Articles

How to know if you are ready for art commissions

June 17, 2021

This article was written by MadeMay artist, KC Gillies.

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I’ve been spending some (too much) time on Reddit and Instagram lately. I’ve noticed a few things that have gotten me thinking about how to know when you’re ready to start offering commissions.

The journey to becoming a commission-based artist begins one of two ways. You make an active decision and start advertising yourself, or, someone asks if you accept commissions, and you’re so excited that someone actually wants to pay you that you say yes.

Why does this distinction matter? Does it make a difference?

Recently, I saw a post on reddit from someone offering portrait commissions. The sample work they posted and their portfolio was stunning, gorgeous work. But two comments down was a post from someone saying they recently commissioned a piece from them. This person said they were sorely disappointed in the results, not at all like the rest of the OPs portfolio. OP posted their communication and the work from this interaction, and while, the commissioner was harsh, they weren’t wrong. This work definitely wasn’t the same caliber as the portfolio work. The artist’s defense? The reference photo they received was poor quality.

What had happened? Did the artist lie? I don’t think so. But their portfolio consisted of paintings done from beautiful reference photos. It seems they had little to no experience working from average, everyday photos. In my experience, though, if someone has beautiful photos of something or someone they love, they will simply get them printed, rather than commission a painting based off it them. 9 times out of 10, the reference photos you receive will be, at best, average.

What is my point about this story? Readiness to become a working artist is not dependent on your ability to produce art that others wow over. Let me say that again. Being able to create some work you’re proud of, doesn’t mean you’re ready to accept commissions.

If you’re thinking about accepting commissions, honestly ask yourself these questions:

  • How often do I start, and then give up on pieces?
  • Do I consistently create work that I’m happy enough with to share, or do I only share a small percentage of my work because I don’t like the rest?
  • How frequently do I challenge myself to work with subjects or references that might be outside of my comfort zone? Am I usually happy or unhappy with the results?
  • How often do I start, and then give up on pieces?

If you’re not creating work that you’re consistently happy with, you’re not ready.
Why? Because adding the pressure of creating work for someone else – who is paying you – will steal any joy you have from creating, paralyzing you in a cycle of redoing work until you finally, eventually, get the nerve up to send it to the buyer. This doesn’t mean you have to love every piece you create, but you should be consistently happy with the majority of the work you produce.

If you never challenge yourself, you’re not ready. When you first start accepting commissions, it’s hard to turn work down because the subject or reference photos available are too far outside of your comfort zone. And then, like our artist on reddit, the end result will likely be an unhappy client.

What should you do if you’re serious about wanting to accept paying commissions but not convinced you’re ready?

Ask friends or family to “commission” you to do work for them as practice. Join reddit communities with drawing challenges and participate as much as you can. I love the website thispersondoesnotexist.com for average looking reference photos – these are the type of references you will get if you’re going of offer people portraits. Do this until you are consistently happy with the results. Include these pieces in your portfolio. Then you are ready to accept paying work with confidence.

If you feel like you’re ready and you’re interested in accepting commissions, check out MadeMay to find work.

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