What Artists DON’T Want You to Know about Commissions

          Artists love to get commissions! It’s exciting to know someone has personally chosen you to create a work of art especially for them.

          It’s flattering because they tell you that they love your style, they love your colors and they just love YOU!

          Your prospective client is excited too. She already knows where she wants to hang your future masterpiece, and she even knows what size fits well in that spot. You are more than relieved to meet someone who knows exactly what she wants.

          Easy, right? How can it go wrong? You’re a savvy business-minded artist. You draft a contract that includes a 30% deposit before you start. All the art podcasts and YouTubes tell you that you’ve don it by the book.

          You launch into the commission with new-found fervor and work steadily for several hours which lead into several days. Ulp! Crash! So, you start over. A second canvas bites the dust.

          No sweat. You tell yourself that you are a professional and these things happen. New canvas. Not quite as much passion on your part, but it’s a commission…a sure thing.

          Ah finally…success. It was grueling, but you think you have a painting your client will love. You text her to arrange a meeting.

          You arrive early, masterpiece in hand. She and her husband and her cell-wielding daughter get there shortly afterward. The look on their faces tells you everything.

          “Hi,” you approach the husband. “I’m the artist.”

          He doesn’t seem impressed and shrugs his shoulders. You can only see the top of the daughter’s head as she taps on her phone.

          Your client’s face is ashen. “It’s not what I expected. I was thinking more orange.”

          Her husband adds, “She was into reds last year. Now she’s ditching all of that for orange this year.”

          As it hits you that she sees you as a walking talking Pier One commodity provider, you answer meekly, “Uh…OK…” You’re not sure of your next step, but how hard can it be to add more orange.

          She nods with a weak smile and says, “And while you’re at it, could you make it taller?” That makes Crash #3 and you sigh.

          Ooh, this is too painful to write…an example of a commission gone wrong. In my own career, not only did I have this “lovely” experience, but I was burnt often before I created a contract with a deposit.

          Some commissions work out beautifully just like the current one I have with a local events center. Sweet sailing and such a joy of a client. But the smooth commissions are hard to find especially because the artist can never predict if it’s going to be a success or a clunker. And the worse commissions are those that come from friends and family.

          So, what do artists really think of commissions? In the words of New Orleans icon artist, Ida Kohlmeyer, “We love to get ‘em, dahlin’. We just hate to do them.”