Ask a Gallery Owner | How Should I Respond to a Client Who Wants me to Create Something Way Outside my Style?

I recently received the following question from an artist:

I was hanging artwork the other day at a doctor’s office. The doctor’s wife loved the pieces I had chosen and inquired about buying several of them.
I told her they were all for sale and as we continued to talk, she asked me about doing a piece for their vacation home. She then went on to describe what she wanted: aspen trees in fall with a moose walking through the scene. This is NOTHING like the type of artwork I do.

I have been asked on other occasions to do something that is not at all my style or type of artwork. How should I respond?

I do have something in mind for her that is my style, but it won’t be what she requested.

M.

My response:

I find that in this scenario it’s usually best to simply lay it all out and to be upfront with the potential client. Let her know what you are and are not comfortable with. I know how tempting it is to agree when you have a client who seems to be ready to spend money, even if the requested piece is far removed from your typical style.

Non-artists are often in such wonder of your talent and skill that they mistakenly think this means you can do anything. Here is an opportunity for you to gently educate the client. I suggest saying something like “that sounds like it would be a beautiful scene. That’s really outside my style and approach to art. From how you are describing the space, I can imagine a piece in my style that I think would be incredible in that space. Can I work up some sketches for you?”

I like this approach because you’re not giving the client time to realize that she might have made a faux pas by suggesting you could create the piece she is imagining. By immediately offering to create a sketch, you are providing an easy way out.

Some clients get an idea in their head and won’t let go. For those clients it’s important that they find the artist who can successfully realize that vision. If you have contacts with other artists in your community that might be a good fit, you can build good will by recommending them to her.

For more flexible clients, showing them your vision can cause them to realize that there are other options. If they feel a strong connection to you, proposing a piece in your own style can open up their imagination.

It’s very rare that I would ever encourage an artist to create something that just doesn’t fit their style and direction – the learning curve to do something radically different is just too great, and the potential time waste and frustration involved are rarely worth it.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever been commissioned to create something that was way outside your typical style? How did the project turn out? What did you learn? Have you ever successfully redirected a client toward work that was more appropriate to your style? How did you do it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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68 Comments

  1. Taking a commission from someone who does not know exactly what they want is not recommended. It is a recipe for trouble. I have done numerous commissions under very specific conditions as follows: 1. State exactly what the customer wants including the medium , size, subject and style of the work. 2. Agree on price which should be about 25% above regular pricing because it is a commission, and take a substantial advance which is non refundable. 3. If the customer is not happy with the final product, they do not pay the remaining 75% AND the artist keeps the work.
    Having said all that, I still recommend not doing commissions because it turns the artist into a hired hack!

    1. Hmmm, kind of like Michaelangelo? Just an observation. I make my living off commissioned bronze monuments. Our cities have artwork all over for all the non-artists to enjoy and love because some of us are willing to go through the sometimes painful process of spending months bringing other people’s visions to fruition. This world is a better place when people share their talents.

  2. I have to admit that the idea of ANY commissioned work turns me off. I want to continue to sell, of course. However, I paint for the joy of it. I had a job. Art is a passion. I don’t want to blur the boundaries of the two.

    I realize the risk of being so inflexible,and I would consider commissioned pieces if the conception and design stirred my creative passion and if I could have almost 100% creative control.

    1. I’ll go out on a limb and say you’re not a portraitist. And that you’re lucky if enough people find the same joys in viewing them as you did to buy them. Me, I get the “These are nice flowers, but I don’t want yellow,” or “That’s a pretty blue jay, do you have any cardinals?” when I’m just working of the photo-sketches of whatever got in front of my camera.

  3. This always happens to me. A person seems to appreciate my unique style, then decides to ask me if I can just copy a photograph for them in the form of a painting. While I could do this, I simply consider realism a tedious chore — no artistic satisfaction there.

  4. O.K. maybe I am being ? I would say I would love a trip and try and capture such grandeur. That would be very expensive. I would need money up front for travels Ex.
    And I would also need lots of time. 6000.00. actually probably not enough. Depending where you are and where you needed to be.
    Perhaps if you have time on your hands. It is amazing that great photographs are under priced.
    I would always send my client to a professional of a certain specialty. Especia;;y if I new that was not my thing.

  5. I find that fulfilling requests like these usually result in a piece that may satisfy the client or maybe not. While at the same time the artist can end up frustrated and unsatisfied at trying to mimic someone else’s work. I believe by remaining focused on your style you end up with pieces you feel good about. Your artwork ends up selling at some point and you are pleased with putting yourself out there… not a copy of someone else.

    1. I agree Yvonne , while designing a piece with Zandra Rhodes I was both honored and apprehensive due to the fact that she is both world renown and abstract in her creations. I used colors that were suitable to both of us and a pulled both of our ideas into a piece that was exquisite. I am glad I had the experience to work hand in hand with the designer forPrincess Diana. She was also made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth. I’m glad I was brave enough to give it my best. She was wonderful to work with and Patricia Oconner from the Fashion Institute wore both Zandra and my creations to Zandra’s fashion show at the Westgate Hotel in San Diego. Sometimes things turn out really good and sometimes they turn out even BETTER.

  6. I’d get this a lot, and every time I accommodated outside my expertise as you mentioned I’d lose money with the time spent with the learning curve or have to go back and fix the damned thing because the engineering too was all new to me and it fell apart.

    The cure was feeling confident enough after getting enough consistent business to be able to turn them down and pass along the commission to another artist I knew who more or less specialized in that medium or style and was glad to get the business.

  7. It was a “friend” and I recommended several people who could do what she wanted, (an impressionist style portrait of her and her husband from old photos pre-cosmetic surgery) but she was set on me. She also didn’t have time to sit for sketches, the painting, nor for new photos. This disaster ties into to the recent topic of getting a non-refundable deposit. I really will never do that again, ALWAYS GET 1/2 UPFRONT. The painting actually came out pretty well, but the landscape in the background of the double portrait was not exactly her yard and I made her look like she did before the surgery, so she didn’t want the painting after I spent 4 weeks on it. I knew I should not have taken the job, but she was a friend. Sign me older and hopefully wiser.

  8. Here is my related comment. I had a client who “loved” my large abstract painting, but wanted the same painting about a foot longer and 6″ taller. My style is free form non-representative abstracts that I create in a fury of activity and many times lost in the process…having and changing ideas as the work develops. ( I know, …FUN). ‘No way that same painting will ever be recreated. I made this mistake early in my career for the reason you suggested to the question posed above. The client wanted to spend money and I was trying to accumulate enough to pay the next month’s rent. ‘Learned my lesson. Never again. Perhaps I should have offered a canvas print in the size they wanted and made it a one in a series of one. At any rate, my solution to this type of client request is to explain my frenzied creative process which also explains why a work cannot be reproduced.

  9. I generally do figurative work using clay and welded steel. Over a decade ago, a young man saw my African figurines at an art faire and asked whether I would create a dancer for him. We agreed on a price for a custom piece but when he came over to begin the creative process at my studio, he had changed his parameters from a free standing clay dancer with African fabric to a three-dimensional sculpture of a piano with a female pianist whose fingers melded into the piano keys! I had never done anything like that before, but he was so emotional about this being a gift for a pianist in his church that he wanted to woo that I gave in. Big mistake! I ended up spending probably 80 hours to fulfill his dream, making three separate pianos because the first cracked in the kiln, the second just wasn’t right and the third fit the bill. I should have charged 10 times the amount for the extra work. I did learn a lesson. Future commissions were started with a 50% down payment with a detailed assessment of what the sculptural components consist of. The client comes to my studio and chooses some of the materials and colors they like from my studio in advance. Together, we build a quick “draft” sculpture in the approximate size they wish and I email them periodic updates of the sculpture in progress. I do not accept commissions in a style that is not my comfort zone.

  10. It’s interesting. I recently did a commission where the subject matter was what I paint and the customer loved my style. The customer however did want to make adjustments to my sketch that may seem minor but did effect the painting. They were compositional edits as well as a request for more detail in areas that I would’ve painted much looser and more suggestive. It ended up being a good painting but not one that I loved and unfortunately I don’t believe they ended up loving it either. I got paid and she has the final painting but I recently ran into the client and asked how the painting is and if her husband liked it and she said “it’s just fine”. Not the response I would’ve hoped for : (

  11. I’ve had requests that were so off that all I could do was laugh! For your own sanity, you must be free to say no, or propose something that IS in tune with what you do well. I just had some visitors to my studio who loved some of my large cityscapes, but only have room for miniatures. They wanted me to recreate some of my large works in a 5×7 inch format. I just laughed and said I absolutely WASN’T the artist to make those tiny paintings. I love brushwork and work freely and large, I said. For portrait commissions I usually stipulate that I work from my own photo shoot…or with the subject in person. Its always a blessing to have a good match between the client’s desire, and your specific talent. I wait for those opportunities, and they DO come along.

    1. Note, when I laughed, I wasn’t making fun of the client or belittling their request. I was just showing I was at ease with fielding requests. You have to be honest and forthright about what you can could deliver.

  12. Your advice is very balanced,I agree ,personally as soon as I read the requested scene in this scenario I thought of another artist that could do this perfectly.
    The artist already had already happily made their own sales and if the doctors wife wasn’t comfortable with the proposed sketches or ideas it would be great to suggest another artist instead of saying you can’t do it, much more professional and helps a fellow artist

    Ps Agree, itcould be very irritating/ frustrating trying a new style under the added pressure of it being a commission

  13. I agree with the statements above. I once was working on a ceramic piece to use as a night light for my garden, and a lady approach me as I was installing and fell in love with it, she asked if I could create one like it for her. I had not answered before she was giving me directions as to what she wanted, at that point I made it clear that I could create one that is similar to the one I was installing but that I could not create exactly what she was talking about. Well she agreed for me to make her something similar. That was fine to me because if she did not want at the end I could use in another part of the yard. As it turned out she came and got it and paid me, but a few days later she called asking if she could exchange it for something more to her liking, Of course I politely said no and that was the end of that client. They can make you crazy.

    Here is a question for your opinion,
    I have a client that has bought a few pieces from me. But she is in love with one of my paintings which is bigger and very nice, she said she would buy it if I changed x for her, I agree and she later changed her mind but she asked if she could take to a printer and make a copy of it. I was not a happy artist to say the least. I explained that my pieces are one of a kind, original and not to be made copies of. I was concerned because she had taken a picture of the painting. I was strong in politely asking her to do not copy it as a print. I can’t believe how some people want to manipulate the artist into doing what they want.

    The life of an artist can be interesting to say the least.

    1. Copyright infringement. Explain politely but firmly that you own all the reproduction rights to a piece, by U.S. law, even if she owns the original (which in this case she apparently did not). I do a lot of commercial art, and my agent has a 13-page contract, so I have had more experience than many with the topic. This is my bread and butter work, as discussed in a recent post.
      Sigh. Wish we didn’t have to deal with this stuff, but there it is. Remember, people are not paying you for your time. They are paying you for your inspiration and your hard-won skills.

    1. You may want to reconsider Ana. I am an artist but I also do giclee printing for many other artists who sell prints of their originals, and have a good income from this. If you are wanting to make your living as an artist these days it is necessary to sell prints as well as originals.

  14. I think it is confusing to refer to one’s preference in subject matter as “Style”. To me, your style is the techniques you use to create your artwork: brush work, use of color, light, texture, etc., and whether you like representational or abstract depictions. If you accept a commission to paint a subject you would not ordinarily do, and create the piece using your own unique technique, palette, brushwork, and so forth, it can be an exhilarating triumph. I once painted a piece for a man whose wife loved frogs; she collected pictures and figurines of frogs, and he liked my style and wanted to surprise her. I accepted the challenge, and painted a bullfrog floating just below the surface of the water, with eyes and top of head above waterline, and the rest of him seen between the lights and green shadows below the surface. The “style” was recognizable as my own, the palette all green and golden and murky brown. The result was a piece of art rather than a slavish copy of a photo, or a wild trip into a style unfamiliar to me. I’ve not had the desire or request to paint any more frogs since then, but know that I can do it if I have to.

    1. Susan, I agree with you. Long ago in another painting life, I created a minimalistic pastel of a local historic landmark. Someone saw it hanging in a tiny consignment shop near my town and bought it. She then called me to commission another local landmark in pastels, a medium I had only occasionally used those decades earlier. Seeing it as a challenge, as I was just returning to painting after writing novels, I accepted and both of us were happy with the result. She, so much so that now she has a collection of similar works of mine, done to her specifications. The LAST thing I expected ever to enjoy painting were realistic detailed architectural subjects. Leaving one’s comfort zone for a challenge is definitely exhilarating, and I give her credit for initiating my current painting phase.

  15. I do a lot of commissions. I paint realistic images, so I have found that in most cases I can work with a client. I have also received referrals from artists who admitted to the client that they did not do paintings of people. Sometimes it is better to bow out and refer a client to another artist who can do what is asked. The client will appreciate the honesty, and it is a learning curve for them. I believe many people think if you are an artist you can do anything. You can say ‘I am flattered that you have asked me to do some work for you, but that is not the sort of thing I paint. I would recommend… as he/she is excellent at that sort of thing. ‘ A good deed for client and the other artist.

  16. My experience with commissions is that clients often have only an idea, a concept, but not really a vision. You are being summoned as an artist to give shape and form to their idea. They are looking to you to make something great. So you are not really limited by a preconceived style. If you like the client and the idea, a departure from your usual brand can be a fun and fruitful endeavor. And you will have one another client.

  17. I agree… I think your advice is wise. Also, I would say if the client has photos on her phone of interior, that would give a clearer view to artist about working up a sketch that would go with style/ colors then just going with how potential client describes space. This is a good thought provoking post .

  18. I have had both good and bad experiences with private commissions. If the request is outside the realm of my style or technique, I politely turn them down. Over the years, I have tried to make friends with other artists who have vastly different styles from mine. That way, when someone asks for a particular type of image, I can say, “That is not in my area of expertise but I know someone who would be perfect for you to contact.”
    Stephan

  19. WHY I LOVE COMMISSIONS…
    I had a client that wanted abstract portraits of rock stars. Not at all what I do. I paint realistic birds and vintage objects like typewriters. They wanted five 48×48 paintings, and it was too large of a commission to pass up. I did sketches and they loved them, and I moved forward with the paintings. It was much different from my usual style, but it was really freeing and fun to discover this new way of painting. I ended up getting several more commissions for pieces in this style because of it. If I hadn’t taken the chance on this I would have missed a great opportunity.

    WHY I HATE COMMISSIONS…
    I had another client that wanted a mandala mural. Again, not my style. But why not? I struggled so hard through this process. I am not a tedious person and getting everything to line up was such a challenge. She also made several changes through out the project. I was also very pregnant while working on this project. So maybe it was the size and the subject (and being pregnant), but I knew after doing this mural it was not something I would want to do again.

    WHAT I HAVE LEARNED
    Know your client and decide if you can get excited about the project. Let them know that it is not your style, but you are willing to try if you are interested in it. This, plus once more would be twice, right? Be sure to understand their expectations and let them know what to expect from you. Keep them involved in the process. Learn to say no and recommend another artist.

    1. Sage wisdom……you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
      It may end up being a disaster, but at least you took the shot.

  20. Hi. This is a great subject. I was recently commissioned for a house. I turned it down immediately stating this not what I do. He didn’t quite understand. I recommended an artist friend. She said yes. Unfortunately the man offered a very low amount so she turned it down. I agree with recommending another artist. But, I never thought about offering a sketch of something I do. Great advice. Thank you. On the subject of commissions, I recently made a hand. It challenged me. 3 years ago I would have never accepted this commission But I Learned a lot in the past 3 years.. felt confident and have a very happy client. Even found an African wood stand for it. So I do believe in trying to appease the client. Best advice go to their house. Or pictures. Thx for listening! Love this blog.

  21. Yesterday I turned down a pet portrait. My main focus is North American Wild Animals and Landscapes. When I do a commission the client puts down a 50% non-refundable deposit. If for any reason they reject the painting they can use the deposit towards any Jude painting. (This has not happened so far.)

  22. I have not had this experience, but my daughter has and she just turned them down. When I take commissions and people give me a photo, the first thing I tell them is, “Yes, I can do this. But I never create a painting to look exactly like a photo. What works in a photo, may not work for a painting. I tell them I may add other colors or change the composition a bit. A far, no one has had a problem with it.

  23. ‘Some old man’ asked me to weave cowls for his daughter and his daughter/in-law. Although I know how and do this on occasion, it is outside of my preferred technique and of course I explained that. He calmly asked again so I I asked if he could absorb the delay time needed to get past other tasks and rethread my loom. Right before he left town (being a Snowbird) he came by and paid for them. I didn’t charge extra for the special order. A year has passed and he came to my studio to thank me personally again and to tell me that his daughter and daughter-in-law were delighted. He was wearing a cap designating his rank on the USS Intrepid. Sometimes it is very rewarding to go the extra mile.

  24. I used to be a graphic designer for a major music company, and then freelanced for years afterward. What I learned was that my clients often didn’t quite know what they wanted, or even if they did, whether or not they could picture it in their heads, it turned the creative process into nothing more than a guessing game. Not having clients dictate to me what they want is one of the main reasons why I started doing my own thing. The creative freedom is just so refreshing.

  25. This is exactly the problem with “One-Shot” artists – they are simply not equipped or prepared to think outside their immediate comfort zone. Artists who have a 40 year+ painting history will empirically feel far more comfortable with ‘blue sky’ requests.

  26. I had a woman come into my booth at a show and show me a photo of another artist’s work,. She wanted to know if I could copy it…DUH NO NO NO NO. I have had close to commisions, but they do seem like a time suck for artists who want to get the sale but end up trying to bend over backwards to be micro managed by a person who wants to “match the couch” HATE that..My terms are 50% non refundable deposit, then they pay the balamce when the take the piece. if they decide they don’t want it, I keep the 50% for my time. And I raise my prices 20-40% when I quote the price..obviously I dont really want to do commisions, I want to sell the work that comes from me!

  27. Refer the potential customer to another artist that fits their style. We all know all kinds of different artists, and if I can’t help them I can find someone else that can. Another artist was not comfortable with what a customer wanted , so he referred him to me. I have the attitude that if I can’t sell, maybe another artist can. We’re all in this together and it’s just good karma.

  28. Man I love commissions.. It’s my main Thing!!!
    I love the challenge
    It’s super rare
    I fact I can’t think of a time I don’t say yes & jump on it
    I feel it’s my time to glen something new
    Since I was 10 years old…
    I try just about anything!!!
    And I am very successful !
    I usually have No fear just jump…
    I have two rules …
    Have fun …no mud…
    If I feel I cannot follow my rules then I need to reconsider … But I feel I will take on just about anything…
    I can do realism
    Detail
    Impressionism
    Abstract
    Minimal
    Three-D
    Installations
    I worked in glass
    Ceramics
    Metal
    Building houses
    Working in fashion
    Autos
    Articheture.
    And much more

    My favorite thing is tranding in the ocean & capturing a moment in time right there on location…

    But every once in a while I get stumped
    Like when I was 12 I was asked to paint some ducks & my even my dad wanted a deer in the woods painted…

    It Didn’t happen for years…
    Then I got inspired on my fathers hunting land & I painted deer standing there … Super cool

    But even then ,
    I do everything I can, to stretch myself to create what they want… Or try to put myself in their space… Usually I get it…
    It is very rare for me to not figure it out.

    However,
    If I feel I cannot do it, or their Budgit is way off
    Or I feel uncomfortable about it
    I say it right up front. I’m sure a college student is more in line with your budget or I have my style & I don’t do plagiarism, every artist has their own style & as much as I can do a photo realistic painting , possibly are you wanting a photograph & or I really love creating an impressionistic painting in my style…
    Will that work for you? Let’s talk…

    I am an artist
    I love it
    Thank you
    Noel Skiba

  29. If I don’t feel comfortable doing a particular commission, I have no qualms about referring them to someone who has more experience in that subject matter. I don’t do a lot of commissions because often they seem to take more effort for the hours I put in. I did pencil portraits of pets one Christmas, just to make ends meet, and whereas most seemed to me to just be cranking them out, I got to draw a FERRET. It was a challenge, but the person was tickled with it.

  30. Susan Moss
    One of my galleries went to an Art Fair. It was a new gallery for me and I wanted to stay in it.
    On Sunday, a couple came by who liked my drawings and wanted a long thin one for a corner of their condo. They wanted three colors: lime, blue-green and a touch of red. They refused to call it a “commission” and put down a deposit.
    I thought the shape interesting, like a Chinese scroll painting. But was this client serious?
    I decided to do it anyway, to please the gallery.
    I had my assistant cut the paper and spent several weeks on several versions. But at the back of my mind, I knew they wouldn’t come through no matter how good the works looked. I admit to feeling resentment which I had to overcome to make the drawing work.
    I was right.they didn’t buy it.
    Instead, I put the best version in my show. It found the perfect collector with the perfect home for it. She loves and cherishes this drawing. It brings the garden right into her gorgeous home. Now I’m so glad I did it. You never know what will happen to one of your works.

  31. I have done lots of commissions in the past. Some clients have dictated the whole process, and I have been embarrassed to put my name on the finished product. Others have been very amenable and allowed me to do what I do best, giving me plenty of artistic license. I did reeently turn down a very large commission because the client wanted me to do something that was way outside of my style. I wasn’t comfortable doing what he described. He was insistent that he loved my work. I told him that he loved my work because of my style. While he said he knew an artist that would do exactly what he wanted, he liked my work better. I politely turned it down because I told him that I had to like it and be proud of it. I didn’t feel that I could do his vision justice and didn’t feel that he would like the finished product either. It hurt to turn down such a large commission but I had to be true to what I do – not the money.

  32. Just wanted to say this was a great article and I loved reading the responses. I would not do a commission outside my normal style, but would happily refer the client to another artist who could better meet their vision.

  33. Just this week I had a client reject a commissioned copy of an old master painting. We had agreed on the image and size, etc. However, upon receipt, the client decided that the piece did not match her house decor. The client felt it would be better if the garment on the central figure was changed to powder blue instead of dark navy in the original masterpiece. This would not make aesthetic sense given the chroma design of the original and I declined. It was a hard lesson learned and a hard position to take. I decided two things: First, that there is no point in trying to convince someone to like something they don’t like for what ever reason. Secondly I decided to remain positive with the knowledge that my workmanship was of the highest quality. As graciously as I could, I agreed to pick up the painting as quickly as possible, no questions asked.

  34. A friend recommended me to his friends, a married couple. They had a special idea in mind, a portrait of their dog who died three years earlier. They had only one picture of the dog. As I talked with them about the dog it became quickly apparent her ideas differed from his. The discussion between them got heated up and turned into a question of who controls who. As a bystander to the discussion I quickly projected in my mind spending several hours or days painting the dead dog and the couple going ballistic over my final product. Its was a no win situation. I politely told them I didn’t think I could do adequate honor to their beloved deceased pet. At the end of the day I was happy to walk away from the deal. An artist has to be honest to him/herself and avoid big problems even if you need the money.

  35. I wouldn’t do it… At the end of the day the client is purchasing a painting by a specific artist… They are buying an ” Alex Kanevsky”, a “Gerhard Richter”, a “Damien Hirst”, etc… They are not buying a pretty picture… And if a pretty picture is what they want, gently refer them to somone who’s taste and style is similar to their requirements…

  36. Commissioned work is difficult because it’s in the head of someone else. Each time I’ve done it my time has been tied up and I’m far less productive than when on my own. It’s like being enslaved in a way. I’m on my last commission. It’s taken years and has been frustrating as a certain amount of guilt goes along with it because it’s taking so long. It’s so much better when someone just buys what you have already done.

  37. It depends. Generally, I’ve found someone else’s inspiration isn’t mine and the painting doesn’t go well. I’ve never had anyone ask me to paint other than in my realistic style … it’s the reason they come to me.
    I’ve done enough pet portraits I don’t care for them. You won’t see them on my website so no one asks for another. I will do horses and livestock … not pets.
    I am very specific about commissions and have a fairly detailed agreement I use; size, concept, scene/portrait, unframed/framed, date of completion, etc. I don’t commit until that agreement is signed with a 50% down payment, remainder upon approval. Then I ship. I’ve never had a commission refused because communication between artist and client must be talked through. I can’t stress that enough. There is only so much that can be put in an agreement. I’ve done a couple I wasn’t satisfied with at all but the client was. You need to ask yourself if the commission is refused could you sell this thing? If the answer is no, I would refuse it. You don’t want mediocre work out there.
    I will decline a vague request unless I personally have photo references that closely resemble their idea, or a client has photos they took. Cover yourself.
    If I see potential problems I have referred commissions to some artist friends. They appreciate it.

  38. A lady in know asked me to do a painting, on commission, for her living room in a new house they just bought. She invited me over to see the space and figure out the best size. It was a very large wall space above their couch, and I thought a triptych would work well. Each gallery canvas would be 28″w x 40″h and the finished painting when hung would be about 90″ x 40″. I paint representational/impressionistic landscapes, and she wanted something that showed lavender fields in France, so I looked up photos of Provence and found images that I put together to form a country villa in the foreground overlooking lavender fields in the distance. She wanted an oil painting as opposed to acrylic, so as you can imagine the materials alone were going to be in excess of $2-300. I spent a lot of time working on the painting ~ more than usual, because it was a different sort of landscape than I usually paint ~ I like painting en plein air. But, when I was nearly finished, she asked if I could (at her husband’s request) somehow add her and her husband and their two dogs into painting. What? Well, as you can guess, I haven’t finished the painting, and I’m still debating on whether to try to place figures and dogs, as silhouettes perhaps, into it or just tell her no, I can’t do that. Too much time has past, and I’m afraid to approach her about the painting now. If I ever accept a commission job again, I will definitely set the perimeters of what I will/can and will/can not paint.
    … Plus when I gave her the price to begin with, which was very fair, she said OK, then later discussed it with her husband and they wanted to pay me much less. I think I’ll just finish the painting on my own terms and if they don’t want to pay the full price, I’ll show it somewhere else and see what happens.

  39. I was commissioned a painting that was out of my usual style but I loved the challenge . It was Don Quixote . I did a lot of research and studied the arid land and windmills and made it very colourful and to my delight my client was thrilled and put it in his lounge room .I think it is worth a go if you think you can make .

  40. Lots of different ideas here – Karen Horne’s sense of humor resonates the most with me, along with Jason’s admonition to be open and honest. Keep it light and friendly, be honest with both the client and yourself about what you can do And want to do, and refer the client to another artist when necessary. I recently had a request for a painting of 5 dogs, 4 of them deceased and the photo references were spanned decades, none great. The client wanted all the dogs in one painting. Not. Going. To. Happen. Ultimately the client agreed to individual portraits and found some acceptable reference photos – it should be a fun project.

  41. I see this as an opportunity to connect an artist peer with the client. As I refer clients to other artists, those same artists refer clients to me who seek a style similar to my own. Other businesses do this so well that referral networks grow each year and provide work/income during otherwise slow seasons. It seems wise to connect to other artists for this and other reasons.

  42. I had a mildly difficult customer who commissioned a painting of a train at a gold mill just above Telluride. He wanted a horizontal pose ,with the mill, tall mountains, old trucks…. everything possible! I dictated that I will decide what the pose is and told him if I did it as he wanted , he would have a painting so poorly focused it would look terrible, and I wouldn’t do it.. I e-mailed a sketch of what I wanted to do and he accepted it. Like Jason suggests, if a commission request is way out of my wheel-house, I recommend other artists.

  43. I have had good luck with commissions with satisfied clients but the last one taught me a lesson. A dear friend requested a painting of her grandchildren ( danger! ). She loves my work and has bought 3 paintings. I am a pastel artists who paints landscapes…. I forgot to mention she has 11 grandchildren. Of course I said yes…😬 I thought it would be good to stretch out of my comfort zone. I had to force myself into my studio and lots of bad words came forth. I spent way to much time on it, hated every minute, and wasn’t pleased with it. I wanted to gift it to her but she loved it (blind grandparent love) and insisted on paying me. I have to see it every time I am at their home. It makes me quesy. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT accept a commission that is out of your style. You will be very very sorry

  44. A tip that has worked for me…
    To help the odds that my client will like the results I’ve always done 2 paintings when asked to do a commission. I almost all cases the client couldn’t decide which one and bought both..
    Dumb luck marketing !

  45. This isn’t really a question that can receive a blanket response. On the one hand, pushing your boundaries by working outside your comfort zone can force you to develop in ways you might not have from exploring on your own. On the other hand, as some have said, you may be forced to learn techniques that you have no intention of incorporating into your regular body of work and end up putting more effort into what amounts to a dead-end “detour” on your artistic path.

  46. I had an amazing Outside My Comfort Zone Commission (more than once) – the client wanted a HUGE, room sized REALISTIC solar system complete with astronauts and “space stations” all, I had to research to make sure they were accurate. He LOVED it. So, you never know. (I was paid well, too) . 🙂 But I was really into it- and that’s the most important part, because the passion for the project shows. I of course would maybe decline stuff that for sure did not give me “juice!”
    Cheers

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