Anatomy of a Commission- What is it?

There are 2 basic ways art gets sold: we paint the masterpiece, someone sees it and immediately pulls out (in my fantasy, CASH) money and buys it. (Of course, with out any dickering or second thoughts.)
It's an emotional buy.
Conversely, -the Commission- is a non-emotional buy.
Buyer has a need: to immortalize a beloved pet, college president, or just fill empty space over the couch - or on the ceiling - think Sistine chapel. The artist is hired to fill the need.
Commissions can come in many forms: a friend asks " Would you paint my house", "My vacation property", "My Dog" - or "I have a photo of______. Can you make it into a painting?" The amazing thing about a commission: the buyer is saying "I trust you" .
You may be saying to yourself- "no one would ever commission ME to paint for them", but you might be surprised. Just last week, 2 different people asked if I could paint portraits of their kids. I had never met these people and they knew little about me beyond the fact that I could hold a brush, Hmmmmm.
If you paint - and your work is in a public place, don't be surprised if such questions come your way.
I did the 16"x 20" painting at the top, several years ago, en plein air, and it was purchased by our local hospital. The 12"x16" painting below it was a commission that came as a direct result of someone seeing the hospital painting.


Chuck Sale Photography said...


Well said. Interesting difference: In the first instance, we paint (sculpt, photograph, etc.) for ourselves, hoping it pleases and therefore sells. In a sense, the commission comes after the work is complete. In the second instance, the commission comes first and there is an added element to the artistic endeavour: Imagining the wants and needs of the buyer or sponsor, and seeking to match them.

The independent spirit in me prefers to work alone. A commission places the client right behind me, looking over my shoulder. There is an intimacy in this, even a discipline: I must know something about the client and the subject to get it right.


Alan Heuer said...

I like commissions as it gives me a focus which many times enhances the creativity, or with the clients added perspective and feedback I head off in a completely new direction.

eldon warren said...

Hi Coni!! Heck yes, and commissions are scarey! I've been pretty luck tho in that I've not had anyone throw one back on my front porch. I'm in process right now of doing a 24x36 for a fellow from California. It's of a subject that fortunately we both find interesting and paintable. Like
chuck says, it helps to know the client. I think it is important too, that you know the client knows you.