How do Artists get Commissions Quickly? (It’s easy but scary)

Dog holding a sign saying commissions undertaken

The obvious way to bring in some extra cash is to find some commission work.
That’s all well and good but how do artists get commissions quickly?

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.

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

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 pitch

Selling 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.

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.

Pet Portraits

Get pet 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. 

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.

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 should dictate the terms.

Perhaps, get what you’re given may be taking things too far but 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.

Stick to the 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.

Upselling and 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.

Flyers and business cards

Getting art commissions - 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. 

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.

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.

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.

Conclusion

Now you know how to get commissions easily.

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.

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 commission work 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 commission 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?


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