How to Get Art Commissions: Where and How You Can Find Customers

Art commissions sign with a drawing of 3 puppies

Have you been struggling to find customers and clients for your work? If so, this blog post is for you! I will tell you how to get art commissions by explaining where and how artists can find customers. I will also explain what the commission process is like.

Sit down on a busy street with a display and collect orders. Leave a portfolio of samples with an order form in GP waiting rooms, clubhouses, staff rooms, nurseries, and business canteens, return and collect the orders. Join forums on Facebook and Reddit and network passively.

Let’s run through your choices.

The Easiest and Scariest Way to Get Art Commissions – FAST

This is the one area where your customers will come to you.

The easiest way to get art commissions is to display your artwork on a busy street. It’s perfectly legal to promote your services.

Have a comments book to gather testimonials and emails. Engage with the public and demonstrate your skills if possible.

Make sure you collect the details from everyone who makes an inquiry and follow-up that evening. Orders will follow if you are pro-active.

If you sit down on a public street with plenty of passing trade you WILL get inquiries. In fact, if commission work is your preference there is no better way to advertise your services.

I can already hear the protests, ‘But you need a license to street trade!’ Yes, that’s true but only if you are taking money, not if you’re taking orders.

There’s nothing illegal about drumming up business by promoting yourself and besides, most people are happy to have a local artist around. It’s interesting.

Finding a Good Pitch to Gather Art Commissions

Selling and taking art commissions from a street stall in Brighton
A Perfect Pitch

When I first plonked myself down on a street I was so anxious not to upset anyone I introduced myself to all the local businesses and asked their permission!. No one minded, and I got to know my neighbors. It was good psychology.

That’s not to say that I’ve never had complaints and been asked to move, I have. It’s tended to be from struggling store owners who see everyone and everything as a threat to their business, however irrationally. I’ve never had problems with chain stores.

Further Reading: How to Find Your Own Art Style

If these things concern you, find out if any by-laws exist that prohibits self-promotion. It’s very unlikely.

Scout the area first and choose wisely. Don’t sit in front of a shop window or block any entrance, that would be asking for trouble. Set up in full view of passers-by and in a neutral space.

I hopped between empty shop units for a few years and did well. If the land outside was obviously private, I asked for temporary permission to set up on their frontage until the new tenants moved in.

How to Accept Art Commissions

Pet art commissions. Pet cat portrait by Kevin Hayler

As a wildlife artist, most of my requests revolve around drawing animals which comes as no big surprise. Sadly for me, it’s seldom for wildlife.

Most people want their pets drawn or painted. That said, all manner of requests will come your way no matter what you display. People assume you will do anything. 

Further Reading: How to Draw Pet Portraits for Money

Keeping to the animal theme, it’s perfectly feasible to make a good living doing nothing but pet portraits, it’s a huge market. According to the British charity PDSA, 49% of households in the U.K. have a pet, 25% of adults own a cat and 24% own a dog. The figures are even higher in the U.S. I discovered that 68% of American households own a pet. Petfoodindustry.com quotes 50% of US homes own a dog and 39% own a cat. That’s a serious market.

I’m approached by pet owners with photos all the time. The photographs, it must be said, are usually of very poor quality and these days, presented on a smartphone.

Regardless of the subject matter, you must accept art commissions with your eyes open.

It may be tempting to accept every job that comes your way but a word of caution, are you taking on more than you can chew? You must be very clear about what you can and can’t do.

  • Is the photo reference good enough?
  • Can you complete the work in a profitable timespan?
  • Can you draw or paint to the scale they request?
  • Can you make changes to the image?
  • Can you deliver the style and quality you have show-cased?

It’s a minefield and in my experience, it’s far better to make it crystal clear from the start what you will and will not do. You must dictate the terms.

You should set clearly defined parameters that play to your strengths..

Ensure your customer accepts and fully understands the following:

  • The size of the work
  • The medium(s) you’ll use
  • The time it will take
  • The fixed price per portrait
  • Alterations you can and can’t do
  • And demand a deposit.

It’s important that you make it crystal clear that drawing or painting two portraits on one sheet of paper is twice the amount of work and must be twice the price.

Some people cannot accept that simple logic. Don’t debate it or compromise. If paying for your time is a big issue don’t accept the job. The alarm bells should ring. Those types of customers will often try to haggle for a further discount upon delivery and they are more trouble than they’re worth.

Always stick to your deal, fulfill the order to the letter, on time, and for the price agreed. Be reliable and you will probably get more work. And don’t forget to put your contact details on the reverse of the picture.

If you screw up and it takes longer than you anticipated (it happens to everyone) keep your customer informed about the delay. Keep to your quote and learn your lesson for the next time.

How to Price Your Art Commissions

This is always the hardest advice to offer, we all work in different ways. Do you price by the hour, the square inch, or size?

You could start by researching what other artists are charging with similar work to your own. Don’t undersell yourself and if your prices are high don’t apologize for the price.

Be consistent and have a logical reason why there are price differences between different pieces. That means having the same price structure everywhere you sell.

If you sell online don’t charge more in person, it’s going to come back to haunt you if anyone feels cheated. On the other hand, giving a special discount to a customer will win you an admiring fan. It’s all psychology.

The easiest way to price art is by size. Put quite simply, large work sells for much more money, regardless of the time and effort involved. People equate quantity as having as much, if not more, value than quality It drives me mad.

Your time is the most important thing to consider, so you will have to calculate how long it usually takes to do the work. If you are inexperienced you will have to make a calculated guess.

Just be warned that things usually take longer than you think they will and you should always allow for unforeseen problems. If a job will probably take one day, allow for two days or more.

If your natural style leads you to create large works, milk it for all it’s worth. There is no such thing as an ethical profit.

Charge what the market will bear

If you create small art you will have to push the quality and get as much money as you can that way. Sadly it’s much harder to convince people at the lower end of the art market to part with real cash for small artworks even when the work is superb.

Some people try to create their own pricing formula by pricing by the inch. I have never taken this approach. It’s far too blunt and clumsy. It doesn’t take into account the time it takes you.

It’s important that I feel happy with anything I do. I want to feel valued and respected and in return, I will offer the very best professional work I can do. A fair exchange is no robbery and an ideal commission is when both parties are happy with the deal.

The last thing you want is to accept a commission with a sinking feeling from the very start. You will end up resenting the work.

One other anomaly you might not have considered. Different mediums have different values.

It’s absolutely true, there is a scale of worth. It goes like this:

  • Oils
  • Acrylics
  • Watercolor
  • Pastel
  • Pencil

You’ll get more money for a mediocre oil painting than you will for a fantastic pencil drawing. Again, skill does not come into it.

There is no one size fits all formula, if there was I would use it. In the end, it’s trial and error and you have to push the price up in increments until you find the sweet spot.

Upselling Your Commissions With Added Extras

On completion, you have the opportunity to offer up-sells. If your art conforms to standard ready-made frame sizes you can easily supply a framing service. It’s easy enough these days to offer merchandise via print-on-demand sites like Printful.com and drop-ship the products.

You can offer prints, cards, t-shirts, cushion covers, phone cases, the list goes on and on. Don’t forget that you will need a hi-res scan so if that isn’t something you can do for yourself you will have to factor in the time and cost of getting professional to do the job for you.

How to Use Flyers and Business Cards Properly to Gain Art Commissions

Advertise your work with cards and flyers samples

The mistake most artists make when starting out is confusing an inquiry with genuine interest. If you want plenty of work you MUST follow-up. Do not give out your card and expect people to get back to you. It rarely happens. Out of sight is out of mind and that brilliant idea of commissioning a picture quickly dissolves.

A good way of retaining interest for longer is to offer a flyer with your card. I print A5 leaflets and fold them in two like a greetings card. It gives you 4 mini pages to print some of your best images, your details, a testimonial, and a short bio. 

Further Reading: Do Artists Need Business Cards?

Don’t be tempted to hand out flyers to every Tom, Dick, and Harry passing by. It’s a waste of time and money. It’s better by far to target the people who actually show interest. Swap details. Get their email and send them a message that evening. Mention what a pleasure it was to meet them earlier in the day and have a large link to your website. 

You should appeal to the owner’s emotional side. Don’t just send a price list, craft a sales pitch explaining why a beautiful original piece of art would be a unique celebration of their much-loved family pet.

Use this example as a guide and rewrite it to suit your needs. 

Hi (NAME),
It was a pleasure meeting you this afternoon. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to stop and have a chat. 
After you showed me the photo of your beautiful (cat/dog), I found these examples of some previous work and I thought you might be interested to see how they look. I can do the same thing for you. 
It can be so hard to imagine how the final work of art will look but this will give you a good idea. It makes a big difference seeing them properly framed and presented, doesn’t it?
As you can see there’s so much more to the work than just accurately copying the photo. My mission is to bring out your pets personality and character. It’s important to get it right, and I take it seriously. 
Your (cat/dog) is a cherished part of the family and this is going to be a lasting memory so it has to be done properly.
I have the skills needed to bring your wonderful (cat/dog) to life and hope we can work together on this interesting project in the very near future.
Please get back to me with any questions you might have.  You can find my details below with a link to my website. 
Good to meet you and I hope we talk soon.


Best Regards
Kevin

PS: Please send me as many reference photos as possible. The more the merrier.

Include emotional triggers like companion, family, loyal, loving, cherished, Stress how your art will bring out their pets’ unique personality and character.
Remind them to send you the best photos they can find and make sure you have a payment method set up to accept the deposit. It’s important to stoke the fire while it’s hot.

Lightweight Display Idea To Showcase Your Art

I work next to a portrait artist who has a great set up. It’s light and portable and he carries everything he needs on the back of his bike.

He has six portraits, plastic-backed and covered in a clear acrylic film. He’s hinged them together with tape and made loops on the backside of the pictures, one row at the top and another on the bottom.

He has left a gap unhinged between the middle two pictures in order to place the center/top picture on the lightweight easel. Its held in place by the adjustable runner.

Further Reading: How to Make Cheap Art Display Panels

He slots two bamboo poles through the loops. He slides the top one behind the center bar of the easel and slides the bottom pole behind the legs.

It couldn’t be lighter or simpler. In fact, it’s so light you will have to find an anchor point for the wind.

He uses an extension bar at the top of the easel to display his prices. In your case, it might be a ‘Commissions’ sign. Do not advertise your website. If people think they can avoid talking to you by looking at your site, they will.

If you intend to draw or paint you will need another easel (he uses a box easel) and fold up stool. Alternatively, bring a small picnic table and a table cloth, secure it by using bulldog clips. Have the comments book open for all to read and leave their emails.

Remember to hide your flyers and cards to make people inquire.

By being so portable, it’s no big deal to find a place to set up and pack away in an instance. You can dodge showers, loud buskers, and busy-bodies. You’ll thank me for that tip.

Basic Display Materials Needed

As long as you have a few samples, you can be up and running in a few days. You will need:

  • A cheap portable easel
  • 2 x poles
  • A Picnic chair/stool
  • A Picnic table or easel
  • A Table cloth
  • Bulldog clips
  • Plastic Correx display boards
  • Tape
  • Clear acrylic film (for samples)
  • Good quality comments book

Perhaps the hardest thing about this approach is the initial fear of plonking yourself down in front of strangers. It’s scary stuff.

Further Reading: How Do Introverted Artists Sell Their Art?

Once you have a few jobs under your belt, word of mouth will kick in. Get your customers to drum up trade for you. Make sure you keep records of your art commissions and use the images to make laminated printouts for your clients to show to their friends, family and work colleagues.

Befriend your clients on Facebook and post their art commissions properly on their timeline.

Don’t be afraid to offer your clients to drum up some trade for you.

Before long you will have enough work coming in. Who knows you might even have a waiting list. Wouldn’t that be something?

Alternative Places to Get Art Commissions Offline

Sometimes you have got to think outside the box. There is a whole world out there and it’s offline.

These are opportunities and captive markets that most artists completely ignore.

  • Waiting Rooms. What do you do when you are waiting at the doctor’s? You read. Same at the Dentist, or the vets. Give your portfolio to the staff and ask them to leave it out for the patients for a week. Chances are one of the staff will be a customer!
  • Business Canteens are another possibility. You have to get through the insane security every business has these days but if you can get your portfolio into their common space you have a high chance of finding customers wanting something unique and special.
  • Clubhouses. Don’t discount clubhouses if you specialize in their passions. Think about the boat, golf, and tennis clubs. Anywhere that people with gather with a high disposable income is a potential goldmine.
  • Staff Rooms. I made money by leaving portfolios in school staff rooms with my details and a contact form. It’s was a novelty for them. Think about it. It’s a talking point for bored teachers in their break time. A captive market.
  • Nurseries If you need some cash and can turn your hand to drawing toddlers, who doesn’t want a picture of their little bundle of joy? Mum, Dad, and the grandparents do.

Once you start brainstorming the ideas come tumbling in. There are so many places to drum up work.

And don’t be afraid to leverage your friends and family. Get them to help you spread the word. Give them a folder to take into work. You will never have more enthusiastic ambassadors and they can kick start your business.

This is another idea waiting for you to try if you need commission work.

Get your presentation portfolio together. Present your art as a unique gift idea. Go into a card shop and note the life events they sell cards for. That will tell you how to pitch the commission idea.

Have lots of flyers to leave behind.

Go to town, early in the morning when the shops start opening and visit them, one by one. Your target is the shop staff. They’ll be mainly women, and women are the best art buyers.

They are not wealthy but they will spend, especially at the start of the month when they get paid. If anyone is interested get their details if you can. Have a clipboard or order form handy. Otherwise, leave your contact details.

It’s wiser to leave a flyer with your images as a reminder, it’s better than a business card. Don’t scrimp on the quality.

Only visit on a weekday and only if the staff are not busy. Skip the lunchtime. Staff are having their lunch or too busy.

If you put in the legwork you’ll get some trade and when you deliver their art you will almost certainly generate more business. That’s how it works.

Finding Art Commissions on Facebook Forums

Let’s face it most people are going to reach out online these days. There are sites that will claim to promote your work for you and take a slice of the action but most people will choose social media platforms.

The most practical approach to finding an audience is to start with Facebook. The key to finding customers is in selecting the right kind of group.

Open up your search bar and type in the word “art commissions” and what do you see?

Artists posting on groups with thousands of other wannabe artists. It’s dispiriting to look through them.

And who’s looking? Other artists mainly. Any group that’s aimed at artists is attracting the wrong crowd.

It’s better by far to target niche groups that are going to be interested in your subject.

If you paint horses why join a group of equestrian painters? You’ll be just one of the crowd waiting to be found, and possibly outshone.

Better by far to join a group of people who love horses and engage with them. It’s hands-on. You have to network, comment and chat. Be part of the scene and get recognized and liked.

Don’t be pushy with your art, just drop it into the conversations when it’s appropriate. Drop-in an occasional image. Not more than 1 a week and do that in many groups. Some forums will respond better than others.

Some forums attract good people while others are less accommodating. You will find some members in some groups unpleasant. Don’t respond to the bait if they’re rude and critical, you have to let it go.

Don’t upset the moderators, keep them on your side.

Each group has rules and many are against selling but there is usually some leeway for artists. They aren’t considered real businesses by most people. Just a glorified hobby. It doesn’t matter, does it?

If there is an issue reach out and ask the moderator if it’s ok to link to your website and get a few commissions. You can even offer to cut a deal, why not? Plenty of forums are only set up by moderators wishing to sell their own products and services.

Putting your art out there is not going to get instant results, it’s a slow burn. You have to be patient, but the rewards are there. Once one person has your art in their hands they will start promoting you themselves. It’s a snowball effect.

The more helpful you can be the better. When you start to build trust other members will respond and want to support you in return.

Finding Art Commissions on Reddit Forums

Firstly, what is Reddit? Reddit is a giant online forum that can be defined as a social media website for sharing content. It’s an online community of users who help create discussions around specific topics and share different types of content such as images, videos, links, and text posts.

The main section is called “subreddits” which are basically topic-specific boards where all the discussion and content is based around that particular topic.

There is a subreddit for every conceivable niche, hobby, and pastime, but don’t be misled, some subreddits have thousands of subscribers.

Make a list of all the most relevant subreddits to your niche. Find the most relevant subreddit for your type of art and get to work by researching what posts are popular, make yourself familiar with any rules or regulations before posting anything.

Look for other artists advertising their work, that’s a good sign that the forum has potential customers. Take a look at their profile and see where they are posting their work and follow their lead.

Keep to the rules on Reddit. They tend to be stricter than on Facebook. You don’t want to get kicked out of a lucrative subreddit or heaven forbid the platform itself.

Your approach must be to offer more than you are trying to receive, do not bombard the forum with your art, that is going to be interpreted as spam, and get you banned.

Drop an image into the subreddit one per week at most. That should be fine in most forums. If you are active on 7 subreddits that’s an ad’ once a day.

If you have permission, include your contact details.

Just like Facebook, some forums are better than others, if some fail to attract any interest, and some will attract negative comments. Ignore them or try your luck elsewhere.

Hopefully, one of your posts will get lucky and go viral. Your post can leap out of obscurity and gain a lot of followers that way.

As your popularity increases, your posts will get more eyeballs and this will help you get the attention of people looking to commission artists.

If they contact you, be professional, answer all inquiries politely and professionally. Take time to reply even if it’s just a ‘no’. This can lead to another opportunity in the future.

If you’re contacted, keep good records of your potential customers and follow up with them by email if they don’t reply to your message on a forum or comment section.

Getting Art Commissions on Instagram

Instagram is the sister station of Facebook so in that sense don’t expect organic reach in the Zuckerberg empire.

For Instagram to work, you have to post every day using the best hashtags at the right time. Not only that, you must post top-quality images.

It is a favorite platform for artists and photographers. It’s designed to share visuals and creatives love it.

Yet, Instagram is hit and miss. Some people do brilliantly well, while others do almost nothing. You need followers but it’s an ephemeral platform and quite shallow. Your work flashes onto the feed and is lost in a moment.

To use it for commissions you should build a following around your process and lifestyle, that way potential customers can get a sense of who you are and what they can expect.

Be consistent in the way that you post, don’t just do a burst for commissions and then disappear off the radar. It’s better to be there regularly with quality posts than sporadically with high-stakes content.

Intersperse your art posts with images of you working, add video content and stories, and posts mentioning your services. Let people know if you are selling something.

Unless you have a huge following you cannot link away from the platform from your feed. The only link permitted is on your profile.

To be effective you should use the services of a site like Linktree that connects that one link to several others. You can do the same thing by setting up a dedicated webpage on your website.

It’s easy to set up but very hard to get anyone to search your profile and click a link.

Conclusion

Don’t get too obsessed with marketing your services online, most of your customers are going to be people you’ve had real contact with, and probably local.

It’s easy to think that you are better off pitching to the world but in reality, you’re a minnow in a vast ocean. Sometimes it’s better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

And then there are logistics, if you have to ship an original commissioned artwork halfway across the world it will cost a fortune. It’s bad enough at home.

It’s possible to build a whole career from making bespoke art and commissions are the mainstay of many small art enterprises. Now you know how to get art commissions and make a start.

If you have the right mindset and aptitude there is no reason why your hard work will not get you the rewards you deserve.


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