Are people starting to show interest in your work, but you're a bit nervous about getting into a paid project? Have you started taking commissions and have been disappointed with the experience of working with clients? Interested in streamlining your commission processes and getting others to see you as a professional working artist?
As artists, it can be difficult to tap into that business-mindset, but it's an absolute must if we plan on making a consistent income with our art. In today's blog post, I'll be sharing six tips that will help you look professional in the eyes of prospective clients, ensure your art commission processes go as smoothly as possible, and help you build a positive reputation that will attract more clients in the future.
A great amount of self-employed artists make the majority of their income by working on commissions for clients who demonstrate a liking of their work and ask them to create a piece based on their particular needs. This said, I want to preface this post by saying that there is a vast amount of ways that we can create an income for ourselves through our art and our artistic skills.
There are artists who only sell their work through galleries, others who make the majority of their income through teaching (online or offline), artists who create YouTube channels and/or blogs and become ambassadors for art supply brands, artists who have Etsy shops through which they sell original artwork and/or prints, artists who sell at local art markets/events... The possibilities are literally endless.
And I 100% believe that you can become successful at any path you wish you pursue, as long as you're willing to put your entrepreneurial shoes on, are willing to step out of your comfort zone to make your dreams happen, continuously learn from other artists that have become successful in what you wish to do (and actually put that knowledge into action), and stay persistent. Be aware that things take time, though, and that you have to be smart about how you go about pursuing your dreams.
Whatever combination of paths you decide to pursue is entirely up to you and what you're personally willing to do to make your goals happen. I do highly recommend you look into setting up a variety of income streams for yourself, as this will help you always have something to fall back on. Not to mention, this will allow you the possibility of turning down commissions when they don't align with who you are as an artist and/or you feel the potential client on hand doesn't entirely respect your work.
Working with clients is definitely an experience all beginner artists should go through, as it helps us develop a vast array of skills such as artist-client communication, time-management, etc. However, every artist should give serious thought to what his/her professional long-term goals are, so that he/she can go about establishing short-term objectives and focus on making them happen.
Check out my blog post titled Time Management for Artists: My Secrets for Staying Consistently Productive to learn how I go about establishing goals for the different important areas of my life and plan short-term objectives/weekly tasks to ensure I'm consistently moving towards them.
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Tips on Taking Art Commissions
1. Have a set method for pricing your artwork
There are two common methods that artists use to price their work:
a) By hour: Amount of hours worked on painting x hourly rate
This method requires you to determine your hourly rate, which will be completely dependent on your experience and skill level. I always add the cost of supplies to this total afterwards.
b) By size: Set cost per square inch x amount of square inches in painting
This method entails you set a particular cost per painted square inch, which will be dependent on the quality of the supplies you're using, as well as the level of detail rendered in your work.
Think about which option would be best for your particular situation and stick to it. This way, whenever anyone asks you how much you charge you have a clear, definite answer, which will make you seem a lot more professional.
In my particular situation, I use both for separate situations. When I create artwork to sell at art shows or to sell through my Etsy shop, I go by size. This tends to make the pricing/buying process less confusing for both myself and my customers. When I do commissions, however, and I'm asked to create a piece in specific dimensions, using specific materials and perhaps even different subjects from those I'm most used to painting, I price by hour.
A few extra things to ask yourself when establishing your prices:
-How comfortable are you drawing/painting the particular subject on hand? Is your lack of skill with that particular subject going to make you take longer? *If so, consider how you'll be lowering your prices to keep things fair (cost per hour wouldn't make sense in this case).
-Is the work urgent? Will it entail you working long hours or weekends? *If so, consider raising your prices.
-Will this project help you expand your knowledge and/or skills in a particular area your interested in developing? Would it be a great portfolio piece that will help you get the projects and clients you'd like to work with in the future? Is it fun/meaningful for you? *If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, consider taking the job even if the pay isn't as high as you'd like it to be.
2. Plan your time wisely
As a working artist, it's absolutely imperative to learn about time management, get systems in place, and stick with them as best as possible. We have to treat creating art as our job if we intend to make a living from it, which entails, among many other things we have to do to keep out business running, sending our customers/clients updates and turning in work whenever we've promised to do so.
As a general rule, I never promise I'll get something done by a certain date if there's even the slightest chance I won't be able to finish on time. I like being as transparent and as honest as possible, right from the beginning.
I love the idea that I heard from a business specialist a while back about "underpromising and overdelivering", and I apply this when it comes to estimating a delivery date. In other words, I almost always tell my customers that the painting is going to take me at least a couple of days longer than I think it will and do my best to finish before that day. This way I can surprise my customers and even make the unboxing experience more special by making the packaging extra awesome and maybe even adding small gifts.
Whether I'm going to be working on a shorter project or a longer one, I like creating a time table that I send to my prospective clients and include in the document I will be talking about in point number 3. I make time to sit down for a few minutes to create a calendar/timeframe using InDesign (whatever software allows you to make tables will work perfectly) and give thought to how many hours I'm going to have available to work on said project, day-by-day, throughout the next few weeks. *See example of an estimated project timeline I sent to a prospective client below.
I never commit to any due dates and take my other responsibilities into consideration when creating this timeline, as well as the time I need for my mental and physical health (this info is omitted in the version I send of course!). As I mentioned, I add in a couple of extra days just in case any emergencies happen, clients don't send feedback when requested, or if I have to re-do something.
Creating this time table is especially important when you're being asked to work on a longer project that will take over a month to complete.
3. Have information available on your website for possible customers, as well as a formal document to send whenever you're asked for a quote
It's extremely useful to have a section of your website in which you share information about your creative process and any general terms pertaining to how you sell your work. Some artists do this in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions section in which they list common inquiries they receive. For a solopreneur, this is incredibly useful, as this helps you not have to answer the same questions over and over again and serves as a type of tripwire, so that only those that would seriously be interested in working with you seek further communication.
One suggestion is to make this area of your website fun and actually educational. Add pictures of yourself at work, your workspace, your supplies, your work in progress, etc. Actually use it to help educate non-artists on what your creative process actually entails. Make it known that you love your work and make an effort to provide quality drawing/paintings.
Some information you should definitely include in this section:
-Your method(s) for accepting payment (bank deposit/PayPal/etc.)
-What percentage of the total cost you need to get started (make this non-refundable)
-Do you offer refunds?
-Whether you ship your work internationally (if so- what are your shipping terms/costs?)
-Will you require anything specific from the customer to get the work done (high-resolution images, etc.)?
Aside from having this information available on your website, it's also very useful to send over a formal document whenever you're asked for a quote. It doesn't have to be overly complicated, especially if the commission on hand is a simple project. However, when projects are a bit more complex and/or will entail you working on it for over a month, I do recommend spending a longer time on this document.
It should establish the specifics of the project on hand (what it is the client is asking for-exactly), state the cost (I like clearly describing how I arrived at that total by making my hourly rate and cost of materials known), and provide at least a general timeframe (I like including when each "phase" of the project will be finished by and when I'll be sharing progress notes and/or attending meetings).
In this document, it's also very useful to re-state important payment terms that were already stated in the informational section of your website, along with any other notes you want to make extra clear (i.e. how much extra changes or meetings would cost, etc.).
If you're starting to work on more complex projects that will take a longer time to complete, or are taking on a project commissioned by an established business, I highly recommend starting to read into Client Agreements and actually getting a contract signed before starting to work on anything at all.
4. Make sure your prospective customers are aware of your artistic style and aren't expecting something you can't/won't do
Having a portfolio available for customers to see and keeping it updated with the kind of work you're interested in producing is very important. I would say that your portfolio should have at least 10 different pieces so that people can have a good idea of what it is you do, as well as what range of subjects you'd be willing to work with.
By sharing your portfolio and consistently sharing what you're currently working on, there will be much more of a chance that people who like your work will reach out with their inquiries. Get business cards made that include your website and social media channels on it! Have them on you at all times when you're out and about, and don't be afraid to tell people you're an artist and let them know where they can find your work.
5. Ask questions and make sure you clearly understand what you're being asked to do
Make sure you ask a ton of questions and have a clear idea of what you're being asked to do. Don't be shy about it, either. I've had people reach out to me thinking they know what they want, but as soon as I start asking specific questions, they realize they don't.
Getting started on a project in which the customer is unsure of what they need will leave you guessing, and this is a surefire way of making the art-making process way more stressful than it should be.
I've also found that I'll if I actually take time to get to know my customer a bit before getting started, there's more of a chance that I'll create a piece they'll absolutely love.
Here are a few questions I always ask:
-What art styles do you like? *Have them send over a couple of pictures of specific artworks that call to them.
-What color schemes do you enjoy? *Do they like warm colors? Cool colors? A combo of both?
-What area of your home/office will you be decorating with this piece? *I've even had customers send over pictures of the space that will be decorated with my painting(s) to have a good idea of their decorative style, the color of the furniture, etc.
6. Be responsive and make communication a priority
If a prospective client emails or messages you with inquiries in regards to a possible commissioned piece and you don't respond quickly, you may loose the opportunity. Make yourself as accessible as possible and always try to answer back within a reasonable amount of time.
Also, make communication a priority throughout the process. This isn't to say you should be calling or emailing back and forth every-single-day, but make sure you don't let a long period of time go by without informing them about your progress, possible setbacks, etc. This will help avoid confusion, surprises, and prevent any negative ideas about you and your working process pop up in your clients' heads.
Put yourself in your customers' shoes. Think about what it would feel like to pay for a job and have no idea of what's going on.
I once hired a photographer who let months go by without sending me any information in regards to his progress editing the photos from our photoshoot. My mind couldn't help but wonder if he was prioritizing other peoples' projects over mine, if something had happened (i.e. did he lose the photos?) or if he simply didn't care about getting the job done on time. And, yes, I could have simply called him to ask him what was going on, but I'm always very busy and also wanted to be respectful (I know how time-consuming editing photos can be as I've done it myself). Not to mention, I really believe that if you're the professional getting paid to do the job, you should take it upon yourself to keep the client informed about what's going on and not rely on them calling you.
*Final bonus tip:
Don't be afraid to turn down prospective clients if you feel who they are or what they are asking you for doesn't align with you.
If you feel that what they're asking you to do goes against your moral compass or beliefs, or if you feel there's any possibility that the person doesn't respect your work and your creative process, it's not worth it! Avoid getting into these high-stress situations in the first place.
Always remember that it's your decision whether to take a project on or not. Never to let anyone minimize your passions and undervalue your work.
I hope you found this post helpful and wish you tons of success in your artistic endeavors! Do leave me a comment below letting me know if you've had any negative experiences while working on commissions. I'd love to hear about it!
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