What to expect when you commission an artist for custom art

February 18, 2022

By Artist Warren Keating

Finding an artist

The first step in commissioning a painting is finding the artist. Web sites like MadeMay give you a selection of artists from which to choose, so pick one that has the combination of style, price-range and experience that fits your needs. If your commission requires a composition that is comprised of multiple images, make sure that the artist has that capability. If it’s a straight forward rendition from a single photo, that employs a different skill set. Feel free to ask as many questions as you want during the commissioning process. While artists are special, talented people, you are the patron and deserve to have all of your questions answered before the commission starts.

There are other factors to consider when deciding on which artist fits you budget and price. Some artists may have pedigree, a history of high-profile shows and achievements, that makes their work more valuable than an artist that does not have that background. The artist may have a robust history of sales and well-known collectors that will make their work more expensive. I personally have a combination of both pedigree, provenance (history of sales) and experience, so my commission fees are toward the high end. Additionally, the price of commissioned work can be up to 20% higher than non-commissioned paintings.

The size and the complexity of the commission are factors, as well. As an artist that does a lot of commissions, I tend to price the complex paintings a 10-20%higher than the simpler ones, because, if the painting is composed from several supplied photographs of different people and things, I supply a pencil sketch  of the composition for approval.

Starting the commission

When you have decided upon an artist, send reference images and a description of the commission to that artist. There will be some messaging back and forth to make sure you and the artist have the same vision of the final painting. Things that should be discussed are: the size, any color palette requirements and anything that should be edited out of the original reference. If you don’t have a sense of the artist’s style from his portfolio, this should be discussed as well. If you commission me, I try to get a sense of which you would rather I prioritize the quality of the brush work and composition, or the likeness of the subject(s). Usually, I succeed at both, but sometimes during the process there is a point where the painting is really great, but the likeness is not perfect, so it’s good for the artist to know how “perfect” you want the likeness to be.

The process

Once you have paid for the commission, the artist will begin work on the final painting or the initial sketch of your idea, depending on what was discussed.Since I paint in oils, there is a 3-6 week drying and curing period that is necessary, so the entire process of creating and shipping a commissioned artwork usually takes about a month. However, I offer to send a photo of the finished work earlier in the process, usually within two weeks.

Commissioning an artwork not only results in a wonderful keepsake of a person or moment, formalized in paint, that is a piece of original fine art, but the process can also be a memorable, cherished experience.