A Framework for Accepting Art Commissions

Whether you accept commissions for portraits (houses, people, pets), funerary urns, custom jewelry, or garden sculpture, you encounter situations that other artists don’t.

Commissioned artists must meet with patrons, communicate throughout the process, figure out payment schedules, and create documents that outline terms to the clients. All of this on top of making the client happy.

Commissions aren’t for everyone, which means there is plenty of room for artists who enjoy and are good at them. If you are one of those artists, follow these 8 steps to land more of them.

8 Steps for Landing Art Commissions

1. Add a prominent link for commissions on your website.

Include steps for commissioning a piece and testimonials from happy patrons alongside images of the finished work.

2. Provide at least two ways to contact you.

See that your marketing materials, including your website, have both an email address and a phone number. According to Matt Oechsli, the affluent prefer phone to email.

At least one artist has lost an opportunity for a mural commission because she didn’t have a phone number on her site and her email was down. How do I know? Because I was the person looking for an artist to help a neighbor with her project.

3. Understand your pricing structure.

Commissioned artwork should be priced higher than your other work because you are trying to meet someone else’s expectations.

Some artists charge as much as

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What Are Your Legal Priorities? (Podcast)

Do you need to be concerned about copyright? Trademark?

Is it important that you have tight contracts?

It depends on your definition of success and what your business goals are.

I know that “it depends” isn’t a satisfying answer, but it’s the truth. I don’t want you to pay buckets of money to attorneys when you don’t have to.

In this episode of the Art Biz Podcast, I talk with photographer and attorney Kiffanie Stahle about legal concerns for your art business.

Kiffanie, who is the founder of the artist’s J.D., has developed the Creative Business Model Canvas to help you home in on legal priorities. Find it here and follow along on this episode.

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21 Snappy Things to Write on a Note Card Besides Happy Birthday

Jamie was my BFF in middle school. Though we were inseparable at the time, we drifted apart in high school and thereafter.

Over the past ten years, we rediscovered our friendship and have been trying it on as maturing adults.

Something lovely has happened recently: we’ve started writing letters. By hand. The kind you have to put a stamp on and drag your butt to a mailbox to send.

I see it as a way to use up my embarrassingly large stockpile of note cards and stationery. But it’s more than that. It’s nostalgic. It reminds me of the notes we used to write, carefully fold, and pass to each other in the hallways between classes.

I feel a little sorry for those who are wed to digital texts and social platforms – and the kids who will never know the joy that those paper notes can bring.

And there is something joyful about handwriting on paper.

I’ve always encouraged clients to distinguish themselves by sending handwritten cards (with their art on them) in the mail. The message you share is sincere and introduces people to or reminds them of your art.

Here are 21 reasons (as if you needed them) to send a card to a friend or potential friend.

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How To Warm Up a Cold Email List

You were told you needed an email list, so you asked people to subscribe. And they did.

But you didn’t do anything with their subscription. Those poor people sat in your system. For months. Maybe years. Never hearing from you.

Your list has gone cold. Ice cold.

Now you realize how silly it was to ask people to subscribe only to neglect them. You’re ready to commit to staying in touch with your list on a regular basis, but you wonder:

Will they remember me? What will they think if I just start emailing them after all this time?

You’re right to be concerned.

Regular emails – regardless of whether you call them newsletters or not – are so valuable because they keep your name in front of people. And they keep the list warm.

If you are ready to pay attention to your list consistently (and clear that you will keep the commitment), you have a little bit of work to do.

You need to reintroduce yourself to your list before you ask them to attend an opening or to buy your art because it’s not polite to call on people only when you want something from them.

There’s no sense procrastinating your first-in-a-long-time email because the longer you wait, the more painful it will be to write. Not to mention the energy it will use up in your head and heart in the meantime.

Once you’re clear on the commitment, there are three options for an opening email to reestablish a relationship with those on your list. You can use them individually or in combination with one another.

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Are You Too Frugal?

I am tired of watching artists and arts organizations live on leftover scraps.

Mind you, the organizations and agencies aren’t cheap with the patrons and board members with the big bank accounts. They are cheap with the artists, without whom their passionate interest would not exist.

Artists, in turn, grow to feel they are not worthy of more.

Don’t get me wrong. Frugality isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it can be good.

I don’t believe in spending for spending’s sake or in extravagance.

But frugality becomes detrimental when it feeds the notion that we are not worthy of more.

Many of my clients develop this sense of unworthiness that is perpetuated by the very organizations that were created to serve them.

I confess that I behaved similarly in the past.

For years I have been writing about how artists can show that their work has value. But I continued to allow the organizers who hired me for workshops to do things “on the cheap,” and I was doing the same with the workshops and events I organized myself.

How can I save money? was my modus operandi.

My first workshop, in 2003, was held at an office building that a friend managed. I recall my parents (!) picking up and delivering boxed lunches to the group.

At a much later workshop, I ran my team ragged making coffee all day long – trekking repeatedly to the kitchen on the other end of the building. Coffee! Because I didn’t pay for a venue that had food service.

No more. I began attending

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How to Be More Successful and Lucky

Our first grade classroom photo was taken on St. Patrick’s Day. I was the only one who wasn’t decked out in green that day. Mom had just made me a beautiful red and white dress, and I guess that seemed like a better choice for such a formal photo.

Guess who got pinched that day? Guess who stood out in the photo?

Maybe this was an early hint of rebellion.

Or maybe I didn’t believe that I would really have bad luck if I didn’t wear green. After all, I had been pretty darned lucky to that point.

I was lucky to have been born into a healthy, loving family that always had plenty of food on the table. I was lucky to be in a safe school where parents cared about a decent education for their children – an education that eludes so much of the world’s population.

Later, I would be lucky to have a higher education and the continued support of my parents along the way.

What I did with that luck was up to me.

Luck had little to do with the success of my business, and it has little to do with the success of your art career regardless of whether you feel lucky, were born into luck, or are convinced you are unlucky.

I’m fond of quoting what our third president had to say about luck:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

― Thomas Jefferson

When you work hard and take action toward your goals, you put yourself in a better position for luck to find you.

Why Some Artists Seem Luckier Than You

Have you ever observed that many artists whose work is on par with your own seem to have luck on their side? Chances are good that they worked for that luck.

I’ve included here a few of the reasons for their good fortune so you can emulate their success and duplicate their luck.

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5 Lists You Need for Your Art Career

Painting of Red Shoe by Cheryl Wilson

I live by lists. They’re so beautiful on the page: one item after another after another.

Whether we process each item in the order in which it appears on the list or, more likely, get around to them someday in no particular sequence, lists help us create order in our hectic lives.

The most valuable thing about making lists is that it gets tasks, projects, and ideas out of our heads and into a place where we can find them again. At least that’s the idea.

With that in mind, here’s a list of 5 lists (yep, a list of lists) that are useful to artist-entrepreneurs.

1. Your To-Do List

This is the list that you’re probably most familiar with.

Your to-do list consists of urgent or near-future items that you must accomplish. It might look like this:

  • Pay bills.
  • Order framing supplies.
  • Write draft of newsletter.

If you’re disorganized, your lists are probably all over the place – likely on sticky notes covering your desktop or computer monitor. Not the best way to be productive.

If you’re organized, you have a single to-do list in a single place. You know where to find it and how to prioritize the items on it.

Next, you need a place to store the not-so-urgent things. This is …

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Why Having No Boundaries Is Killing Your Art Career

A neighbor knocks on the door and invites you to coffee during studio time. Mmmmm. Coffee would be good, you think. Do you take her up on her offer?

Everyone in your artist organization knows that you are the go-to guy to get stuff done, so they ask you to chair a committee for next year’s group show. You know your schedule is packed, but you feel a sense of duty. Do you give in and help them out?

Every time your father gets the chance, he insinuates that you aren’t a real artist. It’s really driving a wedge between the two of you. Do you say anything?

You hop on to Facebook to post to your business page and are tempted to click on an old (and previously long-forgotten) roommate to see what she’s up to. Do you do it?

In order to act confidently in these situations, you need to have a solid commitment to the boundaries around your life and career.

Bagging your studio time, agreeing to be the go-to volunteer, allowing people to poop on your dreams, and wasting time on social media are all career-killers.

Here’s how you can handle these situations.

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Getting Back Into The Groove (Podcast)

Kelly Borsheim Sculpture

Any change in your routine — holidays, illness, vacations, family deaths or weddings — can bring a slump in your creative work.

Even when you’re completely into your art, there’s often an inertia that keeps you from rebooting and being productive.

Cynthia Morris and I recognize this in our clients and thought it would be juicy content for a podcast.

But first … full disclosure … we went to a yoga class. It was an experiment. What would it be like to record one podcast, go to yoga, and then try another after taking a break? Would we be able to get back into the groove?

It was a tall order and it didn’t quite work. I think you’ll see that we empathize with the topic when you listen to this podcast.

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5 Reasons You’re Not Making Enough Money in Your Art Business

When your income doesn’t match your aspirations, it’s easy to blame everyone but yourself.

But my students and clients understand that you have to accept 100% responsibility for your results when you want to be successful.

With that in mind, let’s look at 5 reasons why you may not be reaching your income goals.

1. You’re out to lunch.

What I mean by this is that your head just isn’t in the game. You enjoy making art, but you aren’t quite committed to turning it into a business.

The thought of the work required to run a business, or even the thought of finding out what might be required, is more than you can handle. So you ignore it.

It might not always be this way, but until you confront the truths about making money from your art, it ain’t gonna happen for ya.

2. You’re out of mojo.

We have all been in this dark place. The Universe rudely cuts the source of energy and magic that has been propelling us along.

Sometimes it happens after an opening or after a show comes down.

Other times,

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