Mint guide: Steps to prepare for a commission

You feel your success building, with art fairs and a gallery show – and now a potential client wants to commission a large piece of your work.

When this happy moment arrives, it requires plans and preparation before you set up a conversation with the would-be patron.  Here’s the Mint guide for emerging artists for getting started on commissions:

1. Research the art buyer.  Understand who she is, how much she may be able to spend – and what kind of art she likes. This isn’t always easy to determine ahead of time, unless she’s purchased from an artist friend who visited her home or office. Check out her business and find her on LinkedIn (and please follow Mint while you’re there). Read her last seven social media posts. Review her email signature.  Try to determine if she buys art on Saatchi Art or Society6  or a local space such as Galerie Camille or Detroit Artists Market. Discover her creative mindset through Pinterest (and follow Mint  too). If it’s a huge, many-week commission, set a Google Alert to see news and information about the buyer.

2. Prepare / review your sample contract.  Make sure your agreement has a specific timetable and payment schedule, usually with 50 percent paid at the start.  If you do not have one, review this one by artist-owned Archway Gallery or this one by Megan on DeviantArt as starting points.  Also read this blog post by artist Sarah Wimperis on Artlook that outlines the elements of an artist’s contract; though not every expert agrees with giving the client the right to walk away from the work if they do not like it. (Mint Artists and alumni, contact us if you need help with a contract.)  Create yours, print it out, and perhaps share it with your client before they show up in your studio. This shows you are business-like as well as creative.

3. Develop a list of good questions.   Create questions that invite deeper understanding. Some will focus on her taste in art – and why she wants this piece. Others will hone in on her budget and why she’s commissioning a piece, and where the art will live.  Ask to see photos of the likely location.

4. Review your calendar. You need to know what else requires your time and what’s feasible to finish the commission before you begin your conversation. And you want enough time to complete an amazing art commission that represents you well – and your other projects and priorities. So check your calendar (which we hope is half as art-filled as ours) and have a deadline in mind. Then add a week or three so you are certain to make it.

5. Build your confidence. You and your work are impressive and you must be prepared to ask for more – more money, more time, support. Review your successes and come up with one or two to share with your collector. If you feel nervous about the meeting, practice the discussion with an art mentor or an artist friend.

6. Know your rates.  You should have prices already in mind, with some room to add if the commission is complicated or elaborate. Write down your price range so you can refer to them; some artists put these in their website. Include material costs, but shipping and delivery should be separate.  Build in a cushion so you will not be earning $7 an hour if the commission takes longer than expected. Pricing is complicated so research carefully. Read this post on pricing for beginners from The Art League and then  our blog post featuring artist Dorothy Jett-Carter.

7.  Work on communications strategies and changes.    A large commission often requires back and forth between artist and patron. Your client may have a partner or assistant who will handle this so understand who else will be involved. Spend a few minutes talking through how you will share and how  revisions and changes will be addressed. Your contract should outline how many revisions are included in the price.

Our final advice is to start developing the idea and the process as soon as you can.  Sketch a few ideas while you’re talking to your potential client or have a few prepared for the first meeting.  Leave the conversation with the next steps and short-term timeline already established. Or better yet: a check and signed contract!

Please share your best ideas for getting ready for a large commission in the comments.

© Vickie Elmer, 2021 for Mint Artists Guild.  Photo:  The Digital Marketing Collaboration / Unsplash