned piece of artwork to someone else’s specifications is totally different from selling a finished piece of art that is all your own creation. Taking on a lucrative commission means building a relationship with your client. It requires communication and some flexibility. You will only be successful when creating a commissioned piece of artwork if you are able to respond to the client’s questions and concerns. If you do not consider yourself to be a people person’, then you should probably think twice about taking on commission work!

Be selective with whom you will work.

One of the most common hurdles in commission work is that you don’t actually know whom you might be working with. If you are in need of the income it can be tempting to accept every single commission that you are offered, but it is necessary to be selective because  when a commission goes wrong it can quickly become a nightmare.

Whenever possible, you should always arrange to meet face-to-face with your client before agreeing to work on their commission. This gives you an opportunity to see how well you mesh with one another. You should also take the time to ask a few questions about exactly what they are looking for and how much input they want in the planning for the piece. Sometimes, it is okay to say no to a commission.

Think carefully about financial aspects.

Pricing your artwork can be difficult under normal circumstances, but when working on a commission this becomes even more complicated. You will of course need to cover your expenses for materials such as canvas and paints. You can price these up at your usual online art supplies store, like This should be added to whatever profit you intend to make. Remember to include shipping if you need to deliver the finished work.

Next you need to charge for your time. Think about how many hours you are going to spend not only on working on the piece, but also on consultations. The more well known artists can charge more per hour, but if you are just starting out then you should start with something a little more than minimum wage. Lastly, you will have to add in additional fees if the client wants to retain publishing rights for the piece.

Make getting a deposit an iron clad part of the deal.

Once you have agreed on the final price you should take a non-refundable deposit of at least one third. This protects you against clients who are not serious about the commission and will give you something to cover expenses if the commission is canceled after you have started. This should be set out in a contract which also details how much revision you will make and who retains the rights to the finished piece.

Once you have decided on your pricing structure and created a contract that you are happy with you can start to accept commission work. Do not dismiss work that you feel does not meet your artistic vision. Even the most famous artists had completed some dubious commission work when they were just starting out.

Alison Lansky is a blogger with two beautiful children. She writes on a variety of art-related topics.


FREE Online Event – Guerrilla Marketing for Artists Webinar with Barney Davey

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT

Click here for Webinar Registration

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Barney Davey has helped thousands of visual artists discover new ways to market their art. He is the author of four books on art marketing. Starting in 2005, he has written and published more than 500 art business and art marketing posts on his blog.

Together with his co-broadcasting partner, Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery and publisher of, Barney has presented more than two dozen hour-long podcasts on topics ranging from self-promotion, email marketing, blogging for artists, advertising, website optimization and many other helpful subjects artists can use to help them market their work more effectively.
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  1. says

    Thank you for these great tips for commission art. I’ve only done a few non friends or family commission pieces and it will be nice to have a standard system like this to go by. Appreciate it.

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