“Can you draw my a portrait please?”
A question that every artist has probably heard. Sometimes (only sometimes though) there’s an added, “I’ll even pay you!” And then the conundrum starts. Do you do it? Is it worth your effort? Should you charge your friends? What if it doesn’t come out right? What if it doesn’t even look like that person!? So many questions.
If it’s not a portrait, it’s even more complicated! How many times have you gotten requests from your family to recreate a Rothko or a Van Gough painting for their living room? It’s not like they don’t like what you paint. They just like Rothko a little better, and you are the only artist they know personally. So they ask you to paint it - Whether that’s your style or not.
I know how desperate you are as a new budding artist. You want to jump on every opportunity. You want to prove to everyone you know that You. Know. How. To. Paint. But hold on for a second. Breathe. Step back. You don’t need to do everything that’s remotely related to art or painting.
So here are my top 6 tips on taking commissions.
Define your Niche
Like I said, don’t take up every offer or opportunity just because it requires someone to put paint on canvas. Think about what your style is and only take up custom work in that. Not only will that give you more pleasure and confidence, it will also lead to a happy customer. Over time, it will also create your name / brand. When someone wants X, they come to you. Define your X.
Have a Process
Define rules for taking commissions. Don’t have any exceptions. Take at least 50% payment upfront. Define a specific timeline for the different kinds of commissions you take. If you don’t want to share progress shots (which I highly advice not to share), then stick to it no matter how much they ask for it.
Identify Red Flags
Almost every artist has had bad commission experiences. People are usually really excited about the idea of getting a custom piece made. But when it comes to actually paying someone to do it, they fall out. Don’t start putting in effort before at least some part is paid. If a customer is too picky and wanting an update every day, and suggesting changes in your work, that’s a red flag. Don’t continue with the commission. I know it’s hard to let go, but it will save you a lot of heart burn.
Ask for high quality reference photos
This is one BIG mistake even I made when I started taking commissions for portraits. You CAN NOT produce a high quality artwork with a grainy cropped photo. Ask for a high quality photo, taken in natural light of the individual you are drawing. You should refuse to paint it if the image quality is not good. Remember that!
Pass on the lead
If someone comes to you with a commission request that is not your niche, pass it on to an artist who’s niche it is. Help your artist friends out. It’s not difficult to say, “Hey, sorry this is not my style, but you can speak to my friend X who will be able to take this up!”
Underpromise and Overdeliver
This does not just apply to commissions. Do this with everything in life. Work, play, relationships :) I promise it’ll pay off. If you think a piece is gonna take you 2 weeks to complete, tell the client you’ll take a month and delight and surprise them with an early present.
Let me know in the comments any peculiar client interactions you’ve had, or if you have any tips or advice to add!