How to Commission an Artist – Everything You Need to Know
Is it your first time commissioning a custom art piece? Being an illustrator and photographer myself, I wanted to create a useful resource for clients to learn everything they need to know about how to commission an artist.
This comprehensive guide covers all questions you might have about the commission process – how to find an artist, prices, usage rights, contracts and so much more!
Read from the beginning or jump right to the section that interests you the most, so you can hopefully commission an artwork that brings you long-lasting joy.
- What exactly is a commissioned work of art?
- Why you might want to commission an artist
- Types of usage and rights of commissioned art
- Where to find artists to commission
- How to approach an artist for a commission
- How much does it cost to commission an artist?
- What should be included in an art commission contract?
- What is the process after commissioning an artwork?
- How to tell an artist you don’t like the commission
- Final words
What exactly is a commissioned work of art?
A commission in the art world refers to a piece of art being made specifically for you. The artist you choose for your custom artwork will bring your personal vision to life in their unique style.
You can commission an art piece as a private person or for business purposes.
You can request the creation of a personal piece from an illustrator, painter, photographer, composer, … Any kind of artist, basically.
Many artists – but not all – will take commissions, but more on how to find these that do below.
If you want to use an already existing artwork it is called licensing (this guide however refers to commissioning new art pieces specifically).
Why you might want to commission an artist
There are many reasons why people commission an artist. Maybe they want to have a special idea realized by them. Sometimes, an original painting has been sold but they would love something similar. Technically, even a tattoo design is a commissioned piece of art – made just for you.
Popular uses for commissions are:
- personal portraits of you or loved ones (e.g. as a gift, for a wedding invitation, wall art, …)
- musical pieces to use for film creations
- custom logo created for your business
- editorial pieces for magazines in illustration
- mural art for public places, cafés, offices, …
- book covers and illustrations
- album covers
Historically, commissioned art pieces started as a display of wealth and status – rich merchants and nobility immortalized themselves through art.
Luckily today, no certain degree of status is required anymore to get your personal portrait done 🥳
Types of usage and rights of commissioned art
Who owns a commissioned art piece? The short answer: It depends. The specific usage rights have to be discussed with the artist and formalized through a written agreement.
Copyright usually remains with the artist in any case (unless they formally give it up). Nobody else could simply claim they have created that specific artwork, the artist remains the author.
Personal vs. commercial use
If you commission artwork for personal use, things are usually a bit more simple. In this case, you would probably only want to hang it in your house or maybe post it on social media anyways.
If you commission a piece of art for commercial use, you may want to claim more usage rights, such as printing, reproducing, or altering the artwork to fit your branded identity. Often, businesses are looking for exclusive usage rights of a work of art so nobody can copy their campaign.
Personal use means the artwork is only intended for yourself (or friends, family, …), commercial use of an artwork refers to anything related to selling and advertising.
Other aspects to consider
Furthermore, the medium matters when it comes to usage rights. Are you commissioning an original artwork? Then, of course, you would be looking to keep the original painting afterward. Digital work can be replicated more easily – if you don’t want that to happen, discuss it with the artist.
It’s important to speak about who remains with what kind of rights. For example, if you don’t want the artist to ever sell prints of the work, reproduce it or use it in their portfolio, this urgently needs to go into the contract.
Where to find artists to commission
If you have a specific artist in mind already, you can right away head to the next section. But in many cases, clients who have a vision for a commissioned piece first need to find the ideal artist.
For commercial work and big projects, you can always contact illustration agencies, photography agencies, etc. who will help you pick the right artist.
Define your needs
To find the perfect artist, it helps to know what exactly want. How do you imagine the style? The medium? Do you want digital artwork or an original? Are you looking for a local artist? Use those keywords in your research to find a good fit.
Google can also be a good place to start looking for your keywords, such as ‘abstract art’ + ‘commission’ + ‘Chicago’ or ‘digital’ + ‘pet portrait’ + ‘commission’.
It is best to know the exact terms of what you’re looking for before you approach an artist.
Online platforms for commissions
There are platforms specifically designed to bring artists and commissioners together, such as Artfinder.
Some other platforms are a bit more surprising. Reddit has very active subreddits for commissioning artwork, for example.
Nowadays, a surprisingly large percentage of artwork is commissioned through social media! You could find suitable artists through Instagram, using suitable hashtags, Twitter, Facebook groups, …
A classic in the online art world is DeviantArt – there are specific commission groups and forums where you can post what you are looking for or you can browse the platform to find artists you like and contact them directly.
In any case, make sure to pick an artist whose style goes along with your vision – no artist will change their style completely to accommodate your wishes. You should love what they do! You wouldn’t ask Picasso to ask if he could paint something for you, but do it maybe a bit more like Monet (or at least I really hope so).
How to approach an artist for a commission
First of all, you need to find out if the artist of your choices is taking commissions in general, if they do the type of work you’re looking for and if they have availability in your chosen time frame.
If you found your artist through a commission-specific platform, it is very obvious who is available for what, but if you are not sure if they are taking commissions, there are ways to find out.
Check the artist’s website if there’s any commission info or see if the artist states ‘open for commissions’ / ‘taking commissions’ on their social media. That’s a clear yes. Otherwise, contact the artist directly.
When you are first reaching out to an artist, this is what your message should ideally include:
- make sure that you’ve read available information on their online presence
- if you couldn’t find out whether they take commissions, ask if they do
- what the kind of project you have in mind, how you envision it
- which medium should be used
- describe what you want to use the artwork for
- when you need the project to be finished
- if you have reference images, feel free to attach these
And, hey, artists love to see their work appreciated! State why you want to work with them specifically. Requesting a commission does not mean they automatically will (or can) accept it, so share your enthusiasm for the project!
How much does it cost to commission an artist?
Some artists explicitly state the commission prices on their website, with others you will have to discuss your individual project needs first.
A side note on the value of art
Commissions, especially on platforms like Fiverr, are sometimes offered for ridiculous prices like 15$ for something that takes hours to make. Just the simple process of communicating with the client will way exceed that value. As a fellow artist, I urge you to not play a part in undervaluing and underpaying art. (Thank you from all of the art industry).
If the piece is important to you or your business, make sure to be willing to pay accordingly – otherwise, you even might end up paying twice if the results are not up to your standards. Quality work costs money.
Remember, a lot more goes into making an artwork than purely the time spent drawing, composing, photographing… You pay for the artist’s time, creative talent and experience, the efforts of communication, editing, delivery, work equipment/materials, and so much more. Even for digital art, special tools like graphic tablets and program subscriptions have to be paid.
The final price depends on the size of the artwork, usage rights, medium, cost of materials, the time required to produce the artwork, detail, scope of the project, … The more usage rights you want for the artwork and the more complex the project, the more expensive it will be.
These are some sample prices you could see from professional artists:
- logo creation typically starts at $200 and can cost up to several thousand dollars
- a commissioned digital personal portrait frequently ranges between $150 and $500
- original, hand-painted artwork typically does not start below $500 and can cost many thousand dollars
However, these numbers fluctuate greatly. It is best to discuss what can be done with your budget directly with the artist of your choice.
What should be included in an art commission contract?
Now, let’s get to the formal part. If you’re hiring an artist, especially for commercial usage, there is no way around a contract. For a personal commission, it is not as necessary, but can be useful to be clear about expectations.
What should be included in a commission contract:
- a detailed description of the project, including the medium, size, …
- the client’s and the artist’s identifying information
- the fee you agreed on
- the deadline for the completion of the project
- if, and how many, revisions are included (fees might be charged for extra revisions)
- how and when the artwork will be delivered (digital files? prints? original artwork?)
- payment details (typically 50% is paid upon signing, 50% upon completion)
- usage rights, copyright, reproduction rights, …
- for confidential projects: privacy/non-disclosure agreement
- a termination agreement in case one party wishes the end the project
It sounds like a lot, but the commission contract serves both to protect the client as well as the artist. For personal projects, often the artist will have a simple contract already at hand – big companies or agencies, however, typically approach the artist with a contract explicitly stating all their terms.
If something does not feel right, it’s always advised to address the topic before the contract is signed and the artist starts working.
What is the process after commissioning an artwork?
So you have found your artist, you have discussed the details and you have signed the agreement. What happens next? Realistically, you will first have to pay. After the initial payment, the artist will start working on your assignment.
Often artists first create a sketch or several proposals for you to choose from. These can either be accepted or altered until you agree on a design that then will be finalized.
How much artists update you about the process, depends on them and what you agreed on. This especially goes for revisions. Talk about whether revisions are possible and if so, how many and at what cost.
Most artists are happy to make quick, minor changes, but if they require a lot of effort, extra fees might apply.
As soon as the commission is completely finalized, it will be delivered as promised and the final payment ensues.
How to tell an artist you don’t like the commission
So what if you’re completely unhappy with how the artwork turned out? Usually, if you picked the artist carefully and followed all of the steps above to clearly define the expectations, this should not happen.
If small adjustments can fix the issue, ask your artist if they could alter the image accordingly.
If the artwork needs to be completely redone or you want to pick another artist, that’s more complicated. Most likely, you will need to set up a new agreement.
In any case, if the artist completed the artwork as requested, you will still have to pay the fee you agreed on, even if you are not completely satisfied with the outcome.
In the whole commission process, communication is key! Make sure to take enough time to communicate your expectations so the artwork can come to life exactly as you wished for it (or even better).
I hope this was a useful guide for you to learn more about how commissions in the art world work. If any topic has been left unanswered, please feel free to comment below (or contact me directly, especially if you’re looking to work with me) and I will do my best to answer your questions.
Now let yourself get excited for the commission you’re planning, whether it’s a personal piece or something to make your business thrive beautifully.
Art can be a meaningful expression of your world and vision and to have a design specifically made for you, is something truly special to bring long-term value and joy. Wishing you all the best in the process!