How to Commission Artwork


I have had the privilege of working with many, many clients over the years on commissioned artwork - both paintings and scratchboards - of subjects near and dear to their hearts. The subjects have included everything from an oil executive's barrel-racing daughters in action to the agility dogs of friends. Sometimes my marching orders are as simple as "a cougar in scratchboard" or "something African".

No matter what the subject, I follow a standard process with all my clients.

Photos -

The reference photographs are absolutely the most critical element to a commission. Once we've agreed on the subject, I always vastly prefer to take my own photos; I know the light, angles, and intimacy of shots that I will need to create work that will make both of us happy.

IF that's not possible, then I need to obtain as many photographs from my client as possible, and these need to be as sharp, clear, well-lit, and high resolution as we can get. When I can't be there to get the photos, some clients have hired professional photographers to get the reference material; I am happy to provide explicit instructions to another photographer for this purpose.

Above right is an example of a photo which is not usable for artwork: the subject is small in the frame, and the head and neck are poorly lit.

Below left is a much better photo: the subject fills the frame, and the eyes and nose have a sparkle (what photographers call "catchlight"). Below right is also a decent reference photograph; with some post-processing, I was able to add light to the mama bison's face, and in fact this became the basis for a scratchboard commission.

Sketches -

Once I have the reference photography in hand, I begin considering compositional ideas, usually through a series of sketches. After I have one or two ideas that I think will make a good work of art, I share the rough sketches with the client for approval.

Sketches can be charcoal roughs (as below left) for a painting, or white chalk on black paper (see below right) for a scratchboard. After the client has approved the sketch, we will agree on a deposit amount and I will start on the final artwork.

Progress reports -

Depending on the size of the artwork (and therefore the time a commission takes to complete), I may photograph the piece as it's in progress and email these to the client. This is particularly applicable when the piece is large and I'm working from client photos of the client's subject(s); I want to make sure we're both happy with the artwork.

Final approval, framing, and shipping -

Once I feel the work is complete, I email an image to the client for final approval. We will decide on framing for the piece - some clients prefer to work with a local framer, and for large pieces it's much safer to ship without the frame. The remainder of the payment is due at this time; if I need to order a frame, I do so, then I have a custom wooden crate built for shipment of the work to the client. All that's left is for the client to let me know that the artwork has arrived safely, then hang and enjoy it.

"Places in the Heart", 36 x 48 oil
"Buffalo Love", 16 x 20 scratchboard

Missoula, Montana

406 . 546 . 2636

Email Me

-- all images on this website copyright (c) Julie T. Chapman --