Last year, I made more money on commissions than I did on sales of prints, originals, and print-on-demand products... combined. I'm very grateful to have a large network of friends and clients who trust me to create beautiful artwork for them, their loved ones, and their businesses. I think one of my core values is to be of service--to provide cool things to people who need it. Heck, I work for the government, and in my program, that's all we do. Although cleaning up a contaminated site may not at first seem very similar to painting a picture, the end result is the same: you help someone carry out a dream or idea that they may not have been able to accomplish on their own, and you give them a happy little spark. I LOVE seeing clients' faces light up when they get their finished work. I bask in their joy with them as they imagine hanging it on their wall, or gifting it to someone special.
Real talk for my fellow artists (clients, please skip this part, of course I love every minute of birthing your art baby! lol): Commissions can also be very stressful.
1. If a client doesn't give you many details, you have to be a bit of a mind-reader and ask a lot of questions--the right questions--or you're going to spend a lot of time painting something that isn't quite right, and you both get a little frustrated and bummed out.
2. You can't always take your sweet time like you can with originals, because birthdays and weddings and Christmas happen on real calendar days.
3. If you charge by the hour (like I do for graphic design work), you shouldn't be multitasking with other projects or guesstimating your hours. I use Google Calendar and ClickUp to track my hours.
Despite the occasional late night and frustration, the satisfaction of delivering a perfect product keeps me saying "yes" to commissions.
1. The first big commission I accepted, the 5ft x 7ft kraken hanging in the Sea Shanty Scuba & Swim shop in Norman, OK, I was not 100% sure I had the skill to do, but I knew I'd work at it until I did. Luckily, I had more skill than I thought, and 40 hours later, it was up on the wall of Dana Drake (Sea Shanty owner)'s shop!
2. As Dana reminds me, the kraken is *her* baby, and I'm just the surrogate!
3. In addition to being an art surrogate (which has some Brave New World/sci-fi undertones to me), I also like to think of my self as a creative mercenary--a brush-for-hire--dressed like Arnold in Predator, except I'm wearing paint-covered overalls instead of camo and my face is smeared in paint. (It just occurred to me that the word freelance is probably from the medieval days, when mercenary knights were "free lances"... lance-carrying dudes bouncing from war to war... *checked the dictionary* Yup, it is. Neat. Sometimes I use words a lot and then one day it occurs to me to stop to think about where they came from...)
I see a resemblance between Arnold, and 21-year-old me dressed as a zombie in my painting overalls...
4. If I know I don't have the skill or style to get the job done the way you want, I can likely find someone who does. Being President of an art guild has its perks! I know (or at least know of) lots of artists. For example, last year I referred someone who wanted a live wedding portrait painted to Behnaz Sohrabian... because unless you want your skin to be blue, green, or hot pink (they did not), I'm probably not a good fit for your painted portrait. 😂😂
5. I trace faces for portrait commissions. It keeps the price lower for you because it cuts down on hours and hours of drawing and redrawing and it keeps the faces accurate. Maybe someday I'll learn to copy faces without tracing, but the few times I've tried, they legit look like monsters... see Exhibit A. So I'll practice on my own until I get it down...but until then my commissions will be traced.
Exhibit A lol horrifying
6. You're the boss. You're never being "too pushy" or "too picky" or "too bossy." This is your artwork and I'm just the tool that's making it happen. The more detailed your descriptions of what you want, the better! I love me some parameters... how else will I know if I checked all the boxes? I LOVE checking boxes.
7. Tattoos. I have drawn a few tattoos for people, and I usually start off by asking the person if they really want some art in my style to take to their tattoo artist, or if they're asking me because I'm the only artist they know. If it's the former, I'll treat it like any other commission, and offer to send you something in writing that you can take to the tattoo artist you choose that states that they have my permission to use my artwork. Heck, for $50 I'll sell you a tattoo voucher for any of my pieces. However, if you're asking me because I'm the only person you know who can draw, I will be very flattered, but I will likely refer you to your tattoo artist--because they're real artists, too! A guy from my high school does INCREDIBLE tattoos, and oil paintings. Anything I can draw, they can draw better (for your tattoo) because they know the limits of their inks and their tools. I don't. I doubt they draw for free, but neither do I. They'll appreciate the chance to work with you to get your art right, and in their style.
8. Prints! If it's alright with my client, I'll put their commission into Fine Art America so people can order it on prints and products, shipped right to their doorstep. For example, the kraken (official name is "Release Me"), Max's Garden, the vampire squid from hell (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), the anglerfish, Brewed Awakening, Alkiris, 99 Red Balloons, and Taos Mountain are all available as prints on Fine Art America.
9. I love doing murals. Right now I'm on a hiatus from doing indoor murals due to COVID-19, but I'm interested in doing some outdoor murals. I'd consider our camper to be an outdoor mural, due to the extensive surface prep work we had to do, and the fact that it will be living outside. I'd love to paint garage doors, trees, brick walls... However, I do have a day job, so if you're in a time crunch, I'll probably refer you to someone else. A good rule of thumb for pricing is about $10-$25/sf plus cost of supplies, depending on how detailed you want the mural. (The sf price is quite a bit less than my canvas paintings because I figure it's unlikely you'll want it as detailed as a canvas painting since most people will be looking at it from far away, the paints are cheaper, and I use bigger brushes so it takes less time.)
Wall of Commissions: