Art Speak-What the heck are commissions anyway?

Originally Published: Oct 28, 2017

For non-artists, the art world can seem like a daunting, foreign place. Like many other industries, art has its fair share of special terms and jargon. But it is nothing to be intimidated by! So I am going to break down some of the barriers here so you will slowly but surely become fluent in Art-Speak! Let take  a look at a very common word in the artist's vocabulary: Commissions. 

Recently someone asked me what exactly is a commission? This particular person has a background in business/accounting where the word commission means something quite different, and did not understand how the same word applied to artists.

Let's break it down:

For an artist, a commission is a custom artwork created for, and often with some in-put from, a particular client. Commissions have long been a part of the art world. Many Renaissance artworks were commissioned by royalty or religious organizations to decorate their palaces and churches. It is thought that the Mona Lisa was the result of a commission request to Leonardo from an Italian Merchant (who wanted a painting of his wife).

Many contemporary artists (yours truly included) still offer commission work. Some artists do not offer commissions and that is entirely their choice to make. For those artists that do offer commissions, there is usually a process that they go through in order to work with you to create your vision, while staying true to the artist's style and process.

Let's take a closer look at the commission process; It may go something like this:

You discovered an artist who's style you appreciate and who's work you enjoy. However you are bummed to find out that none of the current available pieces are the size or in the colors you are seeking. Or, perhaps you have a vision in your head of a particular subject matter you would like to see the artist create in his or her unique style. These are where an inquiry in to a commissioned work can be a great idea. After the initial inquiry, expect some communication with the artist to go over some of the details you would be looking for in your artwork. Again, this could be subject matter, color palettes, size, materials, etc. While it is OK to tell the artist what you are looking for, be sure to stay open to the artist's suggestions, and allow the artist plenty of creative freedom. The design creation after all is why you like the artist's work so much to begin with. The artist will work out some ideas & sketches to present to you to make sure that it meets your needs. At this point you may be asked to sign a contract and or make a down payment, which if you think of it in a bigger sense, these are both common practice for custom orders of any kind, art or otherwise. Once you have given approval, the artist can get to work on the actual piece. The artist will usually give you an estimated time frame for the work to be done, and depending on that duration may send you periodic updates. Once the work is complete the artist will often send you an photo image of it for final review, at which point a final payment would be made before shipping/delivery.

Here are what some of my clients have said regarding commission work I have done:

"I purchased two wall hangings for my grandson's nursery. I met with Caren to go over some ideas she was so easy to work with and very open to whatever I was thinking of. They are adorable and I am happy to say I own two of Caren Kinne's originals"-Kim

"I have always been a fan of Caren's artwork so when I saw that she was creating characters to depict different people, I decided I wanted one to represent me and my experiences as an independent fashion retailer. Caren made the experience so easy and enjoyable. I gave her my ideas, was shown a few sketches and told her some of my favorite colors. Seeing the finished product was so exciting! This unique piece of artwork has made a great addition to my workspace."-Joelle

Learn more about my commission work here and stay tuned for future editions of Art-Speak.

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