Have you been painting a while and you’re ready to take commissions for your paintings and drawings? Or maybe your friends and family are pushing you to do so seeing the quality of your work. Commissions can be a lot of fun, and a great way to make a living as an artist, but there are a few things you should do to keep the whole process as trouble free as possible.
One complaint I hear a lot from artists who are doing custom work is that they run into clients who keep complaining about various things in the work. Maybe they don’t like how you painted fur, or a background, or the eyes. Before you ever take a commission, I recommend painting (or drawing depending on your chosen medium) 10-15 pieces of the subject you’re going to be taking orders for. If you’re going to paint dogs, paint 10-15 dogs. If you’re going to be painting landscapes, paint 10-15 landscapes. I know this sounds like a lot of work that you’re not getting paid for, but you need to have a solid set of samples for your clients to see. They need to know exactly what to expect from you before you ever start that painting (or drawing).
An added bonus to having painted 10-15 samples is that it gives you an idea of how long it will take you to complete a piece. Your customers are going to want to know when they can expect their painting. Nothing makes a customer angrier than being told you should have something done in two weeks and in reality its going to take you 2 months to complete it. You also want to let your clients know how long shipping takes, or if you’re working in oils, how long it will take for the piece to dry before you can ship it. I recommend overshooting your time frame by a week or two. This way if something comes up that slows you down, you’re customers aren’t going to be angry with you.
Now that you’ve painted so many samples, you should have a pretty good idea of what type of reference photo you’re able to work from. Do not agree to work from a bad photo. So many artists are afraid to lose the job that they will agree to work from any reference photo. If you know that you require a high resolution photo with great lighting…don’t accept anything less! In the end you’re likely to end up with an angry customer and you being frustrated. Years ago there was a girl I knew who did a colored pencil piece of a dog. It was absolutely breathtaking. Everyone was just in awe of her talent and how amazing this piece was. A friend hired the girl to paint her dogs. When she got her painting she was extremely unhappy. The painting was horrible. How in the world could the same artist who painted the first painting charge and send her this monstrosity?! Easy…the first photo she had an amazing reference photo to work from. Good lighting, good angle, great resolution and detail. The photo my friend provided her to work from was not one I would have ever considered using. It was dark, blurry, and the dogs were too far away from the camera to see any detail. The artist should have NEVER accepted to work from that photo. The friend expected the quality she had seen in her other painting and she felt she didn’t get what she paid for. Given you have now painted 10-15 pieces, you should know better than to accept a photo you can’t work from. I’ve sent clients back several times to retake photos of their dogs when the first few batches of photos they sent me weren’t good enough. If they don’t hire you because of it then fine! You weren’t going to be able to make them happy anyway. You want to build a reputation for having consistent, high quality work.
You need to have a contract of sorts before you get started. Make sure to have a set amount of changes that you allow on your painting without additional fees. Some people will request adjustment after adjustment. There needs to be a limit. I allow for two adjustments, then there is a fee for each additional change. People who order from me know what my work looks like. No adjustments *should* be needed, but even so there will be some people who like to request way too many changes. If they know there will be a fee for additional changes, they will make sure they are very clear about what they want to begin with instead of continuously changing their minds about background colors etc.
Along with that contract (which can be as simple as your email), be very clear about how much you’re going to charge for their painting. Unless they are making change after change, there should be no adjustments to the cost of the painting once you start. Don’t do the “well it will be around $200” thing when they ask. You’re not a mechanic who doesn’t know the extent of the damage to a car’s internal parts before you get started. You’re an artist who has painted 10-15 samples and you should then know exactly what it will take to paint their piece.
Once you have decided on a reference photo, you’ve agreed on a price and all the details, GET A DEPOSIT!!!! I can not stress this enough! Lots of people will “hire” you to paint something and once you’ve done it never pay up or answer emails. Some artists require a 50% deposit, I require a $100 deposit. That deposit goes towards the final cost of the painting, but it is NON REFUNDABLE if they change their mind and decide they don’t want to buy the painting. Taking that deposit will filter out a LOT of flakes. We all like to think it won’t happen to us…but it will. Someone WILL flake on you. That deposit covers your cost of supplies and some of your time. Make sure that they know that the deposit is non refundable.
I have a few more tips but I’m lazy and don’t want to write them all out, including pricing your work, using photoshop to make mock-ups for your clients to see different backgrounds and such. Check out my video for more tips 😀