What you SHOULD NOT do when approaching an artist...and a few things you SHOULD!

Artists have a job that many would consider non-traditional.  If they are lucky enough to do it full time, they don’t keep regular hours.  Some days they work 18 hours, and some they’ll work maybe 1 or 2.  If they are not quite at full time status, in general they will devote any free time they have to building their following and mastering their craft with commissions.  Long hours, late nights, plenty of coffee and lots of naps later – every artist wants to feel that they have given their all to not only please their creative brain, but most of all – please their clients.

Many artists who are trying to build a name for themselves work heavily in commissioned pieces.  Any artist who is only creating what they like – they’re either already established, or they are content with where they are.  But for those of us who are relying on commissioned works to help build our following, we interact with clients all the time.  We aim to please, and we are determined to give you exactly what you want while still allowing it to fit our own business goals.  Like it or not, art is a business for most of us.  If we are selling art in any way, our art is a business.  And much like any other business, there is a certain etiquette that should be followed.

While most clients – in my experience – are a breeze to work with, there are definitely bunches of clients or prospective clients who seem to forget that artists are still a) people, b) businesses, and c) making a living. Recently, I got together with a few fellow creators, and we got onto this topic.  What we learned is that as a whole, artists seem to encounter the same few issues with their clients.  Each of us has encountered a good number of these issues at least once in the last few months.  They drive us crazy, they make us scream, and sometimes they cost us our time and money.  So let’s talk about purchasing art from an artist; specifically commissions.  Let’s talk about how to PISS OFF your artist - a few things you should NEVER do, but also a few things you should DEFINITELY do when you are looking to purchase a piece of art for your home.

Let’s begin with a list of things that you should never do when you approach an artist about discussing commissions.  First, don’t come unprepared.  Do your homework!  If you see an artist you like, check out more of their work.  Visit their website, their blog, their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/whatever.  See if you like the bulk of their style or just one of their pieces.  Read about their pricing structure if it is posted. Know what you want – subject, size, as many details as possible – know what questions you’d like to ask, and know a little bit about what it is they actually do!  Be prepared!

Now, once you’ve done a little browsing and you’re ready to contact your artist, don’t ask about commissions if you aren’t serious about purchasing!  More and more often, I am approached about “commissions,” only to find out that what they actually want is simply to see their request on my Instagram page.  Please know the difference between “requests” and “orders.”  When you contact an artist about a commission, that means you are prepared to PURCHASE that order.  If you discuss a project, and you and your artist decide that what you want cannot be done and the project never comes together, that’s fine.  But wasting an artist’s time with emails and discussion when you are not serious about purchasing in the first place – that’s a HUGE no-no.

Next, let’s talk about another big no-no.  DON’T, under any circumstances, try to convince an artist to change their rates.  I don’t care if Sally So and So can do something similar for nearly half the price.  If you like my work, you will be charged my price.  Sally charges Sally’s rates and I charge mine.  No two artists have the same style, speed, work habits or end result.  If you came to me, you obviously liked my style of work.  If you want to pay Sally’s prices, place an order with Sally.

Along those same lines: DON’T try to bargain/trade in order to lower the price.  Just don’t do it.  This isn’t a flea market or your Sunday swap meet.  Offering a “trade” for services, or straight up trying to “negotiate” rates is insulting.  Also, don’t ever ASK for a discount.  If your artist wants to offer you a discount, they will offer it to you.  Flat out. Done deal.

Now, this one may come as a shock to some, considering much of my commissioned work is portraits, but please, DON’T ask your artist to flat out copy someone else’s work.  This includes not only other art pieces (don’t ask me to paint you that Picasso piece you like – not happening.) but also PHOTOGRAPHERS’ works.  Many artists will happily use your favorite photo as a reference or starting point, but in order for us not to be blatantly copying someone else’s work, we will put our own spin on it – changing details, composition, colors, etc.  If you want me to recreate a famous photo of Michael Jordan for you to have in your basement game room, I’m happy to do it…with my own artistic liberties taken.  I, along with many other artists, will NOT simply recreate a photo in paint, pencil, etc.  If you want an exact replica of an existing photo, save yourself the money and purchase a print of that photograph.  Asking an artist to outright copy someone else’s work is not only an insult to the artist (it doesn’t allow them to take any liberties and use their skill) but it is a huge dig at the original artist of the photo/painting/etc. we are being asked to “recreate.”

Similarly, don’t ask your artist to recreate previous commissions.  Commissions are meant to be a one of a kind piece for every person that orders one.  If you see something I’ve done for someone else and you liked it – I am happy to do something similar, but I will not “recreate” their piece for you.  If you really do have your heart set on a piece I created for someone else, my suggestion is to ask me if I offer it as a print.  Many artists will keep their high resolution scans/photos of each work and create prints of their pieces.  For me, every commission form asks the customer’s permission for their piece to be used for reprints.  And most of them will say yes!  So if you see a custom piece you like, ask about reprints, not recreating it!

Now, after you’ve placed your order, DON’T assume that changes can always be made!  If we have discussed your piece, and let’s say I am three days into the work, emailing me saying “hey, I have a minor change” is not always going to mean it can happen.  Sometimes, changes can be made after a piece has been started.  Sometimes, they cannot.  So before you email your artist asking for a “small change,” ask yourself if it’s REALLY necessary to change it – and if it is, is it worth having your artist completely start over just to accommodate it.

So what happens when the piece is finished?  Please, DO NOT back out at the last minute or “ghost” on your artist!  Your artist has devoted a lot of time to your piece, and now it is your turn to hold up your end of the deal.  When your artist tells you that your piece is completed, be prepared to plan final payment, shipment or pickup, and any final details.  Do not EVER tell your artist at the last minute “yeah, you know what, I changed my mind.”  Or worse, just flat out ignore them.  Commissions are custom pieces, and it’s not as if they can list most of them for sale.  If you ordered a painting of your dog, unless there is someone out there with the exact same dog looking for a portrait, that piece is a waste.  It becomes trash, basically.  Your artist is investing time, money and giving their best effort to you.  Remember that.

Speaking of final payments, DON’T forget to pay balances as quickly as possible.  My payment process is simple.  A deposit happens at the beginning, and after your piece is complete, I send a final invoice.  Once the final balance has been paid, your piece is shipped or delivered within 24 hours.  Simple.  The longer you delay payment, the longer you wait for your piece.  If there is a problem, communicate that with your artist.  If you cannot pay “at this time, but plan to after pay day,” let them know.  Whatever the situation, let them know, and pay the final balance as soon as you can.

Finally, this one is something many don’t consider after their piece is received.  DON’T forget to give your artist feedback! Honestly!  When you receive your piece, let your artist know!  Let them know it arrived.  Let them know of any issues with shipping or delivery.  Let them know what you think, if you have questions, comments or any other feedback!  I know in my case, when I ship my pieces, even with a tracking number, I still like to receive an email or phone call that says that my customer has their piece in their hands.  Even a simple “thank you” email goes a long way.  Your artist WANTS to make sure that your expectations are met, if not exceeded.  So please, LET THEM KNOW!

In addition to things you should NEVER EVER do to an artist, there are a few things that you should ALWAYS remember to do! 

First, DO have patience.  Understand that unless you are working with a FULL TIME artist who takes primarily commissions, your “simple piece” may take longer than you would anticipate.  Many artists who have not made the jump to full time are working with maybe an hour or two after work each night.  Be patient.  We have mouths to feed, houses to clean, food to cook and laundry to fold too.  We are giving you every second we can, but be patient!

Next, DO be prepared to sign a contract, pay a deposit and read fine print!  While not ALL artists do require contracts, deposits, etc. – many do!  Many of us have been burned before by customers who have “ghosted” us.  So when your artist asks you to sign a contract, pay any amount up front, or read something – please don’t be offended.  It’s not a matter of trust in YOU, it’s a precaution that allows everyone’s rear end to be covered.  For the artist, it ensures that their time isn’t being wasted, and at the very least they are being compensated for part of their time if you should decide to back out at the last minute (but please don’t!).  For you, it ensures all supplies are on hand, it reserves a chunk of the artist’s time to be dedicated to you, and it guarantees that your piece will be completed to your standards.

DO be prepared to follow up!  I don’t mean checking in with your artist constantly.  Most professional artists are happy to share progress photos and status updates on a regular basis, if you so desire.  What I do mean, however, is that if you see an email or a phone call from your artist, respond ASAP.  If we have questions, if we have an emergency that is going to delay your order, etc. we need to get our client’s input as to how things need to progress.  This is especially important for orders with deadlines – gifts, auction items, grand opening art décor, etc.  So if we have a question, please – answer us quickly!

And finally, DO remember to use social media!  Many artists these days don’t use galleries, live events or major publications to spread the word about our work – we use social media!  So if you are proud of your piece, please show it off!  Post a photo on your Facebook page and tag me.  Post a shot of it hanging in your living room on my page’s timeline.  Share it on Twitter and tag myself and any subject involved.  Post it on Instagram, send it to your friends, share it with anyone you can!  Many artists, myself included, will even offer future discounts or perks when you do these things.  Artists live and die by their referrals – so please, don’t be shy about sharing!

I hope this blog clarifies a few things for you.  Artists are people just like you – and we just want our craft to be taken seriously.  We make a living doing what we love to do, whether it’s full or part time.  Just like you make a living doing your job and expect certain things to happen (paycheck, time off, communication, etc.), artists expect a few things as well.  The best piece of advice I can give anyone who wants to work with an artist is summed up in one word: COMMUNICATION.  Communicate clearly with your artist.  Allow them to do the same.  Be prepared, do your research, and keep the lines of communication flowing.  Your artist is not here to rip you off – they are here to give you their best quality work, and make a living doing so.  If all parties can work together, communicate and follow through with their piece to the puzzle, everyone will be happy, and the hesitation to order custom artwork can be thrown away.  We love to create: so let us!

Are YOU curious about a custom commission?  Please, visit my ordering page to learn more, and let’s talk.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.