1. Know what your customer wants- Ask lots of questions. As you envision the description she tells you, keep checking with her to make sure you are still on the same page. Be specific in your inquiries so that no detail is assumed.
2. Know your limits- It is easy to get caught up in the moment and want to do what they ask of you. But if you have any hesitancy on the type of subject matter or the timeframe to get it done in, be up front about it; you may have to turn them down.
3. Make good sketches- After you had a few conversations working out the details, send your customer some drawings to look over. It is better to check and double check at this stage than later on. If your work is in color, make sure you have that worked out too. Some artists even use a computer program like Photoshop to quickly put together a mock up to show their clients.
4. Know your timeframe- Your client might be giving this as a gift for a special occasion, make sure you know this before you start. If you do not think you can get it done in time, be honest! It is better to hold off than rush and have a piece your customer is not happy with. I have held off for a year or more in the past because the customer had too short a timeframe in mind. Also, when you give your client the estimate for completion, it is wise to add a week or two just in case you run into complications, illness or whatever else life may throw at you!
5. Pricing- This gets easier with experience, but it is still the most difficult part of commissions. My rule of thumb is by size of the piece and how much art is actually going to be on the (in my case) gourd. I try to make up a rough outline of what I offer and have a base amount per that size. For example, the base price of a gourd (a) x size of the art on that particular gourd (b) and any additional media (c), times tax (d) plus shipping (s). So, my equation would look like this:
a x b + c x d + s = price estimate
For the artist working on traditional supports like canvas or paper, you can figure that a and b will be the same and may want to charge by square inch.
When you have your amounts in, do a few tests of the math and see how that measures up with some of your currently priced finished pieces. Is it way too high or low? Make adjustments until you are in the ballpark!
The customer would also have to be aware of any changes made during the process that may affect the final cost. I have also worked backwards from this, if the customer has a limited budget and finding a good fit so she can still have a nice piece of art that she can afford.
Whether or not you want to require payment all up front, or half up front with half on delivery, or some other method, it’s entirely up to you. Make your policy and stick with it. I do suggest you do not make a piece of art and then ask for 100% on delivery. This was a mistake I made when starting out and it is super discouraging to spend time on a piece of art for a person that was not serious enough to put a down payment on the piece, then skipped out at the end.
6. Contracts- This is important and may seem silly but this will confirm all that you talked about and it is all on paper. You both have read it, both understand and signed. I do think that it helps your client feel more secure with the whole transaction. You can go online and search for art contracts for some ideas of what kind of information they put in theirs, and then draft one of your own that fits with your business.
7. Ongoing communication- Super, super, super important! I can’t stress enough that you continue to make contact with your customer and let her know the progress of the art. She may want to see pictures as you go (and some actually do not! Ask first!) This continues the good relationship you have and helps them feel good about the whole process.
I hope these guidelines will help you as you get started into offering commission work for your customers. In the end, the most rewarding part is hearing from your client how they, or the recipient of their gift, were moved to tears and are so grateful for this piece of art memorializing their special moment or loved one. It feels good to be part of that, and to know you had a hand in making someone so happy.
Art has always been a part of my life, and I have worked in many different mediums.