Many people I meet, particularly at art fairs and studio events, are intrigued about the possibility of commissioning me for a custom / bespoke artwork. And as I've recently completed a custom painting for a client in the USA, I wanted to share with you some of my tips about making the process a stress-free, enjoyable one and to give you a bit of insight about how the process works.
My top ten tips for undertaking a special commission / bespoke / custom painting
- Size matters. Be clear on the size (and orientation – horizontal versus vertical) of the painting and take into account the framing and mounting. If you give a range to the artist, make sure that you are happy for them to use the full extent of the range (for example, if you say 10 – 15 inches x 30 – 35 inches, theoretically the artist could chose to make the painting 10 x 35 inches or 15 x 30 inches, which are actually quite different sizes and looks). Often it’s better to not give a range, but rather to give a specific size. Or to give a range that is just a few millimetres / centimetres wide.
- Show and tell. Use images as much as possible to show the artist your inspiration and what you like (and don’t like). Across emails and across different people, words like vibrant, abstract, and dynamic can mean different things. Blues can be dark blue, light blue, and everything in between, they can be more purple blue, more green blue or more true blue. Purples can be more burgundy (reddish), or more cadbury or royal purple (more blue), or more pale (lilac, lavender). Make sure you use images to help the artist understand what you want as well as what you don’t want.
- Trust is key. Make sure you work with an artist that you trust – commission paintings can sometimes turn out to be a lot more work for the artist and you need to make sure that the artist will persevere through any challenges and create a final artwork that you want to hang up and look at every day. Sometimes, I’ve heard of other people agreeing to a final painting not because they truly loved it but because they felt bad about the time it took the artist. That’s incredibly sad to me. I only want my customers to purchase and put on their walls artwork that they truly love.
- Set your expectations. Be clear on what you want and set your expectations accordingly – if you simply want a custom painting that is very similar to one out of an artist’s portfolio but just a different size or dimension, or a different colour palette, that is a much easier process and can be relatively quick (depending on work load, it can be a matter of days to get a complete painting). But if you want something that combines different influences or styles or elements and goes beyond what is in the artists’ current portfolio, be prepared for a longer process and a much more interactive discussion with the artist about what works and what doesn’t and why.
- Know what you want. Be clear about what you have a strong preference and opinion on and what you don’t mind. That way, you know what to insist on and what the artist should know to follow your exact instructions and what you don’t have a strong opinion on and can give the artist more creative freedom. Sometimes, this can be tricky and it’s easier to know what you don’t want versus what you do want. Share that with the artist as well. Knowing what you don’t like and what you don’t want in your final painting is just as helpful for the artist as knowing what you do want. Sometimes, you might find that as you go along the process, it might turn out that you have a preference for a certain element of the painting that previously you were happy to leave up to the artist. By all means, share that preference, but be prepared that depending on the stage of the work and the preference, it might not be possible to take it into account 100%, but the artist can at least endeavour to address it.
- Respect the medium. Each medium (be it acrylic, oil, ink, watercolour, pastel), has its pros and cons. It has things that it does brilliantly and things that can be limits and challenges. As a customer, it’s not always clear what elements of the painting are because of considerations related to the medium used versus those that are purely artistic decisions. Similarly, it’s sometimes not clear how much flexibility the artist has to manipulate the different mediums to achieve different effects and finishes. So be prepared that some things that you ask for might not be possible because of the specifics of the medium used, or that such requests sometimes might mean introducing new mediums.
- Never stop talking. As in most things in life, communication is key. Make sure the artist that you work with is happy to keep you fully in the loop at each step along the way. From emails, to sketches and pictures and samples. That is your best insurance that the final artwork that you receive will be what you wanted.
- Always be clear on payment – what the payment actually is, the timeline for the payment, and how it’s actually processed. Sometimes, artists prefer to take some sort of deposit once the custom painting order comes in so that they have some peace of mind that the customer is serious about commissioning the artwork and to help pay for material costs for the artwork itself. Other times, artists are happy to take the full payment once the final artwork is complete. Each artist is different and each situation is different. Just be clear on what you’re agreeing to and that you and the artist are both comfortable with it.
- Are we there yet? Be clear on timeline. If you are hoping to get the artwork in time for a housewarming party (or other occasion) and you need the artwork to be done by a certain date, you should share that with the artist. On the other hand, if there is no particular urgency and you’re happy for the process to take a couple of extra weeks here and there, share that with the artist as well – they will appreciate the flexibility.
- Have fun! Commissioning an artist to create a custom painting for you where you have had a say on various aspects of the painting can be incredibly fun. It can be a wonderful collaborative process which lets you explore your creative side. It can be incredibly rewarding to work with an artist to create your vision of your artwork, which will fit a particular place on the wall in your lounge, bedroom or other room just perfectly and will make the whole room come together. It is often said that it is the artwork of the home that shows the true soul of its owners. Don’t forget that working together with an artist that you like and trust can be a wonderful experience, so don’t forget to have fun in the process!
A case study of a recent special commission
- The collector has recently been renovating their house and has enlisted the help of an interior designer to manage the project and to provide some expert advice on various decoration choices, including paint colours, finishes, furniture, and decoration.
- The collector already has two of my original paintings and they wanted a bespoke / custom third one to create a freestanding gallery wall. With the assistance of their interior designer, they looked through my online portfolio for inspiration.
The Custom / Bespoke Painting – Original discussions
- The collector had a strong preference for my floral paintings, and particularly those that are part of my Not Another Rose series (Not Another Rose 1 was used as the example).
- However, the colour palate of the Not Another Rose series (featuring lots of bright yellows and no metallic accents) doesn’t go particularly well with the colour palate of the collector’s two other paintings – from the On The Plain series and from the Polypetalous series, which have no yellow colour and feature lots of gold accents.
- The colour palate that the client wanted was warm colours – reds, pinks, some purples but fundamentally reds.
- The size of the painting was quite specific as it is meant to be a long narrow painting that is hung above both of the other two painting creating a sort of tryptic presentation. The measurements of the painting had to be between 10 -12 inches tall and 42 – 44 inches wide to fit the space.
- The idea was to combine elements and influences from two separate paintings, which have some commonalities, but are ultimately quite different styles.
- I did a series of initial sketches to try different layouts, compositions, and subject matter including giving the client plenty of scope to personalize their painting – examples of options included: (a) one flower in a vase on the left of the painting versus one flower in a vase on the right of the painting; (2) three flowers in a vase versus one flower in a vase; (3) shape and type of vase – with / without handle; (4) shape and type of flower; (5) extra elements (leaves on the ground, versus no leaves), etc.
- The client chose the sketch that they preferred and we went from there.
- I found that the initial composition that we had agreed upon didn’t work that well with the liquid acrylic ink medium. One of the fundamental benefits of liquid acrylic ink is creating some movement of the paint which helps make an energetic painting that feels alive. However, this medium needs space to breathe in the painting and the paint needs space to move. After some initial work, I concluded that the initial composition wouldn’t allow the paint to move as it should. I also thought that the very particular size of the painting (it’s quite long and quite short) meant that including a flower and vase made the whole composition awkward and small, and the scale of that flower and vase would not go with each other (the vase was too small and the flower was too large) and with the other paintings’ scale, which is much larger.
- I went back to the client with some photos and explanations, having done some initial work and suggesting what we could change to create a successful painting.
- The client agreed.
- I produced a second set of sketches (10 again) that helped address some of the composition challenges I was facing.
- After consultation, the client chose a new sketch where the composition fit better within the painting itself – I removed the vase, the scale of the flowers would match the other paintings better, the liquid acrylic had more space to move around and create some interesting patterns.
- Armed with a new agreed composition, I went to work on the new painting. However, considering the particularly restricted space of the painting, I found that the liquid acrylic ink did not go on as well as I would have hoped. Instead of the usual dynamic movement that I am able to achieve, the paint fused together more than normal creating almost no negative space (no white or gray / black space) which helps give the painting some movement. Furthermore, my normal method of applying metallic accents to my paintings (while the painting is still wet), didn’t seem to work as well with this size as the paint spread too much – normally, this is the effect that I’m going for (like in my Polypetalous series), but with this slightly different style, it didn’t seem to work as well.
- The client’s feedback on this additional work was that the composition indeed was successful. However, that the background colour was too vibrant and instead the client preferred to have some more white / gray / black accents to help break up the colour. My own feedback on this additional work was that I needed to rework how I normally apply the metallic accents so that they are more in keeping with the unique scale of the painting. Lastly, I wanted to add more fluidity and more shape to the flowers that were the subject of the painting, so I added two other media to help me achieve that – hard graphite and black oil pastel.
- Upon further reflection, the interior designer and client decided that the measurements for the painting that would work best would be 12” x 42” rather than a range as a range as we initially discussed.
- Finally all the pieces and different experimentation and sample work came together.
- We had an agreed upon exact size, and a composition that I had tried and that both the client and I agreed worked.
- I had a much clearer understanding of what the client wanted in terms of the background colour / pattern style (breaking up the vibrant reds with more areas of white, gray / black).
- I had experimented and decided to introduce graphite and oil pastel while decreasing the black ink I normally use to help ensure that I was able to get clear definition with the flowers and that the painting wouldn’t have too much black colour.
- I had experimented and worked out a way to apply the gold accents that produced a clean line that was more in keeping with the style of this particular painting.
- Over the next few days, I made the final painting which itself is a multi-step process: from tearing / cutting the paper to the special size, to actually applying all the background paint and ink and waiting for it to dry properly, to applying the media on top – the graphite, oil pastel and further acrylic paint accents, and waiting for that to dry. To finally protecting the final artwork (and fixing the graphite and oil pastel) with spray fixative so that the artwork would be better protected and the graphite and oil pastel wouldn’t smudge. And to waiting for that final coat of clear fixative to dry. All in all, a multi-day process.
- I sent lots of pictures to the client of the final artwork including large scape pictures of the full artwork as well as close-ups of the artwork, so the client could have a better idea of how the painting looked.
- The client and I agreed that this painting looked beautiful and was indeed what the client wanted.
- The client made the payment for the painting and I shipped off the painting to the USA using tracked / signed for service the following day. As the painting was a very different size to my usual paintings, the price for the painting was decided using my standard pricing per square inch applied to this unique size. The standard pricing for my normal size paintings is £550 for a 56 cm x 76 cm painting and I used that same price per square inch / centimetre to work out the price for the custom painting. *UPDATE* as of May 2016, based on advice from trusted art world experts, I have decided to apply a 25% project handling charge to all custom artworks. This additional fee covers all the additional time, effort and cost that is involved with creating a custom artwork, from agreeing the brief with the client, to me creating samples, soliciting feedback, doing additional samples if needed, and providing advice on hanging, framing and caring for the artwork.*
A few notes
- As the client was working with an interior designer, each step along the way needed to go through a three-step approval process including the client’s husband and her interior designer.
- This painting pushed me out of my comfort zone and was a much longer process than usual because it essentially combined elements of two entirely different styles of paintings – particularly, my Not Another Rose 1 painting and my Polypetalous 2 original painting. Normally, custom paintings are based on one particular painting from my portfolio, but chosen in a specific colour palette or size / shape. This was an entirely different custom commission and therefore a more complex and long process.
- The size and shape of this painting made the composition particularly challenging and the fact that the painting had to work with two other paintings also made it more of a challenge to make sure that the scale, colour, and pattern worked well together.
- From start to finish, the whole process was less than 1 month, although that is much longer than usual.
- I interacted with the client at each step along the way, discussing colours, patterns, preferences, and sending full sketches and lots of pictures of the drawings and sample artwork / experimentations along the way.
- With ultimately 20 sketches to choose from, the client had an exception level of ability to customize their artwork as the wanted and we agreed early on about what the client wanted to influence and have a preference on and what they were happy to leave up to me to decide.
- Pricing was clear based on the size of the commissioned painting (i.e. there is no extra charge for a commission painting rather than a normal painting). *UPDATE* as of May 2016, based on advice from trusted art world experts, I have decided to apply a 25% project handling charge to all custom artworks. This additional fee covers all the additional time, effort and cost that is involved with creating a custom artwork, from agreeing the brief with the client, to me creating samples, soliciting feedback, doing additional samples if needed, and providing advice on hanging, framing and caring for the artwork.*