Guidelines for commissioned art

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Creating a specific work of art for a client can be both imposing and intimidating. Two massive hurdles that must be cleanly cleared are: 1) Pressure to satisfy the client. 2) Fear of not being able to do so. They are high hurdles, but hurdles that can easily be cleared with good communication and sufficient preliminary work.

I have completed many commissions during my 49-year professional career…10 years as a freelance illustrator, the remaining as a fine artist. I am thankful for the years as an illustrator because in reality every job was commissioned. Learning to produce a satisfactory piece of art, completed on time, within budget, and accepted by the client was great training for the world of fine art. I’m not sure there is such a thing as an easy commission…well maybe…but only if the client says, “Paint whatever you want, I’ll buy it.” Has that ever happened? NO!!

As you can see from the sampling of completed commissions shown here, I haven’t been afraid to tackle a variety of subjects…probably a result of my illustration days. I would like to say in every case I either had great reference material, access to the original source, or both. But, most of the time that was not the case. Imagination was often required to create a mood that made the subject interesting; other times several photos were used in order to create a convincing environment; additionally, balsa wood or foam core models have been constructed in order to learn how light would fall on various structures.

The key to taking on a commission is an unshakable confidence you can do the job…and do it well. I must admit however, there have been a few times when in the middle of a job I realized I was in way over my head. Those are the really stressful ones…the ones that cause a peaceful sleep to flee until the problems are solved. Fortunately and thankfully, I have never had a commission rejected…something I never assume or take for granted. Completing a difficult assignment and experiencing the clients excitement upon seeing the completed piece…well, that makes the stress worth it.

Below, I offer some guidelines for those considering accepting commissions. If you are already doing commissioned work and have additional suggestions you’d like to add to my list, please feel free to do so. Thank You. (Click images to enlarge)

“Bethany Farms with Dallas Skyline” – 24″ x 36″ – Oil

“Generational Bonds” – 30″ x 40″ – Oil

“Al Monroe on His Farm” – 14.5″ x 16.12″ – Oil

“101st” – 24″ x 24″ – Oil


Suggested guidelines for commissioned work:

1)    The artist should work directly with the client when possible. The less people involved, the better chance for success.

2)    Client should carefully search for the best artist capable of delivering what they’re looking for. Don’t expect an artist to create something that’s totally uncharacteristic of what they typically do.

“The Cabin” – 20″ x 16″ – Oil

“The Star Chief” – 16″ x 20″ – Oil


3)    Clarity of communication is critical.

a)    Artist must understand fully what the client desires. Ask clarifying questions.

b)    Don’t be afraid to say “No” if you believe you are the wrong artist for the job.

c)    Explain to the client what they can expect to receive from you. Assure them that you will give your best effort, and make sure you do.

“Crystal Dreams” – 12″ x 9″ – Oil


4)    Agree on size, price, and payment arrangements before beginning work. A non-refundable deposit is a reasonable thing to consider. If changes are made by the client after they’ve approved the preliminary work, those changes come at an agreed to price. That too needs to be clarified up front.

5)    Keep a record of your correspondence.

6)    Agree to a deadline and make sure it is met.

“Off to School-Fall of ’48” – 18.5″ x 25″ – Oil

“If Only in My Dreams” – 16″ x 27″ – Oil

“A Spring Day on Prosperity Lane” – 24″ x 36″ – Oil


7)    How will the art be used? Clarify restrictions on its usage. If artist decides to sell reproduction rights, all involved must clearly understand the limits of those rights and a price must be agreed upon for their purchase.

8)    Is the artist responsible for framing the piece? A compromise may be necessary here, but it would be nice if the artist had some say in how the work is presented.

9)    Remember, commissioned work is a business transaction and it should be handled in sincere business-type way. As artists we need to do what we say we will do, and clients must also adhere to their agreements.

“Murphy’s Historic Crossroad” – 16″ x 20.5″ – Oil


Being excited about taking on a commission and all that it requires will really go a long way. Additionally, if the client has done their homework concerning the artist they select, it is very likely the artist will be enthusiastic about the project they are given. As an extra bonus to the client, I will often send them images as the painting progresses. Caution, this can be a negative, however, in a couple of cases the client discovered something that wasn’t quite right in a painting I was doing for them and  with little difficulty, I was able to make the change.

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I am honored once again to be part of PleinAir Live…a global virtual experience. This amazing event will be held April 15-17. The theme for my presentation is “Keep it Simple” (How to simplify your artistic life). I will be offering beginners advice that will help them simplify and organize their artistic life, giving them the best chance for rapid growth and success. Finally, I will conclude with an oil painting demonstration using a very limited palette…all part of “keeping it simple”.

I would be deeply grateful if you would use this link to sign up. Full disclosure, I do receive a small royalty for those that use this link. Thank You.


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