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Accepting Commissions

Commissions seem to me to be a bit of income, and a lot of undesirable work.

While not exactly a commission, I've already turned down a family member who wanted a photograph reproduced in paint, because the photo was bad.  To the customer, the photo is endowed with many memories and evokes emotions, but to me it was just poorly lit and fuzzy, and painting it would be arduous and risky.  That was a good decision, and I don't have the skill to pull together a pleasing portrait from multiple alternate sources.

But suppose someone were to ask me to paint a view of a town for them?  I would feel confident that I could do it, or I would also be content to reject it based on the quality and nature of the source.  But I have general concerns about commissions:

Does accepting commissions add stress and remove all the fun out of painting?

Is it okay to reject the work because I simply don't want to do it?

How does payment work, 50% up front, then 50% if the customer likes the result?  What if they don't?  They still own the source copyright, so how does that work?

Is it okay to say that no requests for changes are accepted?  I can see that becoming tedious, given a fussy customer.  How do you manage this?

Do commissions have higher fees than non-commissioned work?

Here are some good reasons to reject.  Perhaps there are others?
- Source not good enough
- Don't wish to work to a deadline
- Don't wish to yield to adjustment requests
- Too busy to accommodate work of this size
- I don't do pets, portraits, fantasy etc

Does anyone with insight or experience have any wisdom to offer?


  • Even lawyers are allowed to turn down prospective clients/cases. They are not required to give reasons. 
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    BOB73 said:
    Even lawyers are allowed to turn down prospective clients/cases. They are not required to give reasons. 
    Absolutely.  I don't need to provide a reason.  But I'm wondering what the real reasons are.  Perhaps there are no limits to that.
  • No portraits @PaulB? I was hoping we would see one from you at some point..
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    Richard_P said:
    No portraits @PaulB? I was hoping we would see one from you at some point..
    You've seen my first "Uncle Frank" portrait, but that was tiny, and not that good.  I have also painted a pig.  I've done another uncle portrait since (not shown) for a gift, and I've done my own pet portrait.  While I don't mind doing it for myself or family so much, I don't want to paint _your_ favorite aunt and have you not happy with the result.

    In other words, I can mess up a tree in a landscape and it can still work.   I can't make a mistake on a portrait, and having it not be someone I know somehow makes it harder.
  • I watched this a few years ago but the advice is still relevant.

  • I have thought of this, actually a colleague asked me to paint something for her, and that she will pay me, but I think I am not ready, and not sure also if I will ever paint something from another."source" if this is not in my emotional wavelength. I want to paint to be remembered and appreciated in the future to come, I know it's a big task and 99 percents everything will finish in pellets (ahah) but still I want to try it.
    But....I understand others wants to do it and maybe it's also a good way to make people happy so nothing against it, only thing is to never paint something doesn't correlate with you as an artist. You are very good, and I already told u how good you are, for me because it's not your first income it would be a shame to waste your talent in something it not a "Paul". One day maybe people will say I have a "Paul" at be sure to be you!
  • Art is freedom - freedom to do what you want and when you want - I would take on what you feel comfortable with @PaulB an I sure anything you do will be a success and maybe be a nice little side earner 
  • If I needed money, I'd paint houses. Once they decide on a color, that's it. 
  • BOB73

    Yeah and painting houses has a better hourly rate than painting portraits.


  • For me, commissions add an Ick factor that I do not enjoy - if someone wants to buy a painting I did because I loved it and am pleased with the outcome - so be it.   When I have ever even started a painting because someone wanted it, there is a weird pressure for me that is completely unenjoyable.  But, that's just me.  

    Ick factor is reason enough for me to nix it.  I paint because I love it, if it fails, it fails, I don't want to waste one minute of my time trying to please someone - if they want a picture painted - then they should frame the picture because most people don't want too much artistic license with their beloved whatever.

  • I can't stand women that are so wishy-washy. A person (man or woman) should say what they mean and mean what they say.
  • It's a wonder that I never developed ulcers doing commissions.
  • I don’t have experience on commission paintings, even friend ask me to do, I will say no since I am not ready yet that I know. However I take commissions for illustration work. And I like ‘hard’ client who don’t give me any ‘frames’ and they are the ones eventually will push my limit to try new things and I earn from that, so why not. But I do not like the Client who has exactly idea of what they want, So I can’t make any creativity in it. It makes me bored. Sorry if this is not relevant, just want to share. ☺️
  • I'm working on a commission now and it helps to see it as just baking a cake!  :3
  • What I hate is an interior decorator who says "I want something with lots of lime and mauve 111" X 57 1/2" maybe some animals; day after tomorrow." Too many like that could drive me to re-enlist in the Army.
  • I've done lots of commission work, as that was my only option to paint and make $ at it. Now that I am in a gallery it is SO nice to paint what I want! However, there is a level of risk in that too... with a commission your painting is sold before you even put the brush on the canvas. I do not offer "adjustments" I paint what I see as I see it and when it's's done. Offering adjustments is a can of worms I sure as heck don't want to open. Definitely get a 50% deposit. That way if for some reason they fall off of the face of the earth after I just spent a week painting, then at least I don't go home empty handed. Or if after the painting is complete they decide they can't afford it, or they broke up with the person they intended it for. No backsies. 
    I have also refused a bunch of potential jobs just because the photo was so poor. I ESPECIALLY can't stand the "smile!" at the camera snapshot. I am just straight up with the client if the photo is not good enough. 
    Commissions are a lot of work before they even start, having to explain canvas sizes and what works and what doesn't etc... If you can afford to turn it down, then by all means do. However that said, you are entitled to mark UP your work for commissions based on the extra work and lack of artistic interest. My gallery said they start private commissions at at least $500 more than what it would sell at that size as an original work... 

  • @Irishcajun - What a wonderful story! And I think, had she not been painting all those portraits and landscapes she probably not been asked to paint the abstract. I would think all that wonderful, skilled painting she did has been foundational to inform her abstracts and that has likely made her abstracts that much more appealing to buyers.
  • @Renoir:  I would paint the dog paintings as commissions.  Do it conditionally that you get to pick the photo reference (or take the photo yourself).  
  • I tend to think doing commissions to early before a artist has developed their style rock solid would be unwise.The loss of control to a buyer of the work , be it a bad photo ,adjustments or what ever would set a artist back .And viewing them as a possible pitfall if done to early in the a5tist developement,  but I may be wrong in this thinking.
  • @CharlesLinville:  Actually that is a good point.  I think there are two ways to look at it.  One you are very right that most people who think they are ready to start selling probably have not put the time in to develop their skills. The flip side, is that it can be a good motivator to really focus.  In regards to the first one, I think people have to also realize that one can always improve their skills no matter at what level they currently are.  So it is a conundrum.
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    Thank you all, for the great advice.  This question arose because @Summer asked if I was ready to handle questions about commissions (thank you @Summer).

    In conclusion, I'm not, I have too much to learn, and I certainly don't want to deal with poor sources and change requests.
  • PaulB said:

    - Source not good enough
    - Don't wish to work to a deadline
    - Don't wish to yield to adjustment requests
    - Too busy to accommodate work of this size
    - I don't do pets, portraits, fantasy etc

    Does anyone with insight or experience have any wisdom to offer?
    I can paint 'fantasy'  ;) nice idea
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