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Commissioning artwork is becoming increasingly popular as personalization & customization continues to be a fan favorite amongst the thoughtful-consumer crowd. As demonstrated by Etsy's outstanding growth in recent years, there is tremendous demand for unique and hand-crafted products by real artists, creators, and people.
However, as an artist, meeting this point of demand can be challenging. How can you get commissions? How can you find those people that want to commission custom art?
"Cold calling" (direct sales) is tremendously time consuming. Hashtags on social media is great for getting likes & followers, but how many clients does that get you? Getting "exposure" can only go so far. At the end of the day, artists need paying clients without going to the moon & back to find them. The good news is that there are plenty of willing & able buyers, but accessing them at the right place and the right time can be challenging.
We have delivered tons of commissions to our community of independent artists, so we are sharing our expert insights & secrets to help you find and "close the deal" with customers that commission artists for custom artwork. Although portrait paintings are the most popular, we will also share how non-portrait artists - such as abstract artists, still life artists, and landscape artists - can get paid art commissions.
Before we jump into it, here are 3 important tips:
When someone moves into a new home, buying artwork is one of the last things on the to-do list. The first additions to the living room will be the couches, the rug, and lighting fixtures. Artwork and other accents, such as vases, are typically added as last, finishing touches. This is important to know because when people design a room, they want to create an ambience of harmony, so they will typically start looking for artwork that matches the aesthetic of whatever they have designed so far. For instance, getting artwork that matches the minimal blue & grey scheme of their living room.
This presents a great opportunity for abstract artists to offer & provide something unique.
Instead of shopping for off-the-rack artwork, someone can hire an abstract artist to create an abstract painting that is specifically made to match the aesthetic of the customer's living space. Simply ask them to take a picture or two of that room, ask them if they have any specific requests, and you can create an abstract made purposefully for that room.
Not only will it save the customer tons of time looking for the "right" art piece to hang, but it adds a tremendously nice touch to the vibe. People love things with a meaning behind it. Plus, they will brag about to their friends about it - "This art was actually created for this room!" - and promotes word-of-mouth advertisement for you.
But how can you find these types of customers? We do not recommend chasing the end-buyer (the home owner or renter). Instead, go after interior designers since they do this kind of work all the time. People with a high disposable income typically use interior designers, meaning they can likely afford commissioned abstract art pieces. Plus, the concept of personalized abstract will make the interior designer look good in front of their clients, so interior designers have a good reason to work with you.
Another great idea is reaching out to AirBnB hosts or hotels who will benefit from a guest-experience standpoint by pleasing their guests with unique & original abstract art.
Ideally, you want to find interior designers in your area for the localization aspect and you should focus on nurturing that relationship. Since they have recurring customers, this means you will have recurring customers too.
Many artists mistakenly believe there is not much application for commissioned still-life & landscape paintings. This could not be further from the truth. While there may not be high demand within individual consumers for still-life artwork, there is great demand from enterprise customers.
What do we mean by enterprise customers? Businesses.
A restaurant is a great example of a place you can target for commissioned artwork. It does not need to be a large chain restaurant, even your local coffee shop is a great place to get commissioned for an original art piece. If you are looking for additional exposure, you also get tons of visibility from the hundreds and even thousands of people that walk into that restaurant each day.
Before you start sending out emails and making calls, here is an important note on sales & marketing - people love to buy, but nobody likes to be sold. When you approach these businesses, it is important to help them recognize that commissioning art from you will not be an expense (nobody wants expenses), but a return on investment. This changes the game and greatly increases your odds of getting the commission.
How can a custom painting be a return on investment?
Let's use the restaurant example. When someone walks into a restaurant and they see a painting that is clearly custom-made, such the McDonald's painting above, it increases customer satisfaction levels. The interior of a restaurant can really stand out with personalized artwork and attract eyeballs.
Better yet, if you are able to create something that has the potential to go viral, you can convey this to the restaurant manager or owner. For example, a funny painting that somehow relates to the restaurant will want to make someone take a picture and share it with their friends. Every business is looking for something that can help them go viral - a custom-made painting has the ability to do this and you should help them think of ways to make it happen.
No matter what you do, the key is to convey that commissioning artwork is not a luxury expense, but something they need because it will help grow their business.
Portrait paintings are super popular. Commissioning a portrait is something that has been around for centuries. In fact, most historic and famous paintings were as a result of a commission, such as the Duke of Milan commissioning Leonardo da Vinci in 1495 to paint the Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The market for portrait paintings is massive. However, there is a lot of noise in the art market with portrait paintings and it has become overwhelming for artists to get a continuous stream of portrait painting commissions.
As a result, artists should use their limited time to drill deep and focus their attention on a specific target customer type. There are plenty of examples, but let's first consider what the primary driver is for commissioning portrait paintings. The answer: to celebrate, recognize, or honor a person, moment, or event.
Here are a few common examples of life's significant moments that we experience as humans:
You can probably think of more examples, but the goal is to locate special moments and target likely customers that undergo or experience those moments. Similarly to the interior design example for abstract artists above, targeting end-clients is probably not the best use of your time since locating them is difficult & time consuming. Thus, we recommend targeting an intermediary or setting up a partnership that enables recurring clients.
Let's go over a specific example and how you can get an art commission for portrait paintings.
There are plenty of photographers who hide in bushes for hours on end to capture the perfect moment of a couple's kneeling proposal. Strike a deal with these photographers so you can provide a custom painting of their shot, in exchange for a 5% of the commission value as a finder's fee. The couple will love it, the photographer will love it, and you will love it. These photographers are probably also involved into wedding gigs, so be sure to offer your commission availability for any scenario.
In addition to partnerships, another option is direct marketing. For instance, targeting hashtags on social media, such as #RIP, and asking the uploader if they would like a portrait painting to honor or commemorate their loss loved one. Remember, providing a portrait painting for something sentimental will help provide a sense of closure & completeness for the client, so be genuine, don't be spammy, and make each message personable. While you are getting paid, you are also there to provide something truly uniquely special & meaningful.
No matter your target, it is critical you have examples to show the potential customer. For instance, if you are going for new baby portraits, be sure your portfolio contains examples of other commissions you have done for baby portraits. If you do not have previous commissions within a particular category, do 2-3 free commissions so you have 2-3 examples to display.
Another great strategy is having an anchor client that brings in lots of traffic and clients. For instance, we provided an Instagram influencer a complimentary portrait painting for her to display to her 150,000+ followers on Instagram. This resulted in a spike in traffic for all of our artists. When doing this, be sure to provide the expectations upfront so you get recognition for your work.
Here are a few other target areas we have found to be effective:
People spend a lot on their pets and pet portrait paintings are just as popular nowadays as people portraits. In America alone, the average dog owner spends $1,200 per year on their fluffy friend. Collectively, people spend $100 billion on their pets each year. Many businesses have picked up on this trend and you have probably seen advertisements to get your dog painted in something like a renaissance style. (Of course, these companies just use a filter & digital rendering to produce the painting, and the "painting" is not actually hand-created).
With the pet portrait industry growing, how can you get in on the action? Our recommendation for getting pet portrait commissions is similar to the points mentioned in the section above (such as partnerships and direct marketing), but with a different audience and approach.
Specifically, here are some strategies we have seen to work effectively:
All of the methods & strategies mentioned in this article are proactive ways to get art commissions. Another method is getting art commissions passively. That is, clients coming to you without your involvement. We do not typically recommend going for the passive "too cool for school" approach. Even multibillion dollar corporations do not rely on passive customer acquisition and spend millions each year to proactively get customers. Although you should not rely on getting art commissions passively, you should give it some time and attention.
For instance, you should have social media accounts to post your artwork, especially commissioned artwork. Every so often, someone will stumble upon your profile and commission you.
Additionally, you should be listing on platforms, such as MadeMay, to make your presence available to visitors from all over the world who are seeking to hire & commission artists for custom paintings & drawings. Other platforms you can consider are Etsy and Fiverr.
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