With the ongoing events in 2020, many artists and creatives are branching out and looking to add different sources of revenue. Some of you may be considering taking commissions for the very first time and I want to congratulate you for leaving your comfort zone – but also warn you of the potential headaches that may happen with commissions.

The number one rule is you must collect a deposit or payment of the artwork prior to starting. You need a sign that your customer is just as invested in this project as you are. A deposit shows that your customer is serious and will likely follow through with you until the artwork is completed. A deposit can range from 15% to 50% of the price of the artwork. The remaining amount may be broken up into several stages as you make more progress of the artwork. Do not ship the artwork until you receive the last payment.

Now before you accept any money, you should be aware that communication is extremely important for custom artwork. You should know the answer to all of the questions below. If there is any doubt about one or more of these questions, have the answer down in writing. If you communicate verbally, summarize your conversation in writing and send an email to yourself and your customer so that there is a record of your agreement.

General information about the commissioned artwork (13)

These are the bare minimum questions you should know the answer to without hesitation.

  1. How large is the artwork?
  2. What art medium(s) will be used?
  3. What surface will the artwork be made on? (paper/canvas/board/etc.)
  4. Price of artwork?
  5. Payment method?
  6. Due date?
  7. Shipping method? (Or location if delivered in person.)
  8. Shipping price?
  9. Framed or unframed?
  10. Will you provide progress pictures? If so, at how many intervals?
  11. (Digital) Image resolution?
  12. (Digital) Image file format?
  13. (Digital) What is the largest size that can be printed without loss of quality?
Revisions or changes (4)

Revisions are a normal part of the commission process. An artist can expect to perform multiple rounds of changes. It is a good idea to put a limit on the number of revisions included in the price. A typical range is 1 to 3 revisions and any additional revisions would be subject to a flat rate or hourly rate.

  1. How many revisions are included in the price of the artwork?
  2. How much will it cost to revise the artwork beyond the included number of revisions?
  3. How long does it take to complete a revision?
  4. Are there limits on the amount of rework allowed? (Digital work is the most flexible, but some art materials such as watercolor cannot be revised without repainting the entire piece).
Smaller details that are still important (4)
  1. Is this artwork a gift? (If yes, be sure that you can meet the deadline – taking into account shipping times.)
  2. Is this an international order? (Consider adding additional packaging materials to protect the artwork during transit.)
  3. Can you share the artwork to your social media accounts?
  4. Shipping insurance?
For artists shipping physical artwork (4)
  1. Do you have packing materials (boxes, void fill, tape, shipping labels, etc.) to safely package the artwork?
  2. Have you shipped artwork before? (Consider shipping a “test package” to a family member or friend to check the durability of your packaging.)
  3. Do you know how much your package weighs? (I recommend investing in a postage scale or having your parcel weighed at a calibrated scale for the most accurate shipping quotes.)
  4. If shipping fragile artwork (i.e. framed artwork with glass) do you have precaution measures in the event the glass breaks?

I know that there are more than just these 25 questions, but these are the most common points that I see repeatedly pop up in art forums through the years. The key to a successful commission is communication and your customer’s expectations matching up with the artwork that you are capable of creating.

If you are just starting out with commissions, I recommend to start local (family and friends) and then branch out to international orders when you’re confident with your packaging. If you’re not sure how long it will take you to complete the artwork, always be conservative and add a few more days than you’ll think you need.

A happy customer will be one of your best advocates as they can be a testimony to the quality of your artwork and customer service.

Did I miss an important question to ask for commissions? What do you think of my 25 questions list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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