To Manage an Art Commission is to Set Expectations

April 4th, 2009 by jules

The other day, I tweeted the following:

When I get a commission, I stress that it will be “my take on on their inspiration/idea.” This is difficult, but important”

“I try to say the work will be “My style” and show the client half-way through to set expectations…”

“Basically I warn the client that I’m an artist, not a photographer, and I keep them involved through the creation process…”

The Commission Conundrum

Commissions are always welcome, for most artists.  If you have ever had a client be less than thrilled about the result, pay you, and then never hear from them again, you can identify with what I call the “Commission Conundrum”  That excited yet sinking feeling a commission request can bring.

The Conundrum is that both parties are excited and agree to proceed, a quick friendly chat happens, they part ways, a piece is presented that neither the Artist nor the client truly loves.  So what happened?  The puzzle of what the client wanted and what the artists style allows was not put together well.

What julesandnate does…

As the Artist, I/we try to understand what they want by asking for LOTS of pictures and ideas from them, showing them pictures and inspiration we have in our arsenal…and lots of talk, talk, talk-do not underestimate this.  Then we proceed to explain what I/we think they want in a couple different ways, then we repeat.  Seriously.

Next step, explain that you are an ARTIST.  You will take their requirements and make them into something that comes from you, from your esthetic.  It will not look like one specific picture or even a few pieced together.  These pictures are simply for inspiration.  You will incorporate the key features the client wants, but the execution and outcome is from you-the Artist, and you don’t know what the piece will look like exactly until you begin, work through and complete it.  The Art is in the Process.  Then we have this conversation again, then repeat.  Again, I’m serious.

To support this, I involve the client in the process.  I recently started using Flickr to display “in-progress” shots.  Get the clients input throughout the process.  Its not that you need direction, but you need them to be happy with where the piece is going, and to set expectations.  Involving the client through the entire process gets them invested, and there is no big shock when the piece is complete.

This is not fool proof of course, but it cuts down on going in the “wrong direction,” mis-understandings and unexpected outcomes.

How do you handle the commission process, what has worked or not worked for you?  Please share in the comments, Thanks!  Jules


7 Responses to “To Manage an Art Commission is to Set Expectations”

  1. I love it, I guess I got it EZ because all my stuff looks the same so you know what you are getting, you are getting circles hahaha, thanks for the blog.

    • jules says:

      Thanks again for the inspiration and savour that great rapport you have with clients, nothing can beat it!! Sincerely, Jules

  2. Yup – know the sinking feeling of realization that what I’ve achieved isn’t quite what they wanted, nor is it what I want because I felt pulled out of my style by what I thought they wanted. But I also have had the joy of nailing it – and that makes it worth trying again!

    • jules says:

      Dead on! The collaboration opens the minds of the client and the artist and wonderful things can happen. Best, Jules

  3. Hi Jules and Nate, I’ve yet to receive a commission yet apart from photographic portraits but I just wanted to say that I found this article really useful and I am going to file it away for future reference! Hopefully it will start happening soon. Thank you!

    • jules says:

      That is the best compliment, Thanks so much! Its fine to take commissions from friends and family, as one often leads to another, Best of Luck, Jules

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