Friday, 18 April 2014

COMMISSIONS............AND "how to feel miserable as an artist"

"Michaelangelo.........I am quite sure I told you that I wanted the ceiling to be magnolia........."

I recently spent an afternoon with an artist friend, who had been given a commission to undertake.  She was shaking like a leaf about the whole thing, really worried that whatever she did would be unacceptable.  
It is flattering to be given a commission based on someone's faith in you, but always, there is this hidden agenda with a commission ..... that whatever you produce will not be what the commission-er has in THEIR mind. 
 It may be best to explain to someone who gives you a commission, that you are an artist, not a machine, and therefore the results may slightly differ from what is expected, and that needs to be taken into account when the work is delivered. 

Which brings me to the thought that perhaps, with a commission for a client, rather than a chum or family member, it is a good idea to ask for some kind of non-refundable deposit. 


I failed to do this once.  I did the painting...showed it to my client when finished, she loved it, and asked me to have it framed.  When I eventually took the framed piece to her, she told me that her husband had refused to give her the money, so regretfully, she could not buy it.  I was a bit stunned.  But clearly, there was nothing to be done - she simply did not have the money.  I told her not to worry, I did not want to cause a row between husband and wife, so I would put it into my next exhibition.  "Oh no" she said  " you cannot do is MY garden in the picture and I do not want someone else to have it".  I am afraid I became irritated at that point, and explained, with some grittiness,  that the copyright was mine, and I would do with it as I saw fit.  If she did not want me to sell it, then she had to get her husband to buy it.  He refused, and that was that.  It was sold at the next exhibition.

So - when someone give you a commission , think fairly carefully about the fact that they just may refuse the finished work, for any number of reasons.    If you do not mind - no problem.   If you think you have an alternative audience - also perhaps no problem.  But if you have lots of inventory, and do not need the work for yourself, then having a safeguard in place could be very sensible.  If someone asks for a painting to be created specially for them, why not give them a small thumbnail sketch to show the idea for the image, and if they think that is acceptable, then ask for a sizeable non-refundable deposit before embarking on hours of work on their behalf.   This should be perfectly acceptable to your buyer, if they are honest and straightforward.  Be professional - and remember to value yourself properly.

Sable the greyhound.  Commission done for family birthday gift.  I rarely paint either portraits or animals - not my thing really - but I was caught on a good day and said yes.  Sable is rather gorgeous, so slim and lithe.

After the stress of trying to achieve what would be an acceptable "portrait" of Sable  (it was, luckily, accepted and loved), I created this little enamelled copper plate for myself:

Below - I recently spotted this.     You might find some of these things quite revealing!  And possibly a good fit in some cases.......
With thanks to Melissa Manley for these useful thoughts. (
The bowing to outside pressure, No. 7,  fits me right now...this year has been a bit of a nightmare and I apologise for blog absences.  I have done my best to find some thoughts now and then but it has not been as regular as I might have wanted.


  1. Hi Jackie, I thought it was funny when I saw the subject of your blog / newsletter. I just posted last night on Facebook the process up to end of yesterday of a rather large pastel commission. You give such good advice, I shared it to Facebook ... as I usually do. I always require a non-refundable deposit. I have only once had a commission refused .... early in my art life ... and it was a friend that I did not get a deposit from. Learned my lesson!

  2. I hope the months ahead become less of a nightmare than the year you have had. I always enjoy your blog contributions, as and when they appear, this one being no exception.

  3. I echo Jane's comment, Jackie! I predict a much better year ahead - full of lovely creative projects, both ceramics and painting.


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