Buyer’s Guide: Navigating Commissions

WHEN IT COMES TO COMMISSIONING ORIGINAL ARTWORK, COMMUNICATION IS KEY. BRIONY DOWNES TALKS US THROUGH THE PROCESS.

Sydney-based artist Lara Scolari regularly takes commissions from both individuals and businesses. Photo: Jacqui Turk

WHEN IT COMES to commissioning art, the rules of love apply: communication is key. And: know what you want. Whether you choose to go through a gallery, an art dealer or the artist themselves, it is useful to know what to expect when approaching someone to make work especially for you. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Communication is Key

The first step of any commission is to research an artist’s oeuvre and to get acquainted with their style and manner of working. A gallerist or art dealer can speak on your behalf and arrange an initial meeting with the artist or you can approach the artist directly via phone or email. Either way, schedule in some one-on-one time and have a clear idea of what you want: your ideal size for the piece, the intended location and your budget.

  1. Art Takes Time

When initiating a commission, it is important to remember the artist will have to have other things on their plate (or palette, as the case may be). Make contact at least a few weeks – or months! – before you require a completed piece. Time constraints could be the reason an artist won’t take on a commission, so the more time you give them, the better your chances.

Sydney-based painter Lara Scolari regularly takes on commissions. She recently collaborated with Designer Rugs Australia and, in 2017, worked with design firm Style Create Design on a series of painted elements for iconic harbourside restaurant, Sails on Lavender Bay. But commissions can be tricky when an exhibition is approaching. “Sometimes if I am working towards a big solo exhibition, I need to focus on that body of work and not dilute the flow of creativity,” Lara explains. “My artworks contain up to 40 layers and can take 10 weeks to create. Once the exhibition work is complete, I am happy to get back into commissions as they push me artistically.”

  1. A Little More Conversation

Communication doesn’t stop at the brief. Sydney-based artist Ian Thomas has been a painter for nearly 20 years with clients including fashion designer Collette Dinnigan and Grand Hyatt Melbourne. After accepting a commission, Ian provides regular written correspondence to clients to make both parties feel more confident about the finished product.

“I’ll chat to the client and tease out exactly what interests them,” he says. “I look at previous works with them to ensure I’m clear about what they expect, and then confirm these conversations in writing – specifying size, materials, price and any other particulars they have requested.”

  1. Works in Progress

After a payment schedule has been approved and before commencing work on a commission, artists will often provide sketches of what they intend to create. Once she knows what a client intends for a piece, Lara creates small maquette drawings to show how the finished product will fit with the space. “The palette and composition are always discussed at length with the client,” she says. “Maquettes are then supplied with a list of colour waves and accompanying photographs of the décor.”

Once work is underway, meetings can be scheduled at the artist’s studio to see the work in progress. Due to the open and inclusive nature of most commissions, clients are often involved throughout the process, which mitigates the potential for disputes later on. When the work is ready, the artist can assist with delivery and installation if specified in the initial brief. “Ideally, I deliver the work,” Ian says. “I like knowing where the work will hang in their home or office and it makes me more confident if it feels like the work ‘fits’.”

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