At first being asked to paint a commission seems like the ultimate compliment. A prospective collector of your work requests and pays you money to create a personal piece of art.

This sounds simple and seems like easy money in the bank. Unfortunately, many artists have had what looks to be a dream job turn into the dreaded commission!
Recently, I finished and delivered a $12,000 commissioned painting to its new home. This project was a challenging, but successful venture. My gallery acted as a buffer in negotiating the commission price, sale and delivery date, but I had to communicate directly with the clients concerning the creation of the artwork. While the experience is still fresh in my head, I thought I’d share some tips and suggestions to help you avoid any potential problems.
First of all: You must understand that the successful commission is collaboration between the Artist and the Collector.

  • The success of the project hinges on the success of your working relationship with each other.
  • If you have difficulty working with others, you may not want to accept a commission.
  • It is your (the Artist’s) responsibility to be willing to listen to and clearly communicate with the paying customer.
  • Keep a positive attitude that makes the Collector feel confident in choosing you.

Meeting #1:

  • Meet with the other party to discuss and conceive the initial project.
  • In my case, ‘the collector’ consisted of a young husband and wife team. They were intelligent, very organized, and had impeccable taste. I needed to be on my toes, so I made sure they agreed on the subject matter, color and design before I began the painting process.
  • I was commissioned to paint an oil painting on four separate television cabinet door panels. I originally met the collectors at their home to see the décor of the room. They wanted a nature scene complete with birds and an aspen tree.
  • I took digital camera notes about the color of the room for reference.
  • During the meeting, I used my laptop to show them a selection of my nature-art portfolio. This helped me see their likes and dislikes about color and design. The more familiar the client is with your work, the more likely he/she will be comfortable with your finished product.
  • Ask questions and encourage them to tell you what they envision:
    • What is their initial perception of the project?
    • What colors do they like to live with?
    • Is there a mood they want to capture?
    • Assure them that they will be satisfied with the finished product.
    • Explain to them about your artistic working process.
    • Make them feel as though ‘you are in charge’ otherwise, the client may try and micro-manage you throughout the project.
    • Do they have any questions or comments about the commission?
  • The Contract: Unless you know the clients well or have worked together before, it is wise to write and sign a contract. Many an artist has been burned by the ‘good-ole-boy’ handshake. In my case, the gallery handled all the contract and money issues for me.
    • If needed, who will pay for shipping costs?
    • Please see ‘Sample Contract’ at the end of this article.
  • The Payment: Require an advance, usually about 1/3 the total cost of the commission. My gallery requested 50%. The advance is non-refundable. If the clients back out, they need to understand and agree to the fact that the advance pays for your invested time, labor, and art materials.

Meeting #2:

  • Show the clients thumbnail drawings, rough sketches or preliminary paintings
  • I created three 8×10 color pencil drawings of compositions for the clients to choose from.
  • Don’t give them too many choices!
  • Once we all agreed upon the concept, I began the under painting. I emailed the clients images – they were happy.

Meeting #3:

  • Invite the clients to view the painting about midway through the project.
  • At this time you can still easily edit or make adjustments.
  • The Collector can get a clear picture of your vision and you can address any concerns. (Luckily, my clients were happy.)
  • If they are dissatisfied or have criticisms, try not to let artistic temperament get a hold of you! Stay business like and remember – you are a professional. Otherwise, you run the risk of them becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the art

Late Summer Gathering center panelswestern tanager pair

(Midway through the project)

  • Communication is key: Encourage communication at all times. I chose to communicate via email. At one point I had my gallery contact the clients when I had not received a response. This was a little unnerving, but it turned out that the family had been sick with the Swine Flu!
    • If the clients are happy with the way things are going, do not change the look of the art without consulting the Collector.
    • Finally, the Collector will obviously own the artwork but the Collector will have no rights to reproduce the art without written permission from the artist who will retain all rights. This should be clearly spelled out in your contract.
    • Remember, you are painting a commission for the Collector – not for you!

Late Summer Gathering

(Late Summer Gathering – by Lori McNee)

P.S. this painting was difficult to photograph – in person, the branches all line up! click image  to enlarge:

Painting a commission can be a very rewarding experience. Most collectors love working with artists and feel as though you are a celebrity of sorts. But, every now and then you might get the snobby client who sees you as a service provider. Ultimately, it is up to you and whether or not you are up for the task. Following the tips above will help to insure a smooth experience and money in the bank!


*The below “Sample Contractis an example of what a contract between the artist and collector might look like. If you have legal questions or complications, please seek professional legal advice.


Custom Art Commission Contract

This Agreement is made the _________ day of _____________ (month), _____________ (year), by & between:
(The Artist) Name: ____________________________________________________________
Address: ________________________________________________________________
Phone: ___________________________ Email: _________________________________


(The Collector) Name: _________________________________________________________
Address: _________________________________________________________________
Phone: ____________________________ Email: _________________________________
Agreement between Artist & Collector as follows:
1. The Artwork:Collector is commissioning artist, Lori McNee to paint a series of 4 oil paintings on panels for the collector’s television cabinet
2. The Concept: The Artist will paint an aspen tree with green leaves. Colorful birds gather in its branches.
3. Payment Schedule: A non-refundable deposit of 50% is required before artwork commences. The payment is due in full upon delivery of artwork.
4. Payment Amount: The artist and collector agree upon $12,000.00 USD selling price. Collector will pay any taxes due.
5. Copyright: Artist retains the copyright to all works commissioned by Collector that was created by Artist, including all reproduction rights and the right to claim statutory copyright. No artwork may be reproduced or altered without the written consent of the Artist.
6. Right of Refusal: In the event that the Collector does not wish to purchase the commissioned artwork, the Collector may refuse. In that case, the Artist will retain the refused artwork and the non-refundable deposit. This is free of any claims or interests of the Collector and the Collector will not owe any additional fees to the Artist.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF the Artist and Collector have executed the Agreement on the day & year written above.


I hope this information helps you with your next commission! ~Lori

You might like to read:

10 Tips to Bring Visitors to Your Art Fair Booth or Open Studio
7 Creative Ways to Approach an Art Gallery for Representation
3 Steps to Find Art Gallery Representation
Visual Artist’s Challenge II – Balancing Self Promotion & Gallery Representation
You Are in Charge of Your Art Career!
Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!
Create a Powerful Portfolio
The Right Art Gallery – How to Find One

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