A Collector’s Guide: Commissioning an Artwork

A few simple rules can ensure that commissioning an artwork is a smooth, harmonious collaboration of ideas.

If you’re an art lover and collector, you might reach the point where you’d like to commission a work of art. Maybe you’ve fallen in love with an artist’s style. Maybe you have a vision for a piece that will complete your newly decorated house. Maybe you just want to support someone whose work you admire. No matter the reason, there are probably many questions running through your mind about how to commission an artwork. In this article, we’ll explore the do’s and don’ts of the process. A few simple rules can ensure that commissioning an artwork is a smooth, harmonious collaboration of ideas.

Artist Simone von Anhalt in her studio

Do: Find an artist who is fully compatible with your needs
Don’t: Get your heart set on an artist based on their art style alone

Chances are, you’re not paying top dollar for an art commission unless you’ve developed an immense admiration for an artist’s work. Following your heart is always a great first step, but remember that an ideal commission is about more than just finding an artist with the perfect style.

There are plenty of reasons a commission won’t work out that have nothing to do with the art itself. Many artists have busy and demanding schedules. You might find that a specific artist is outside your budget range. They might be too busy with other commissions or personal projects. They may not feel comfortable creating the work you’re asking for. Don’t assume every artist will be thrilled to receive art commissions.

Before pitching your commission, start by asking an artist about their prices, schedules, and commission terms. Talk to multiple artists that might be compatible. If someone is open to commissions and you’re happy with their terms, have a long discussion about what you’re looking for. You’ll find more often than not that these conversations will clear up any reservations you or the artist have. Ideally, you’ll come to a mutual understanding and respect before any contracts get drawn up.

Do: Communicate clearly with the artist what you’re looking for
Don’t: Stifle the artist’s creative process with overly rigid demands

Josefina De León in her studio

It’s okay to know what you want and ask for it. After all, if you were just looking for any original piece by an artist, you could buy an already existing work. However, it’s important to strike a balance between asking for the work you’re envisioning and allowing an artist to do what they do best. Oftentimes, when you let the artist take certain creative liberties, the end result will surpass your expectations. Remember that you trust this artist and chose them for a reason. A harmonious collaboration of ideas will build a healthy relationship between you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be specific. Providing reference images, sharing what inspired the commission, and talking about which details are most important to you will help the artist understand what you want out of the piece. Just be flexible and respectful. As in all types of relationships, communication is the key to harmony.

Artist Josefina De León put it like this: “In my case, when a collector orders a work of art from me, I feel great pride. It makes me very happy that my art has touched the curiosity of an art lover. When painting a commissioned work, the best thing is that they allow me to be totally free after having captured what the collector is looking for. Seeing myself limited or pressured is something that has a negative impact when it comes to creating. The magic is knowing how to capture what the collector is looking for and give it my touch, letting all my creativity flourish.”

Do: Keep in contact with the artist through the process
Don’t: Assume no news is good news

Once the contract is set, you’ve talked about what you’re looking for, and the artist has gotten started, you might feel like contacting them during the creative process will annoy or stifle them in some way. You might assume that silence means the process is going so well that there’s nothing to discuss. In some situations, these might be true assumptions. Most of the time, however, a commissioned artist will be happy to hear from you.

This isn’t to say you should pester them every day. Checking in periodically, however, allows the artist to show progress if they desire or ask further questions to ensure they’re creating something you’ll be happy with. So long as it stays respectful, communication is almost always a good thing.

In some cases, staying in contact can save you time and money. If the artist isn’t working on something you’ll be happy with, major revisions will not only frustrate them, they’ll probably cost you extra money and put off delivery of the final product longer than you’d like.

Most commissioned artists will check in with you without you having to ask. Often, they’ll ask for your approval of preliminary sketches or concept art before dedicating lots of time and effort to something you may not like. This process is best discussed during preliminary negotiations so you know what to expect. In some cases, you can include details about correspondence in the contract, though some artists might prefer to keep things less rigid.

Do: Arrange all of the technical, financial, and legal details before the creative process begins
Don’t: Assume details will be flexible and easy to figure out along the way

Artist Belle Roth in her studio working on a new piece that will be on view at the gallery in March

Once again, proper communication is the key to success. Use a contract to specify the price, turnaround times, rights, and other terms. If you aren’t experienced with making contracts, a professional third party can be helpful in making sure nothing has been forgotten. Many artists have strict contract processes, but others go through galleries or legal experts to protect themselves and their work. Don’t take this personally. Most artists are thrilled to be commissioned, they just don’t want to be taken advantage of. By ensuring a fair framework of terms, you and the artist are free to focus on what matters most: the creation of the artwork.

“Most artists would jump at the chance to have their work be part of a private collection,” artist Belle Roth says. “I know I did. When I received an email from a young lady from Las Vegas who wanted me to create a piece for her, I was ecstatic. She told me she had been following my work for some time and wanted something unique that represented her personality and lifestyle. I couldn’t wait to get started.”

“What works? Making the experience enjoyable for the collector and myself. My priority is to make sure that the coordination between me and the collector is smooth, so I engaged Agora Gallery to manage the administrative part — from setting realistic timelines, pricing and to coordinating shipments. Each painting is a personal and emotional journey to me. The reason why I feel that sharing the process with my collector and Agora is crucial. The best part of this? Having an opportunity to not only learn about other people’s lives but also for me to grow personally through our interactions.”

“Bottom line: Having a personalized and thoughtful process helped define who I am today compared to how things used to be.”

Need some specific advice regarding your art collection or help in starting afresh? Benefit from our curatorial services! To know more, contact us at [email protected]


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