When I first opened my studio, I presented my work to the public through outdoor art fairs. This quickly led to my first commissioned works. Since that simple start, I have had both the pleasure and the challenge of creating private and public commissions. Whether you are a potential client or a practicing artist, I encourage you to read on as I share the things I have learned from my experience.
The word "commission" essentially means the act of granting authority to carry out a specific task or duty. Since opening my studio, I have included commissioned works as part of my working studio. Many artists have been successful working exclusively from one commission to the next. For me, I have found that taking a more balanced approach of working commissions, interspersed with working on my own work and projects fits my work style best. I have often heard other artists make the comment that they would never do commission work because it is too restrictive and they would lose too much control over the outcome of the project. I myself, was once concerned about these very issues. But it didn't take me long to find out, at least for me, that each and every commission I have ever undertaken, has pushed me to grow in both my own creativity and skill level. Based on my own experiences, here are some practical tips to consider when doing a commission.
First of all, remember that a client is commissioning you because they like and appreciate your art and style. So be confident in making decisions and choices because your client is already pleased with what you do. As wonderful as it would be to be given verbal directions from your client to "Do whatever you like" - more likely your client will have some initial thoughts of what they envision and would like to see done. Instead of thinking of these instructions or requests as a "restriction", think instead about this as "collaboration" between yourself and your client. Get your client involved in the process.
Communication is the number one key to success. Begin by thoroughly interviewing your client and doing a walk through of the location the artwork will eventually be displayed in. Discuss with your client their likes and dislikes and their needs and wants. And be certain you understand how the commissioned work will eventually be displayed. Look at the lighting and other important considerations of the surrounding environment. Will the work hang near a kitchen or be displayed on a pedestal near an entryway or large piece of furniture? Environmental factors can lead you to make certain design recommendations that might not otherwise be considered. Armed with this information, you can now put together a design plan. Plan on presenting two or three different design plans and be prepared to modify one of these plans until it meets the needs of both you and your client. A good initial interview will usually give you enough information to develop an acceptable design the first time around, but occasionally a second round of designs will need to be presented. When this happens, don't get frustrated. Instead, push through your frustration and force yourself to grow in a new direction.
Once there is agreement on the design, be sure to give your client continuing updates on your progress. Email is a convenient way to do this. But don't overlook another site visit to check out size or colors. This may be the perfect way to find an oversight or error early in the construction/creation process. And remember, a satisfied client is a client who is also taking ownership in what you are creating. So allow your client to become involved in the process. If there is something the client wants to change or include, listen and then respond in your own creative way to achieve the request or change. Communication remains the key to success throughout a successful commission process.
My approach to working a commission is to always push myself to do more and to be better than if I was just doing something for myself. By taking this approach, I have found that commission work has caused me to grow in my creative abilities and also in my craftsmanship in ways that I might otherwise have never achieved or experienced.
Dye Painting, Quilted
Kansas City, Missouri R&D Building
Hung in the 2-story Atrium