The Horse Forum

The Horse Forum (
-   Horse Artwork (/horse-artwork/)
-   -   The Art of Commissions (

Horsesdontlie 02-26-2013 06:48 PM

The Art of Commissions
4 Attachment(s)
Honestly I have wanted to make this thread a long time ago, but I feel like sometimes I flood the art threads a little too much, and that I kept thinking I was no where near where I wanted to be.

Well my art supplies and wallet are starting to run on empty and I am starting to feel more confident in my work, so I thought it might be a good idea to start asking my questions. Right now I just want to start by being able to support my own art supplies.

How the heck do I get into do commissions? :lol:
  1. At what point do you recognize that your work is worthy of some type of payment?
  2. How do you determine how much your art is worth (what stages do you increase your price)?
  3. Where/How do you advertise?
  4. What do you use as paper (Is normal sketch paper unacceptable....ect)?
  5. How do you mail the finished protect?
  6. Do you ask for payment before or after or some upfront and then the rest later?
  7. What are some major do's/don'ts?
  8. What is your time frame from the receiving of payment/reference photos to sending of the finished product?
  9. My personal work right now is not always consistently good, is this considered a major problem in I shouldn't do commissions? I wouldn't expect anyone to pay for something I myself was not happy with.

I'm sure I have more questions that I can come up with later, but these are a start. Using the examples I have provided below what is a major thing I need to work towards, are these anywhere near commission acceptable?

Equusketch 02-27-2013 02:07 AM

I am going to do my best to answer all these questions as they have applied to me personally. I am sure other artists in here have done things differently, so it might be cool to see what has worked/not worked for others in this forum.

1. At what point do you recognize that your work is worthy of some type of payment?
For me, it came to a point where I was doing free sketches for people on myspace to pass the time and get in a little practice after a long hiatus from drawing and people started asking to buy the originals, so I went with that and set a very low starting price for those early drawings.

2. How do you determine how much your art is worth (what stages do you increase your price)?
I started out super low (like $10-15) and used very basic materials such as a #2 pencil and printer paper. As I bought more expensive materials and the quality of my artwork improved, I increased my prices. I would look at other artist's web sites for price quotes when I felt their art was comprable to mine, although I tended to see a HUGE difference in prices across the board and it was difficult to figure out what a reasonable price would be in comparison to other artists. I just made sure to make my price increases very gradual, especially since I started having repeat customers. I didn't want to alarm them when prices suddenly went up. So far no one has complained about my prices. If anything, people tell me all the time that I don't charge enough. I'd so rather hear that than the other alternative. One thing people advised me on was to charge in accordance with demand. If I am getting overwhelmed with a lot of orders, it probably means I am not charging enough. If I am getting no business at all, maybe lower the prices a little. I can tell you from personal experience that the couple times I ran fundraisers at 50% discounts, that's when I suddenly had a TON of business, way more than I could really handle with also having a full time job. The amount I charge now is just enough to allow me a small amount of business that keeps me somewhat busy without feeling too overwhelmed.

3. Where/How do you advertise?
Most of my advertising has been through internet forums such as myspace (though I do not use my account anymore), facebook and here on horseforum. I have posted flyers at my local barn before. I eventually created my own web site. The first one was a free website which meant I had to attach the name of the site creator to the domain. I didn't like that, so I purchased a domain name through I love that web site creator as it is very user friendly for someone like me who doesn't do well with computer stuff. I am sure there are other good sites for more computer savvy people, but I love Now I have my own domain name that no one else can have Since building up a decent clientele, most of my business comes from repeat clients or referrals from people who have bought portraits from me. I also donate to fundraisers when I can. Although I am donating my time and materials for no profit, I use it as an opportunity to get my name out there. My next goal is to make business cards that I can leave on a silent auction table so that passers by can pick up my card and even if they don't win my item, they "might" contact me a later time to set up an actual commission. That might be something to think about, especially if you are just getting started. Look into donating to a silent auction for a local animal or horse rescue and see what people are willing to bid for a custom portrait.

4. What do you use as paper (Is normal sketch paper unacceptable....ect)?
I think normal sketch paper is fine in the early stages of your art business. That's what I used after I graduated from printer build up a portfolio with less expensive materials at a lower price. As your technique becomes more mature and consistent, consider looking into nicer paper. I don't want to buy a fancy pad of bristol paper and wind up throwing out a drawing because it didn't come out just as you (or the client) wanted. That's a waste of "your" money. Wait until you become more consistent before buying expensive paper. I personally love strathmore bristol paper because of it's smoothness and the paper is really thick so it is not as prone to tearing or crease lines during handling and shipping. I seal ALL my commissioned work with a workable fixative spray to prevent smudging. Some people claim hairspray works as a less expensive alternative, but I have yet to find a hairspray product that works well enough to use on a drawing that some one has paid for.

5. How do you mail the finished protect?
Shipping artwork is still one of my biggest bugaboos and I still struggle to establish shipping prices with the cost of a shipping package and the method of shipping used (first class vs. priority vs. UPS). It varies so much from one destination to another, so it's hard to give someone a quote before the item ships out. If anyone can field this question better, I'd personally love to hear your input. As far as shipping packages go, make sure the envelope is either made of firm cardboard, or put a firm cardboard insert in the envelope. I made the mistake early on with using just bubble wrap envelopes and the drawings got folded and damaged in the mail. The envelope "must" be rigid to prevent folding.

6. Do you ask for payment before or after or some upfront and then the rest later?
I used only require payment "after" I completed the drawing, but "before" I shipped it out. Unfortunately, I had several people decide not to pay after I put in all that work because, hey, they already have the image and I guess that was good enough for them. A lot of artists put a watermark on their drawings to prevent this from happening. First of all, I do not have a program that allows me to do watermarks and I personally don't like showing off my artwork with a big ugly thing across the image. The downside is that people can easily take my images and print them out for their own use or even "claim" the drawing as their own, a problem I am very much aware of and just "hope" people won't be that stupid, but I know the potential exists. Because of the few people that never paid me for my time, I now ask for 50% up front just to get started. First come first serve essentially. The remaining 50% is due upon completion. That way I am at least reimbursed somewhat for my time if the client decides not to buy the original. I will make exceptions for return clients and people I know and trust. I also barter for other goods/services with people if I want/need something and the prices are about the same.

7. What are some major do's/don'ts?
Hmmm, not sure what to answer here. One thing I learned the hard way was to do the entire drawing without showing the client at least a rough sketch first. I had to redo several drawings because the owner wasn't happy with the orientation of the drawing or didn't like something like the shape of the eyes. So now I ALWAYS show the client the rough sketch first while it's still easy to erase. Although, I have to admit, sometimes even that isn't good enough. I can show the client the rough sketch and they approve it. Then I do all the shading and they suddenly decide they wanted the eyes bigger or smaller or the animal positioned differently. That can be frustrating. Also, I know of many artists that will turn down commissions if the quality of the photograph os poor. I have yet to turn down a commission, but let me tell you, it is not worth it to take on a commission if the photograph is bad. I have spent WAY too many hours "trying" to capture the animal just right based on a very crappy picture and the owner has something in mind that the photograph doesn't show. It is ok to turn down a commission you aren't comfortable with. I have yet to follow my own advice in this respect.

8. What is your time frame from the receiving of payment/reference photos to sending of the finished product?
I "try" to produce quick turn around, but in all honesty, with having a full time job and other obligations in life, my drawings can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete depending on how many orders I have, my job and life in general. I just try to be as honest as possible with people about these factors, but I encourage them to check in with me on progress updates, though I typically send updates periodically anyway, just as a courtesy. If there is a deadline, such as a birthday or Christmas, I do the best I can to meet those deadlines and will be completely honest from the start if I feel I can get the job done in time or if there is even a slight chance I won't have it finished before the deadline. In fact, I think I am going to add that to my web site, that I can't always guarantee when a drawing will be completed.

9. My personal work right now is not always consistently good, is this considered a major problem in I shouldn't do commissions? I wouldn't expect anyone to pay for something I myself was not happy with.

I don't think inconsistency should discourage you from giving the commission thing a try. That's why you want to start with low prices and using less expensive materials until you become more consistent. I definately wasn't super consistent when I started out. And just remember, even the most accomplished and consistent artists can't make everyone happy 100% of the time. You will encounter high maintenance clients at some point. Looking at your art samples, I think you are ready to give it a try.

I know that was super wordy, but I hope it helped. I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say. That's what I love about this forum.

Horsesdontlie 02-27-2013 02:39 AM

Wow, that is exactly what I was looking for. I didn't expect such a thorough answer. Thank you for putting it out there. It has always seemed like such a big step to go to actually doing art for payment.

I did come up with another question though. If you are shipping and will not meet the client face to face how do you handle payments? Do you go through paypal (which seems to have become a pain to use) or another service?

I still would like to hear from anyone else if they have anything else to add.

tinyliny 02-27-2013 03:05 AM

Not sure I have the time , energy and typing skills to put out such a thorough and well worded answer. That was a prize winner!

I got started doing commisssions by displaying work here, and then poeple pm'd me asking if I sold my work, and would I do one of their horse. So, I got handed the work.
My prices started out very low, but then when I first started, I did not spend nearly as much time on each piece as I do now. I started out doing works in about one hour. Now, it's more like 4 or 5 each.
I have raised my priced nearly 4 fold, and I try to situate them where I am paying myself with respect for MY time, but within reach of what the client can do. I have paid my dues. I feel that my time is worth something.
people pay a decent riding instructor a good 45$ for an hour of her time. So, they should consider the value of the artist's time.
However, I shouldn't get up on m soapbox.

Pricing is , however, the single hardest part of doing commissions. The more you do, the better at pricing you'll get, but of course, start on the low side. OTOH, if yo price it TOO low, people will assume they have no value. As a first time commission, something like $5 is ridiculous. Something like $20 is not.

I usually have payment made when the project is done. I used to ask for payment after the client received the work, but I have now been stiffed twice, so will not do that anymore. Payment before mailing is the way.
I use Paypal and have never had a problem
I use bubble wrapped envelopes, mailing flat, but use stiff carboard inside to protect and wrap all in tissue paper. I always enclose a nice thank you card, too.
I advise you to use the best quality paper you can afford. thin, sketch paper feels cheap. consider it an investment. you can layout your sketch on cheaper paper and then transfer it to the quality paper for the final.
sending a photo of the rough sketch is always nice.

When you can capture the "feel" of the animal, such as that dog above, then you can give your client a sense of delight in having put THEIR beloved horse or dog onto paper. this is especially important if you are doing a portrait of a dead animal, as a memorial.

a good photo is essential. and dont be shy to remove tack if it will make a better image, or remove background details.

dramatic lights and darks show committment and courage, and professionalism.

if you must be late with the painting, let your client know of this.

That's all I can think of for now.

lilruffian 02-27-2013 09:38 PM

1. At what point do you recognize that your work is worthy of some type of payment?
When people start offering to pay:lol: or when i think that it is nice enough to sell. I started off just doing my own pieces and seeing how those went before i offered to take on commissioned projects.
2. How do you determine how much your art is worth (what stages do you increase your price)?
I always try to think "what would i want to pay?" I know that i am always catching hell from my family and friends because i dont charge enough, but not everyone can afford $500 for a small painting and i like my art to be available to a greater number of people.
I also do more commissions this way and get more experience if there are more people willing and able to pay my prices:wink:
I am also way too generous, so i'm not necessarily the best person to answer this question.
3. Where/How do you advertise?
I have a website, business cards & homemade bookmarks. I also regularly post ads on the big sales sites like and put flyers up in town.
Donating artwork is also a good way of advertising because then you can get your work out in the open and send your contact info along just incase people like what they see.
4.What do you use as paper (Is normal sketch paper unacceptable...etc)?
In the beginning i did use normal off the shelf paper and there have been no complaints. I just wouldnt go with printer paper or anything super cheap or that isnt meant for the medium you are using.
I like to use flat canvas board when doing my commissioned paintings, simply because they are cheaper to ship than the stretch-framed canvas'.
I also am limited to what i can get in my area, unless i wish to fork out the cash to order material off of the internet.
5.How do you mail the finished project?
Depends on the medium and size. For my small pieces, i just get a regular bubble envelope and slip a pieces of foam board or cardboard in for extra protection against the mail guys.
For my larger paintings, i wrap them in bubble wrap and plastic and then enclose them between two pieces of cardboard, tape it right up and then wrap it again in packaging paper.
6. Do you ask for payment before or after or some upfront and then the rest later?
I usually ask for payment afterwards, although this can be very risky. It's really a trust game and you dont always win it. There have been several incidents in the past where i have finished a piece and then never heard from the customer again:evil: but that's the chance you take when you dont demand a downpayment.
If i am asked to do a big order (for ex; if someone wants several pieces) then yes, i would definitely ask for a deposit of atleast 50%. Non refundable.
7. What are some major do's/dont's?
Never assume you know what the customer wants. Sometimes you cannot even trust what they want:lol: Many times customers have told me to go ahead and just do what i thought would look good and in the end they dont like it and want it changed.
Also, be very clear on all of the details because again, if you are corresponing through email, words can get meixed up.
For example: this past xmas i did 2 paintings for a lady of her huskies. She said that she wanted the two dogs together on a 12x16'' canvas and a portrait of just the one dog on an 18x20'' canvas.
What she MEANT to say was that she wanted the images the other way around.
Luckily she admitted her mistake and was happy with the paintings as they were.
Also, always try and do what the customer wants, even if you think it is silly:lol: They are paying for it after all and all that matters is that they like it.
8. What is your time frame from the recieving of payment/reference photos to sending of the finished product?
Depends on how lazy i am...:oops: Sometimes if a project really interests me i can get it all done within a week and shipped out. other paintings have taken me weeks because i just keep sloughing them off.
Sounds terrible, but hey - us artists need the proper inspiration sometimes!:-P
9. What i found really helpful when i am practicing new mediums/techniques is to come on the forum here and offer free pieces, just to get the hang of doing different things. It is great experience and once in awhile you get someone who is willing to buy them:wink: Then, when you are really confident with your work, start demanding cash lol!

Kayty 02-28-2013 12:01 AM

I have been offering commissions for about 8 years now.
Initially I was just working on graphite portraits, and have built up to pastels as well over the last few years.

Like everyone else, I started charging when I was being asked to do a lot of portraits for friends. I started with only $30/drawing, for graphite.
You want to start low, making just enough to cover your costs and a bit of extra for your time. If you start to get a long client list, then you increase your price until you have a steady stream of commissions. Then you're at about the right price for your work.
Doing pastels, my cost outlay is quite high just to produce the portrait, so I ask for a deposit which covers my costs before I commence work. Payment can be made through direct deposit, cash if local, Paypal (actually very easy to use and my preferred payment method for all international clients), cheque/money order.

I have a website, facebook business page, flyers, business cards and portraits hanging in various business offices. I also do a small amount of sponsorship - offering a portrait as a prize in local competitions, and run some promotions occasions.
You do need to be patient and persistent with commissions, it is difficult to build up a good sized client base, I find that most of my work comes through word of mouth, and to get word of mouth you need your advertising to work.

As far as materials, my opinion is that if people are going to pay you for a service, you need to offer high quality materials.
I work on the highest quality velour pastel paper that I can source. My pastels are nearly all hand made in Europe, and cost a very pretty penny to purchase.
If I was paying someone for work, and received a portrait on a smudged, creased piece of printer paper I would be very unimpressed!

As I work in both graphite and pastel, my postage methods are slightly different. Graphite is a walk in the park to post, but pastel is the bane of my existence. You cannot use a fixative on pastel as it will ruin the pigment, so postage is very nerve wracking. I back the portrait firmly on thick core-flute plastic, then cover it tightly with greaseproof paper, then another layer of core-flute (with the 'flutes' running 90 degrees to the backing sheet), and cover with bubble wrap. Then a thick sheet of brown postage paper and a lot of sticky tape to seal it up!
I have posted my work to nearly every continent on the globe, and have yet to have a piece arrive damaged.

My time frame depends on how busy I am, and the complexity of the portrait.
If I have a short waiting list, I'll generally have the portrait sent out within one month of receiving the deposit.
A longer waiting list may result in a few months wait, but I always notify my clients of the length of waiting time.
A simple head study may take me only 7-8 hours to complete. Where as a large full body or multiple study may take a number of days worth of work.
I have two multiple studies on my wait list at present, one in graphite and another in pastel. The graphite piece is actually for an Olympian Dressage rider based in Germany, so I'll be trying to get those done as quickly as possible!!

Remember that with commissions, you don't get to select the quality of photo's that you get to work with. I get so many pixilated, mobile phone images that are out of focus, in bright light so that the colours are distorted, subjects with 'flash eyes' etc. You have to be good enough to work around these issues. If you have to have a perfect photograph to produce good work, then you are probably not ready to charge people for your work yet.

Horsesdontlie 02-28-2013 12:49 AM

Thank you so much everyone, its given me a lot of needed info! I think I'll play it as everyone else does and wait for people to start coming to me. I post my work on Facebook already, and through here and deviant art, there are plenty of people seeing my work. I have thought of another question though.

What is exactly high quality paper. I imagine its more than just walking into the art store and pick the most expensive piece of the shelf. I've heard some thing about weight and textures but really have no idea what kind of effect they have. I know for things like pastel and charcoal some people suggest a more textured paper, but as always I just don't know.

Another is when it comes to doing a portrait type pieces, like I have done up above, is it better to try and provide some contrast with a background, or is that something you leave up to the client?

Kayty 02-28-2013 01:52 AM

I use Stonehenge paper for my graphite work, in off white. It is a matter of playing around with different papers until you find one that works for your style of work.
I prefer a fairly thick, velvety textured paper for my graphite work, and velour for my pastels. Initially I worked with Canson Mi-Tientes for pastels, it is quite a heavily toothed paper that holds a lot of layers. Many artists steer away from velour as it is a highly difficult and unforgiving material to work with, but for my style of art, it is ideal and I struggle to work on anything else.

As long as you are working on thick, slightly textured papers, then that will be fine. Just stay away from thin, flimsy paper.

As far as backgrounds, I very rarely use one. My 'background' in pastel in 99% of my portraits consists of simply adding a bit of colour to compliment the subject. If you start adding detailed backgrounds to a portrait, you begin to take away from the portrait.

Equusketch 02-28-2013 01:54 AM

"If you are shipping and will not meet the client face to face how do you handle payments? Do you go through paypal (which seems to have become a pain to use) or another service?"
I use pay pal alot actually and have never had issues. It's a quick way to receive money and therefore quick turnaround for drawings, espeically if people are doing multiple payments. The only problem is that unless someone clicks the "gift" option, you will be charged a small fee that just comes out of the total purchase. I feel wierd asking people to click the gift option since I am technically providing a service and just take the small financial hit. I guess you could charge a pay pal fee if you wanted to, but I don't. Seems a little petty to me considering it's a really small amount, but some artists do charge a pay pal fee.
I also take checks and money orders. Takes longer to get the money, but I get the exact amount (once in a while a little bonus will be included).

As far as paper goes, I personally like the bristol paper because it is thick and doesn't tear or bend easily, but every artist is a little different. I just recently started using mi tientes pastel paper for colored pencil portraits because I like how colored pencil looks on a colored paper. The downside is that the mi tientes paper is thin and curls up after I add so many layers. If I could find colored paper with the same thickness of britsol paper that doesn't cost a fortune (such as colourfix paper), I'd be one happy camper. I'd rather not have to raise my prices because of a paper upgrade, but that might be a necessary evil.

Now on to the background question, yet another bane of my existance. I HATE doing backgrounds with a passion, even just filling negative space with darker tones. I say, unless you have the skill and patience to do backgrounds, steer clear of them. I think a half assed attempt at a background looks worse than leaving the rest of the paper blank. I really admire people who put in the time to do beautiful backgrounds such as lilruffian.

tinyliny 02-28-2013 02:08 AM

Regarding backgrounds; the difference between an artist and a photograph is that we can choose what to put in out backgrounds, if any. Sometimes a photograph is the best way to portray a human/animal. And some photographs cannot be improved upon. But other times, a photo , used as reference for a painting, can become better by omitting "noisy" stuff from the background. That's where the art part comes in.

As regards materials, I paint with watercolor, so my materials dont' correspond to what you would use for graphite. But, in general, use heavy paper that feels "quality".

Also, it's very important to get a good likeness of the animal or human. That means you have to spend a lot of time making measurements to be sure of porportions. Have someone besides yourself look at the photo and your layout sketch to be sure you are seeing things accurately.

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 12:10 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
User Alert System provided by Advanced User Tagging (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.

For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome