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Commission Control

Carving on commission has good points and bad ones. Prepare for the latter, and you'll have better odds of experiencing the former.

Photography by Bill Bachhuber

A customer commissioned this owl project with only one specification—it had to be a saw-whet owl. She said the rest was up to me. She accepted the finished piece based on photos I took from various angles and emailed to her. This project was unusual because we never discussed price, I didn’t receive a deposit, we never discussed presentation concepts, and the customer never saw the piece in person to approve and accept it. She also let me keep the finished work for about six months while I took it to competitions and placed it in a gallery show. It would be great if all commissions worked like this—but don’t expect it.

When you receive a commission to create a piece of artwork for a client, a number of emotions race through your mind: excitement, joy, pride, and then fear. Now what? How do you respond? What should you charge? It can get complicated.

As a full-time artist, I have talked to a number of people from a variety of art media about their experiences and opinions concerning commissions. My own experiences have affected my approach to the subject, which has evolved over time. 

Obviously, there are good things about commissions. Getting one builds up your confidence. It provides validation that people like your work and want to buy it. It's a sign that you've advanced to the next level of your art form. People want what you create. Commissions also provide a sense of stability, something that can help free your creativity and let you focus on the work. It's comforting to have a regular flow of jobs in the pipeline. Whether you carve full time or not its always good to know you have plenty to keep you busy. 

Getting regular commissions means you can schedule your projects. I find it helpful to know what I will work on from one day to the next. Commissions can be a nice way of knowing what you can expect over the course of weeks, months, or even years. Finally, commissions can provide a steady income. Even if you are retired or don't need to worry about income, steady commissions will let you plan for that next tool purchase or vacation.

This article is from the Summer 2011 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.

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