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How to comission art

A lot of people come into the gallery looking for “that perfect piece” for a certain spot in the house. They enjoy an artist, but need a vertical painting for over the fireplace, and we don’t have a vertical painting. Or they come in with a swatch of their couch color and want a painting that will look great with that certain color of burnt orange. We have paintings with beautiful reds and yellows, but nothing that will look great with that orange. So they begin to walk out the door…Can’t find that perfect piece? No worries, commission one! People forget that it is not necessary to find the perfect piece of art serendipitously, and though some people are weary of taking the leap into the world of commissioning artwork, it really does not need to be a painful or difficult process. In actuality, it can be a fun experience, and very gratifying to have a work of art that you “helped” to create through your concept and to watch it come to fruition. There are certain steps that can be taken to ensure a smooth process.

First thing you must do is find an artist. I know I’m a gallery owner so this may sound like a shot at getting some work thrown my way, but honestly I would recommend working through a gallery for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, they know their artists and most likely have insight into who can and cannot create commissioned work. Many artists are extremely talented, but have problems following direction and for this reason do not make good candidates for commissioning art. The gallery can also help to narrow down what artist may be perfect for your specific project by listening and getting a feel of what you are looking for, and they will discuss budget with you, even before bringing the artist into the conversation so there will be no awkward moments discussing this directly with an artist. The gallery may need to get a quote from the artist based on your-the client’s criteria and size, but immediately they will be able to give you an estimate cost. If you do decide to work directly with an artist, I would suggest requesting the contact info of previous clients for references. Make the calls and ask questions about their experiences, this may help you decide if you want to continue down this road with this specific artist. And lay everything on the table! Artists are not mind readers, they need as much direction and information as possible, and for sure, settle on a price before even a sketch is produced.

The gallery does not get paid if the commission is not completed or successful, so they have a vested interest as middleman to keep communication open between client and artist. I think the most important aspect of a successful commission is communication. The gallery with their knowledge of the artist’s work and their personal relationship with said artist, combined with their ability to speak in a certain visual vocabulary will work as “translator” between artist and client. The client may have trouble expressing what they want. This is where the gallery comes in, to help define the parameters of the project, work out details, ask questions and gather as much reference and information to give to the artist. The more the artist has to work with, and the more clear the concept, color and subject, the better chance of happiness all around! For an example…something as simple as the definition of the color fuchsia may be enough to end a successful relationship between artist and client. The gallery’s job is to make sure that everyone’s definition of fuchsia is the same, so that said “fuchsia heavy” painting is a perfect success!

The gallery will also handle the least romantic parts of the process as well. Defining size and other such technicals, payment schedule and making sure the sketches are complete, and approved by the client, any questions or concerns by either party are answered sufficiently, and if there are any bumps along the road, to smooth them out as quickly as possible and to continue down the road to a successfully completed commission. The gallery’s job is really to be an advocate for both the client and the artist and to have their hand in the process from beginning to end. I always say, happy client, happy artist, makes a happy gallerist!! So if you are still on the hunt for that perfect piece for that specific spot in your space, walk into a gallery and start asking some questions, it can be the beginning of the creation of your unique work of art.

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