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Be professional when accepting commissions.
Develop a policy and terms that you are comfortable with but also provide the buyer with a feeling of safety and security too.
Listen carefully to the client and convey your own thoughts clearly so that the client fully understands your intentions with the commission and can guide you as necessary. Only take on the commission if you feel you can fulfill the customer’s wishes. Make sure they have seen other examples of your work so that they are fully aware of your style of painting.
Be honest with yourself and the client if the commission is not suitable for you. If you don’t feel you can achieve what the client wants you to, let them know. If possible try and refer them to an artist you feel can help them instead.
Before you undertake the commission ask the client to sign a contract and pay a deposit.
The deposit amount is entirely up to you. Some artists charge a small non-refundable fixed fee after an initial discussion with the client in order to proceed with preparing some initial sketches or arranging a meeting with the client (if local). Provided the client is happy and both parties seem very clear on the direction the artwork will take, a percentage of the remaining balance can then be charged (usually 30% to 50%), and then the final amount on completion. It really depends on how you approach your work – whether you carry out preliminary sketches first or require several meetings with the client. Many artists find it simpler to charge a deposit of around 30% just before they start the artwork, and then the full amount on completion (either when the artwork is shown to the client in person, or after the client has been shown an electronic image of the finished piece before it is sent by courier). This method is more common, but it does mean the artist stands to lose more of their time with no compensation. If you have invested several hours of your time speaking with the client, and perhaps some costs in travelling to meet with the client, you will not be compensated for your time if the client decides not to go ahead. It is up to each individual artist how much risk they are willing to take, whilst trying not to increase the risk for the client too much and put them off entirely.
Your contract does not need to use fancy wording but it does need to be clear and concise. Explain your policy regarding any deposit or when certain monies will be due. Explain what happens should the client decide to cancel the commission at any point or rejects the commission once it is complete. What happens should you not be able to complete the work? On what grounds, if any, will you refund the deposit money? On what grounds, if any, will you accept returns? If you are willing to accept returns in certain circumstances, what are your terms regarding refunds and the way in which the artwork is packaged and returned to you? You should also explain your carriage charges if you are not including this in the price of the artwork. Explain how you will present the artwork – will it be framed, unframed or mounted? If you are sending a canvas painting, will it be removed from its stretchers first? You should also give a timeline. If you think a painting will take two weeks, state three weeks.
Make sure the contract includes your name, business name if applicable, address and contact details. Ask the client to sign, print, and date the contract.
You may want to reduce your liability or offer yourself more flexibility by including disclaimers. For example, rather than stating a particular date for completion (especially as you can’t guarantee when you’ll receive the signed contract back from the client) you could mention that the contract must be signed and returned within 7 days of the date of the contract. If it is not you will need to prepare another one to send to the client stating a new completion date. You should also explain that you will contact the client one week before this date to indicate what progress has been made and whether an extension is likely to be needed.
A contract is designed to offer both parties some security. It is not always possible however to meet deadlines – either because the work simply takes longer than you had expected or because health or other personal issues may delay you. It is therefore really important to be on good terms with your client. Always be honest with them and keep them informed of your progress, especially if you know you will not manage to meet the initial deadline, or the artwork is already overdue. If you completely underestimate the work required and it is taking far longer than expected, the client could cancel the contract and request their money returned, citing a ‘breach of contract’, which they can enforce by law through the small claims court if you do not pay back the money willingly. In this unlikely circumstance the client would still be expected to give you written notice, offering you a final completion date before they take further action. Being on good terms with your client and communicating regularly with them will help to avoid this unpleasant situation should you end up misjudging the work involved and taking much longer than expected to complete it. A client is far more likely to be flexible and understanding if you are always pleasant and communicative. The same applies if you feel you cannot complete the work – perhaps the commission is more complicated than you had envisaged and you don’t feel you can do it justice after all. Try to reach your conclusions as quickly as possible as not to keep the client waiting. Communicating regularly with the client and having a good relationship with them is the key to a more relaxing and enjoyable experience, for both you and your client, even if the work does not go to plan.