Over the last few years I’ve done quite a lot of commissioned paintings. In lots of ways it’s very rewarding but it can also be a bit of a sticky wicket if you don’t manage the process well from the very outset. I was reading a great article by by Lori McNee that covers this topic from go to whoa and it made me think about some of my experiences with clients and what I’d learned from them.
What do I enjoy about painting a subject chosen by a stranger? Firstly – I feel a bit chuffed that someone who has never even met me has decided to trust me with their vision, their story and their cold, hard cash! Sure they’ve seen examples of my artwork and style on their computer screen but that can be a bit different than seeing a physical painting.
Secondly, I learn a great deal by letting go of the subject matter choice and moving outside my normal choices. I develop new insights and skills as I tackle different subjects and this can lead me down new and interesting artistic paths. Of course I’ve had to sit on the chuffed feeling sometimes as it trys to egg me on to tackle a subject I know will be too far outside my skill set (portraiture – I once did a fantastic portrait of my teenage son with beautifully draped clothes, shiny metal chair legs and in his own words”the face of an ork!”. I did fix the problem though- when revealed to him a few hours later he was perfectly happy with the addition of the paper bag over his head).
Thirdly, I enjoy helping clients realise their artistic vision. I’ve created paintings to celebrate anniversaries, weddings, retirements,to immortalise family memories, homes and special pets.
I’ve painted the lake where that proposal was made, the hiking track that gets visited every year, the view from the family lake house for a soldier on active duty.
I’ve had some wonderful feedback
“Thank you so much for making this a great Christmas for my family! My mother cried when she saw the painting and it now hangs over their fire place!”
… how could I not be touched when a client feels this way. It makes up for any frustrations during the process.
There can be difficulties. Maybe that’s because the reference photos I need to rely on are just not very inspiring, perhaps the client wants a composition that I know isn’t going to work or they have an unrealistic expectation of how long it takes to complete a painting. I recently had a request by a client in New York who hoped I could do quite a complex urban scene and have it reach her in New York from my island home of Tasmania in just 2 weeks. Postage alone would probably take more than 2 weeks!
I find that good communication will sort most of these problems out – I’m the artist and I need to be providing good artistic advice and choice about composition, colour and size of the painting depending on the subject and taking into account my clients own vision.
Taking on commission work has taught me some valuable lessons:
- be clear from the outset what the client wants
- be clear whether you can ( or want to) take on the commission
- agree on all the details composition, size, cost, materials, delivery time
- don’t give the client too many choices – less is more
- put the details in writing
- get a deposit before you start painting
- provide updates as you go so you can make changes at an early stage if needed
- pack well and always use a tracking service
If you haven’t tried commission work and you get an opportunity I recommend the experience as one that can grow your artistic skills and foster some very rewarding client artist relationships.
4 thoughts on “The joys and pitfalls of commission painting.”
Interesting piece Lindy. I have only done a few commissions but have struggled. It’s having the weight of expectation I think that tempers any enjoyment in the actual painting process. Totally agree on your points especially the communication with the client.
Thanks for your comments Riki- I fully agree the expectation can be a dampener sometimes. I do have a wonderful feeling of freedom when I go back to my own work!
Nice article. Love your response to comment re “orc face” – a bag is, indeed, sometimes the only option. 🙂
And I do paint a mean bag!