The commissioning of art is of utmost historical significance, with countless contracted masterpieces offering us an insight into the past, into the lives of individuals or entire civilizations long dead — Take the Roman Coliseum commissioned by Emperor Vespasian, for example.
Historically speaking, only the wealthy had the privilege of commissioning artists to create bespoke pieces.
Rulers would have personal portraits composed by the masters of the time to hang in their royal or governmental properties, and aristocrats would commission sizable family portraits to hang in their manor houses, punctuating their privilege with aplomb.
Thankfully, the commissioning of art has long been democratized, meaning you and I can get in on the action and snag our very own custom masterpieces, too!
However, accessible though commissions may be, it can be tricky figuring out how to approach such a thing, so let’s break it down into bite-size steps!
Commissioning art is sort of like getting a tattoo.
In fact, it’s exactly like getting a tattoo. It’s best to start out tentatively, hammering out the finer points of the piece you want.
Much like getting a tattoo, first, you should dream up a subject, i.e.
what you want to be the focal point of the commissioned piece.
Is it you? Your family? Your pet? Perhaps the subject will be something you’re interested in like an instrument if you’re a musician, or a place you remember fondly from your childhood.
One of the beautiful things about art is that it permits an infinite amount of angles; a single subject can be expressed in a multitude of ways.
In light of this, you’ll have to narrow your options down in terms of aesthetics, which can be achieved by selecting a medium (type of art/materials).
Coaxing up at least a vague artistic style in your head will help in finding an artist, but before you start your search for some talent, be sure to research the possibilities and limitations of a certain style or medium.
You may have to amend your wants if they’re unreasonable or impossible to accomplish using a certain medium.
Again, much like getting a tattoo, you need to find an artist with a style that really speaks to you and suits your artistic vision.
As for where you can find artists, Instagram is a pretty fantastic resource, as once you find something you like, the platform will target you with similar content.
That said, I wouldn’t discount simply asking around, especially if you have artsy friends.
They might be able to direct you to someone perfect for the job.
Attending art fairs and galleries is another great way to broaden your search.
You may also want to consider the work ethic, schedule, career stage, and values of an artist before selecting them as your champion.
When commissioning artwork, you’re essentially hiring someone to work for you, and you want that person to be reliable and professional.
If you’ve heard that others have had a hard time with one of your prospective artists, it might not be worth trusting them with the contract.
Most artists are incredibly busy, especially if they’re making strides in their field, so you have to be comfortable working according to their schedule.
If you need something sooner rather than later, you may not be able to work with your artist of choice.
The further along in their career an artist is, the more likely you’ll have to fork out a pretty penny for a commission, so if you want the skill that comes with experience, it’s best to budget for it well ahead of time.
The degree to which an artist can be separated from their art is a hotly debated topic.
It’s not the end of the world if you and the artist aren’t best buds, but you don’t want to be reminded of someone you find morally repugnant every time you look at your commissioned piece, no matter how masterful it is.
If you can catch up with the artist in person, perfect, but for higher profile or geographically distant artists, your best bet is probably email, which you’ll find on their socials or website.
Alternatively, you may be able to drop them a line via their manager or studio.
It’s essential to be polite, understanding, and professional in your correspondence, as art is this person’s work.
You don’t want to make a bad first impression, trust me!
All you need to do at this stage is to explain how much you like their style and ask whether they’re currently accepting commissions.
While it’s often good to give an artist license to let their imagination run a little wild, they still need a detailed brief. Let them know:
It’s also worth passing on a few references to really get your vision across to your artist, and be sure to talk freely about what is and isn’t possible in terms of medium and subject.
You may also want to broach the subject of money at this juncture.
An artist might put some significant hours and effort into creating a commissioned piece, so most will request a deposit before work begins to cover them for losses should the deal go south.
At the end of the day, a commission is a business transaction, so it must be outlined and backed up by a solid contract that covers.
The artist may provide the contract, but if the onus falls on you, there are plenty of templates online to get you started.
The artist will understand you’ll want a few updates along the way, so to stop you feeling like you’re bothering them at a later date, schedule some catch-ups at predetermined intervals so the artist knows they’ll hear from you.
All there is to do now is kick back, relax, and wait for the artist to work their magic.
Don’t be afraid to commission art, as commissions make up a great deal of many artists’ salaries, but be sure to keep the steps discussed above in mind when you do, as they ensure the best possible relationship with your artist and the best possible final product.
If we can't teach you, no one can!