What are commissions in art?

One of the common ways to make money as an artist is by working on commissions for others. Are you wondering what are commissions in art, rules, prices, contracts, etc? Let us find out!

Commissions in art are the act of requesting an artist service for the creation of an artwork by private individuals, government or business.

Another use for commissions in art refers to a percentage cut that an art gallery or an agency takes in exchange for their services.

For example,
When a person, say, calls them Diana, comes to you and requests a painting of their dog, they will pay you a commission price in exchange for your service.
If you work with an agency, and they find Diana and then give you the job, you pay them a commission % of the fee for finding the job.
And if you just painted a beautiful dog and then showcased it in an art gallery, and Diana buys it – you pay a commission % to the gallery for hosting and selling your piece. See what I mean?

What Do You Call Someone Who Commissions Art?

Lady in red hat

There are many names for the person who commissions art, but the most common are client, Patron, and benefactor.

client is a person who uses the professional services of a person or a company.

Patron is a supporter of the arts who pays for commissions with money, gifts and other endorsements.

benefactor is a person who gives money or help to a person or a cause.

In the 21st century, we are often referring to them as clients. 

The Patron became a popular website where anyone can support an artist for a small fee – and now you know where the name came from.

And benefactors have always been the people that commission public artworks and then donate them to the city as a gift for the public.

How Do Commissions Work In Art?

Historically, commissioning artwork was familiar to the government and wealthy people. 

On the other hand, common uses for art were the image of wealth, propaganda and redemption of sins.

A great example of propaganda artwork is a lithographic Soviet poster, “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” by artist Lazar Markovich Lissitzky. Yet, the red symbolizes the Bolsheviks who defeated their opponents, the White Movement, during the Russian Civil War.

Commissioning art was expensive, time-consuming and only available for the wealthy.

Today, art commissions are more accessible than ever because of the Internet and a variety of websites that allow artists and Patrons to find each other in a matter of a few clicks.

What Does Taking Commissions Mean?

Taking commissions means that an artist is open to job opportunities and can offer their services in exchange for a monetary value.

Sometimes, getting commissioned happens randomly. By chance, if someone finds your art and falls in love with your skills, they will contact you and request a job done.

Other times, if you are a more established artist, you might work with an agency that will find jobs for you. The truth is the artists make money in many ways, few rely on commissions alone.

Lady in blue

If you do get lucky and someone reaches out – make sure to do your best if you are open for commissions. Chances are, they will be showing off the piece of art you created for them, and their friends might be interested in commissioning you as well.

When you are ready to take things into your own hands, think about creating your portfolio website, where you have a breakdown of fees you charge for your commissioned work or state that you are open for commissions.

One of the common ways to make money as an artist is by working on commissions for others. Are you wondering what are commissions in art, rules, prices, contracts, etc? Let us find out!

Commissions in art are the act of requesting an artist service for the creation of an artwork by private individuals, government or business.

Another use for commissions in art refers to a percentage cut that an art gallery or an agency takes in exchange for their services.

For example,
When a person, say, calls them Diana, comes to you and requests a painting of their dog, they will pay you a commission price in exchange for your service.
If you work with an agency, and they find Diana and then give you the job, you pay them a commission % of the fee for finding the job.
And if you just painted a beautiful dog and then showcased it in an art gallery, and Diana buys it – you pay a commission % to the gallery for hosting and selling your piece. See what I mean?

Art Commission Rules and Etiquette
For the Patron/Client:

If you are thinking of commissioning an artwork, and this is your first time – there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.

If you found an artist you love, but there is not enough information about the status of them taking commissions – reach out! Furthermore, the artist will get back to you with all of the information you need to know.

In the reach-out email, be respectful and thorough – provide as much information about your ideas and ask questions. There is only one shot at the first impression! As a patron, you will work closely with the artist on the final result.

Prepare for a contract. Artists who know what they are doing will send you a legal agreement but do not freak out by the big word that depleted to protect you and the artist from the unexpected things in life.

For the Artist:

When you are ready to dive deep into the world of commissioned art, be prepared to follow some rules and etiquette:

Be a good person. The client will hire you once for your skills but hire and recommend you again to their friends for your character and professionalism.

Be respectful and honest with your clients. Inform and explain previously if you know you can’t create what they are asking for.

Often, patrons ignore what they want themselves and will find difficulties explaining, so make sure you are both very clear on the idea and the deliverables.

Tell them about your process and how long everything takes. Lay out a concrete plan for the creation of the work. For example, Step 1: thumbnail sketches; Step 2: colour explorations; Step 3: Final Work.

If a client thinks they can get as many revisions as they want, ensure to communicate to them that it is not the case. State at the beginning how many revisions they will get in the price and how much each additional one costs.

 

Write/Review the Agreement Carefully.

Yes, you need an agreement which is necessary to protect both side’s rights in case one of you decides to break the conditions. 

Write down every possible detail in the contract: idea, media, dimensions, timeline, killing fee, revisions fee, downpayment, due dates for payments, rights and delivery.

Do not rush, wait until the contract is signed to start working on the commission. You might as well lose a lot of time, and the client will back out.

Have an approval process for each stage that you outline in the contract. Some artists commit a big mistake by accepting and finishing a commission in one go without communicating with the client, which end up by they might dislike the whole thing, but that can be easily prevented by having strong communication, listening to feedback and working on the piece together.

You are awesome.

Frame from starting a project if you are not interested in it. Save yourself the misery and find a different piece to work on.

In my garden painting

If the client is rude or gives off a bad vibe, think about whether or not you would like to sign a contract with them. If you already did, remember they are not your boss and professionally stand up for yourself.

If the client decides they hate your work – remind them of the contract and the revisions. When you have a detailed contract and approval process, there is no reason for this to happen!

Art Commissions Prices

Now for the HUGE topic – how do I price my art?

The answer – it depends.

But I know that this answer will unsatisfy you, so here is a breakdown of the ways to think about when trying to figure out what to price your art:

Quality of art and recognition

“…in the art world, reputation plays an important role in determining price.”

It is true!

If you have a big social following or reputation as an artist in the “real world”, your fee will be higher than someone considered an unknown artist (despite your skills).

The same goes for your art skills, considering someone who has been practising full-time for the past century vs someone who started drawing a couple of months ago will also charge different prices, which can vary from $10 – to thousands per art commission.

Pricing by Time Required + Skill.

It is my least favourite way of figuring out how much to charge for a commission – but it is something many beginner artists use.

It is simple. Take your skill level and create an hourly rate for yourself, add to the estimated time the work will take you and calculate a fee.

For example, if you just started drawing a few months ago, then your skill level is probably at 1 out of 10. The minimum wage in the US is $7.25/hour, and you estimate that the commission will take you 4 hours, then the calculation will be as follows:

4 hours x $7.25 = $29. Round it to $30. It is the fee you charge!

And if you think your skill level is at about $20, then you charge 4 x $20 = $80 for the same work.

But what about the time it took to learn your skill and the expenses you pay? Have you considered it? You need to include these things in the calculation.

In the heart of it, you are trying to predict the amount of money you spend yearly and the amount of work you will receive.

For example, every year, you need $40,000 to live your life, pay rent, eat, transport, buy supplies, medication, etc. So your goal is to make that amount!

Now, you need to predict the number of commissions you will be getting this year and divide the number to figure out the price you need to charge.

It takes time to make a full-time income with commission alone if you have never done it before, so I suggest trying to divide a part-time salary and change that number as you move up this career.

Who is the client?

Knowing your client will allow you to create different price brackets. 

The price will vary from a successful company approaches you to create an illustration of a child versus a mom.

For example, my art friend creates beautiful anime-style illustrations. That day, a lady approached him for a personal commission, and he charged $250 for a one-character full-color piece. A few months later, a semi-successful singer’s team asked him to create three full-colour illustrations with a character on each – and he charged them $5,000.

Who Owns Commissioned Art?

And the final question I wanted to address on this topic is about the rights. Who owns the commissioned art depends on the licensing rights you give the client inside the contract Licensing Agreement.

Whether you decide to keep all rights, share some or transfer them is up to you and the client.

Tip: when transferring your rights to the client – ask for more money, like way more.

And that is all in commissions in art!

I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me know in the comments what was the biggest takeaway you learned.

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