Commissioning Art- The Do’s and Dont’s

Article by Brian Dickinson 11.11.15

Commissioning Bespoke Stained Glass

Myth 1: Stained Glass is just for Church Windows.

When I introduce myself as a stained glass artist, one of the first questions I get asked is “Do you make Church Windows?”

I can understand why people say this, before I became a stained glass artist I would have made the same assumption.  

Church glass is very specialised sector of the stained glass marketplace. Working as #dolittleglass I create unique contemporary stained glass for homes and businesses. Windows make only a small part of my stained glass work. The majority of my creations are portable artworks & lamps, ideal for today’s mobile lifestyle. 

I’m constantly finding new places where stained glass can make a impact. 

Who commissions an artwork?

Myth 2: Bespoke art is just for the Rich or Arty folk.

You don’t have to be a member of the Saatchi family to commission art. Everyday folk like you & me buy and commission art.

SO WHY COMMISSION AN ARTWORK?

In a world where every high street is selling the same stuff, it’s difficult to put your own stamp on your home or workplace. Commissioning an artwork is a great opportunity to create something personal & unique.

Some people treat themselves, others commission work as a special present to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other landmark.

Often it’s a cost effective way of purchasing art as it avoids the heavy gallery commissions, frequently 30 – 50% of the purchase price.

Working directly with an artist is a fun and rewarding experience. The rest of this article highlights how to get the best out of the relationship. 

What’s involved in commissioning an artwork?

Choosing an Artist
Perhaps the easiest way to choose an artist is to look at their past work. Do you like the style of their work? Do they have the capacity and capability to create what you are looking for?

Another important criteria often forgotten, is the artist themselves. Do they listen to you and take care to understand your needs? Is this someone you can work with and trust? What do their past customers say?

As you are choosing an artist, the artist is also going through a process of vetting you as a client. Good artists may say no to your request.

 

Getting Started

Deciding on a Subject or theme.

How much input does the purchaser need to give? Talking with other artists, this seems to be a difficult question for both the artist and the customer.  

Successful collaborations can take many forms.

a) Agree the general theme and leave the rest to the artist. This requires a lot of trust on both sides. This approach often gives enough freedom for an artist to produce their best work.

b) If you are unsure about a suitable theme. It’s a good idea to spend some time with your chosen artist. A conversation over drinks can home in on a suitable theme. It might be a personal hobby or special interest. Artists a generally very flexible and imaginative. After one discussion the all a family could agree was their favourite colours. This was enough trigger the creative juices.

c) Many artists take inspiration from other images and photographs. This can be a mood board of the type of artworks you like or a single photo to be used as a basis for the commissioned artwork.

How the artwork is to be displayed?

It might seem a bit early to decide how an artwork is to be displayed, but for a medium like glass it’s crucial. Get it wrong and a spectacular artwork can appear bland. Early consideration also helps prevent unexpected costs.

For glass questions like:

• Where will the artwork be displayed? E.g. Against a wall, standalone, in a window….

• Will a frame be required/needed? What material best fits the location?

• Will the artwork need artificial lighting? As a light box or to illuminate.

• How much natural light? 

Timing is an important consideration.

If there is a deadline for the commission, it must be made clear from day one. The creative process can be lengthy, please give your artist enough time to schedule and produce their best work.

Quotation, Payment & Deposits

Once the terms of reference are agreed, it is common practice for the artist to ask for a non-returnable deposit. This is to cover up front costs – materials and payment of third parties (e.g. picture framers). This deposit also is a sign of good faith, showing the customers commitment to the commission.

 

Creating the Artwork

How much is a customer involved in the creative process?

The main objective here is to ensure the customer is going to be delighted by the end result. Whilst avoiding wasting too much time and money going down the wrong path.

There are several ways to involve the customer in the design process:

a). A quick outline design sketch prepared early in the design process gives an opportunity for getting feedback from the customer. For stained glass this is a layout diagram together with design notes showing proposed glass colours. Samples of the glass can help the later.

b). Sometimes a few sketches may be prepared to give the customer a degree of choice.

c). Occasionally an artist might be able to involve a customer directly in the making process. With my stained glass work there are a few steps in the making process where this is possible. Here the customer becomes the artists assistant. This is a great idea if the commission is creating a present for a loved one.

d). Some artworks can take a long time to produce. Here the artist has a choice: Either have a big reveal of the completed artwork; or give regular updates throughout the making process. I prefer the later option as it keeps the customer interested.

e). Excessive customer involvement can be a cause of stress an conflict. This is where the customer constantly changes their requirements, attempts to take artistic control or interferes with the creation process. Trust your chosen artist to deliver.

Unveiling and Handover

At its simplest this is a basic exchange of goods for the agreed fee. With the care taken at the earlier stages, the customer should be delighted with the newly created artwork.

A bit of drama!

Some customers like to have a big reveal for themselves and their friends. This can be a fun way for the hand over. I has the additional benefit of showing the commissioned item to a wider audience. Great publicity for both the customer and the artist. 

Sometimes this exposure can be in a public exhibition at a gallery or other space.

Is that the end of the story?

As the customer you are getting the benefits from a fantastic artwork.

A positive way of expressing this delight, is to prepare a testimonial / written review for the artist. Recommend the artist to your friends, family and wider contacts. This generous spirit will bring its own rewards. 

The artist may also want to use an image of the artwork in their portfolio and publicity material.

Who owns the copyright for the artwork?

In lots of cases this is not an issue. Once the handover is completed that’s the end of the story.

An artist may want to reproduce the artwork to gain extra revenue for their efforts. There is a long history of artists doing this by creating additional versions of their popular artworks. Additionally the image may be reproduced in the form of prints, limited editions and greeting cards.

This opportunity for future revenue may reduce the original commissioning cost.

If you are very sensitive to the uniqueness of the work, you may request and negotiate exclusivity.

Conclusion

Commissioning Art is a Win – Win – Win proposition. 

Go for it.