There are many reasons why someone may want to commission an artist for a custom piece. Perhaps the art will be used in a children’s book or graphic novel. Maybe someone special just passed away and they are looking for a memorial gift. They may even have a character from their favorite show or video game that they want a custom drawing done so they can hang in on the wall for everyone to see.
No matter the reason for commissioning a piece of art, there are various aspects that need to be addressed and other aspects likely to come up whenever talking to a professional artist about having them do some custom work. However, the first and foremost thing to remember is that when commissioning an artist, you are working with a real person who has dedicated themselves to their craft. Like any job, whether talking to a contractor, a doctor, a school teacher, or anyone else, respect for what they do needs to come into play.
To get started, there are a few things that the commissioner needs to take into consideration to get the best results.
What do you want?
Surprisingly, this is a step that is often overlooked. What is the piece that you are looking at having done? Suppling the artist with enough details so they know what they will be working on clearly and from the start can save a lot of headaches so it’s important to have a pretty good idea of what the commission will be. Based on my own work, here are a few responses I’ve personally received.
A good description:
My son is leaving for a mission and I’d like to have a portrait of him to hang on the mantle. I’d like it to be a fairly large piece to take up space. The area it will be hung is 5’ wide by 7’ high and I’d really like this to be a portrait of him in charcoal. A few photos are attached. If this is something you are interested in, can we talk about the project?
A bad description:
I like the Witcher game. Can you make me some cool art of it?
As you can see, one description gives the artist something to envision, and the idea of what they will be drawing or painting, and how it will be used. The other is completely vague. Do they want an image of Gerald or maybe even a Bog Witch? Maybe they want a horse on a mountainside with a Griffen hanging off the side. It’s so vague that it’s unlikely the commissioner will be happy with the result.
However, with the first one, it’s pretty clear on both sides the final art will be a portrait in charcoal.
The drawing or painting mood and genre.
Now that the subject has been decided, it’s time to move on to the mood of the piece. Is it a dark piece, maybe depressing and melancholy, does it fall into the macabre realm, is it bright and energetic. Is the subject isolated or on a background?
The reason these are important to consider is that you don’t want to simply choose any artist. The artist downtown is likely painting in a different genre and mood than one you chose online because they had one cool piece that really stood out.
By considering the genre and mood, then the artist to be chosen is easier to select. If what the commissioner wants and how the artist usually works match, the process not only moves faster but there are a lot fewer hiccups along the way. This is an important and often overlooked step when it comes to choosing an artist to complete the commission.
The choose the artwork’s overall size.
Whether choosing an artist that works in traditional mediums or digital, the size of the piece matters. Believe it or not, most digital paintings are completed in a very similar process as their traditional counterparts so the size of the piece matters.
Many artists will determine their cost on two factors, size, and complexity. This applies to both mediums. For digital artists, they can’t simply work on a smaller piece and scale it up. When that is done the artwork will begin to blur and the little details become lost so it’s best to commission them with the size you actually want and don’t try to cut cost there, you may not be happy with the results once scaled.
How will the commissioned art be used?
When it comes to commissioning an artist, it’s important to let them know how the art is going to be used. This becomes even more important when you are working with more well-known artists. Usage rights begin to vary and when you move into the realm of business, you often begin to deal with royalties. This is something most people shy away from because they don’t want to pay more. However, the savvy investor knows that when you pull an artist onboard with royalties, they are likely to stay committed to you so future pieces commissioned match which often results in a higher return on investment later.
So, whether the art is to be used as a living room centerpiece or inside a video game, work out the details with the artist, come to an agreement, and when both parties benefit from the deal instead of one side, the overall art quality begins to shine even brighter.
Look at the artist’s portfolio.
Looking at the artist’s portfolio is one of the most crucial steps when determining what artists to commission. It’s very often for people to go to their favorite artist for a piece that’s completely unrelated. For example, if an artist is known for working in anime, it’s unlikely that their fine art portraits are going to be on the same level. Likewise, fine artists aren’t likely to perform as well on an anime piece.
By matching the artist with the piece to the commission, you will find an artist that spends most of their time studying the nuances of a particular style and the quality will show through when completed.
It’s also important to match mediums. Though the traditional and digital mediums often work the same when it comes to the foundations of art and design, the overall behavior of the mediums is immensely different. There are many artists who will bounce between the two mediums with ease, but for the most part, many digital artists may not know the nuances of a medium, such as reds and yellows in oil being slightly more transparent than other colors. The traditional artist may not know how to glaze their paints digitally like their digital counterparts.
If an artist works primarily in one medium and that is all you see in their portfolio, then it would be best to consider them if you want the commission completed in that particular medium.
Contact The Artist
It’s time to contact the artist and check their interest level and availability. Many artists are incredibly busy and may not be interested in taking on a side project. Don’t be offended if they reject the offer, sometimes they will accept it later, some may direct you to an artist that has a similar style, and so on.
Also, consider how established the artist is. Often, the more well known the artist is the more packed their schedule will be as well as coming in at a higher cost per piece. Whereas the less known artists are often more available and may cost less per piece as they are developing their audience.
Regardless, send an email and let them know what you would like done and they will let you know their availability. It’s important to go into a commission with realistic expectations on both the time it takes to complete a project as well as cost. When you are dealing with professional artists, you get what you pay for. Ask questions to yourself such as, is this project really important to me? How important? If it’s not important enough to put a few hundred to thousands (depending on the artist), then maybe find a student, hobbyist, or entry-level artist to help instead of an established name.
If the project is worth investing in, talk to the artist about your rates. Be prepared for the artist to ask you what YOUR BUDGET for the project is. The reason is that this can often influence what they can do for you. If your budget is $700, then they will already have a good idea of what to do for that. If your budget is around $3,000, they will often take the project in a different direction. If you bypass the question and ask the artist what they charge, they will often delve into what you need by asking a series of questions and then come back with a price. Often, if they don’t know your budget upfront, this price may be a lot higher than you anticipated. Don’t let that scare you away, simply talk to them about what they can do because it helps them, and you, realize that you do actually have a price set aside for the piece and see if they can still meet that budget by adjusting what they do on the piece.
A word of advice. NEVER, and I mean NEVER mention that you will pay the artist in exposure. The fact you are contacting them shows them there is a good chance they already have more exposure than you can provide, and all the top companies that can offer real exposure pay anyway. This is a very insulting term to an artist. The subconscious side of the term is you don’t value the artist, their skill, or their time and you simply want the art for free. Whether that is the intent or not, that’s how it ALWAYS comes across.
The Agreement For The Art
Once an artist has been selected and they agree to the commission, you will often move into an agreement phase. This is also known as the contract. Don’t let a contract scare you away (unless you never intended to pay for the work in the first place, then run!), an agreement is simply a binding agreement saying what the artist will complete for you, what you will be paying them for the work, the timeline in which it will be completed, and a few other things like how they handle revision, whether they keep rights, turn them to you, or if royalties are involved.
Agreements are very common within the art field and are often sought after by investors because it shows you are dealing with a true professional who is willing to see projects through to the end and are more than simply someone who flies by night and you don’t know if the project will ever be completed.
Again, agreements are a very good thing!
Recap on how to commission an artist.
We’ve covered quite a bit in this. A quick recap about what we’ve gone over is that researching and matching the artist to the work style and quality you need is a very important part of getting what you truly want in your commission. The closer you match the artist’s work to your wants or needs, the better the end result will be.
Once you’ve found your artist and reached out to them, you’ll set some terms and agreements with them and then move forward, often entailing an agreement of the work and possibly a downpayment before moving forward.
That’s pretty much it, once all that is taken care of the artist will get started on the work. By now you will have covered what is needed and they have given you an approximate timeline when to expect the work.
Hopefully, you have found this article helpful and informative. If you would like me to create some art for you, please feel free to reach out. My schedule for commissions vary, but I’m always happy to hear from anyone who enjoys my work and would like a commissioned piece for personal or business use.