I never intended to do commissions and rarely accepted them until about 3 years ago. Before that it was an occasional piece for a friend or family member and usually a gift. I never promoted myself but eventually it grew by word of mouth. Commissions often come through galleries and I am not in one, so I never expected much in the way of volume. This past summer I had eight commissions and have 3 to complete this fall. That is more than the total number for the previous 3 years. So, I have been busy.
There are a number of reasons to do commission work. First of all, the painting is almost a guaranteed sale. I always give the client the option of not buying the piece if they are not happy. That has yet to happen though I'm sure it will sometime. More on this later. Secondly, commissions are often very specific requests that would not be subject of the artist's choosing. I do not do portraits because I lack the training, but I have accepted pet and house portraits as well as figures that represent specific people but are not exact likenesses. My favorite type of commission is a more open ended request for something similar to a painting I have done in the past, but when I have to paint out of my comfort zone I always learn something. For example, after taking on some house portraits I improved my perspective skills and ability to simplify architecture. I like to paint cityscapes so the experience was helpful. Accepting commissions has grown my client base. Many of my requests come from friends or family members of previous commission customers. Subsequently some have purchased non commissioned work as well.
There are some downsides. I was so busy this summer I did not have time to paint subjects that I was passionate about. I went on two brief painting trips for plein air studies but otherwise mostly worked on commissions in the studio. Most of what I did involved specific deadlines which made things more stressful. My general inventory is lower than I like for it to be because I was not able to replace pieces that sold online or in shows. These are good problems to have, though I have not had as much pleasure from a creativity standpoint.
As for the risk of unhappy customers, I have a couple of suggestions. If I have access to the scene I take my own photos, but often this is not possible. I will not accept a commission if a bad reference photo is my only option. I take progress photos while I work on the paintings and give the clients the opportunity to give feedback. I had one large piece this summer (36"x36") and I first painted a small study for them to approve (12"x12"). That saved a lot of effort on the back end. Galleries typically ask for a 50% deposit for commissions which is only refunded if the gallery is able to sell it to someone else should the client be unhappy. Some artists charge more for commissions because they are more trouble. I don't do either of these things but it is something to consider.
Below are a few examples of this year's commission work-
I would not have chosen this house to paint but it was a good lesson in simplification as this house had a lot going on. I was able to get creative with the sky and the foliage which made it feel more like painting a landscape (my comfort zone). 14"x18"
I actually had to paint this twice, each with a different golfer. I was lucky because the light was very good in the reference photos. (Unfortunately I wasn't given access to Augusta National for photos...) The shot was taken in the fall but I was asked to paint the azaleas in bloom. It is easy to find photos of this hole online so that was easy. I do not want to be known as a golf course painter, but if I had to do it this was an exceptionally good subject with a lot of natural landscape. 16"x20"
Now for my favorite, a request to paint a subject I have painted in the past. I love bicycles and hadn't painted any in a while. Right up my alley and I was told I could use any reference I liked. Hard decision because I have a large file! The only specific was the size of the painting, 12"x12".
If you sell your work and have not done commissions I recommend giving it a try. Starting with friends and family is a good way to get your brushes wet.
Thanks for reading!