4 Steps in the Lifecycle of an Art Commission

art business tip art pricing commissions
4 steps in a lifecycle of an art commission

Art commissions are often the bread and butter of many artists - meaning, this is where a majority of our income comes from.  It can be fun and it can be a really depends on the process that is in place.  

I treat commissions like a project so it is a very well-defined process. 

Out of all the years I've been taking commissions there has been only one commission that I said 'forget this' and returned their money. And the 1 that didn't go well, and, I'll be honest, I blame myself - I didn't listen to my gut, I didn't want to take the job, but I did anyway because it was a friend...notice I said - was...

My lesson learned - trust your gut about taking a commission.  

I personally, LOVE commissions because I love being entrusted with a cherished memory from the client that they will cherish for years to come.  That literally brings tears of joy to my face...

So I don't take this process lightly, my goal and yours is to create a piece of work that the client will enjoy for years to come.  So, in this article, we are going to cover the 4 Steps in the Lifecycle of a Commission. 

Ready... here we go!

Step #1: Define the Requirements for the Commission

Before you can ever provide an estimate for the cost of the commission, you first have to define the requirements for the commission you need to understand the following: 

  1. See the reference image.  This will help you determine the structure, subject, the number of subjects and decide whether you actually want to take on the commission.
  2. Define the size of the commission.  This will help you determine the level of effort and the cost of materials.
  3. Define the timeline.  This will help you decide if you have time to complete the commission with the high level of quality that you expect from yourself.  

These 3 things define the Scope of the Project.  Use this information to define the cost of the commission using the Art Pricing Formula (grab the Art Pricing Formula documented within the book "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works.").

Next up, let's define the payment structure. 

Step #2: Define the Payment Structure

The payment structure will need to be a discussion and also written in your invoice (you can grab my sample invoice within the Free Guide "5 Questions to Consider BEFORE Starting Commissions").  

Now that you've defined the scope of the project, we get to come to an agreement with the client on the Payment Structure. 

MINDSET NOTE: when you discuss the price and payment structure, in the beginning, it can be uncomfortable...but what you need to do is get comfortable with the idea of getting paid for your skills and talent that has been cultivated for years.  To help you do this:  document your prices for the subjects you are most comfortable with, then using the art pricing calculator, define the prices based on the scope above, so that you have a solid foundation to confidently state your price.   

This will enable you to simply state the price like it were the price of a t-shirt. It is what it is...

State and document the following payment structure for commissions: 

  1. Define the Price. Provide the cost of the commission verbally (if possible) and written (required).
  2. Non-Refundable Deposit. Request 50% non-refundable deposit to secure the spot on your calendar and to pay for supplies.
  3. Remaining Fee Payment Structure. State verbally (if possible) and written (required) the remainder is due upon completion and before shipped/delivered.
  4.  Change Control Process. State verbally (if possible) and written (required) how many changes are included and what you would charge per hour for significant changes.  These are called change controls.   
    1. Change controls are similar to what we did in step #1 where we define the scope of the project.  In the change control, the client has to define the change (in writing), you have to provide an estimated cost for revision and a revised timeline if needed.  

Step #3: Complete the Commission and Communicate

Finally, the fun part right?  Doing the work.  I recommend you have several checkpoints throughout the process to ensure that you are delivering to the client what they have in mind. 

  1. Get approval on the sketch first.  Before you begin doing any painting or detail work, submit the sketch to the client for approval for layout and design.  After approval, you can start the detail work and any changes to the layout or design moving forward should be treated as a change control fee. 
  2. CREATE! Finally the fun part!!! 
  3. Final approval. Once you believe you are complete, get approval on the finished piece.  
  4. Request final payment. Once approved request the final payment. 

Once approved you can move to the final stage.



Step #4: Wrap up the Commission

There are several things you should do to wrap up the commission to continue the awesome customer service you've provided so far!  You'll want to: 

  1. Portfolio. Get a photo of the finished piece for your portfolio
  2. COA. Print the Certificate of Authenticity (click here for a free template)
  3. Varnish (if applicable)
  4. Ship. Prepare for shipping/delivery
  5. Request testimonial.  Request a testimonial either to your Facebook Page or Google Business page.  If all goes well, this is super easy and the client will gush over the work that you did.  

And you'll do it again because it is AMAZING to feel the gratification of a job well done for a client who loves your work and honored you with the trust to create something that will be cherished for years to come!

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