How to Get What You Want Out of a Commissioned Painting

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How to Get What You Want Out of a Commissioned Painting

The artist needs your help!

It’s November and commission requests are starting to come in for the holidays. It got me thinking about my process and also how to guide and communicate with my clients. I thought now would be a good time to share some insight about what to expect when ordering a custom piece.

So you want to commission a work of art, eh? Sounds simple enough; you give the artist a subject, they paint it for you, you pay for it, everyone’s happy right? Hopefully! There are some things that you can do as a client to get the most out of your commissioned painting. A good artist will ask you lots of questions to make sure you get what you want, but you can also help the process along by considering the following ideas!

Subject Matter

What is it that you want to have painted? Is it a landscape or a portrait? Choose an artist who’s focus is aligned to your subject matter.

For instance, I love organic subjects like figures, animals and plants. You probably wouldn’t want me to paint you sailboats on the water or a cute little cabin in the woods. And most likely, I wouldn’t want to!

You also want to make sure that the artists style matches your idea. Every artist has a distinct look to their work and that will carry over into your custom piece.


Let’s talk about photographs. If your artist will be working from a photograph; the bigger, the better. A 4×6″ photo often will not do the trick. Unless you’ve got some really good close up images in there. There have been many times where I have been asked to work from photos that are tiny or even worse, blurry! Es no bueno.

Also, there may be times when you want to combine two or more images together. No prob! But you may want to consider the angles of the subjects in your photos. If I have a birds eye view of one image and a eye level view of another, but the images are going to be on the same plane, things will look weird. But maybe that’s what you want!

Sure artists can always use their artistic license to fill in information gaps or change positioning of objects; but a good quality, high resolution image at the angles you want work best.

The Sketch

Before any painting begins, ask your artist for a sketch. Many artists will charge a fee for this. I generally ask for a deposit on the work and your sketch is included in the final price. Your artist may vary.

The sketch is important because this will tell you roughly what the end product will look like. This also gives you the chance to ask questions and make changes to the composition. You wouldn’t want the artist to start your painting without seeing a sketch and find out you don’t like the design. That could cost you big bucks!

Picking a Size and Medium

It’s a good idea to have a size in mind before starting a commission painting. “Something small” is too broad. What’s small to you and what’s small to the artist might be two totally different things. We are in Texas, you know. You might also think about where this piece will go in your home or office. That may tell you right off the bat how big your painting should be.

The size of your piece may also influence which medium would best fit your project. For instance, if you want a 10’x10′ pencil drawing, you’re probably going to spend some serious dough. It might not be quite as expensive if you were to go with paint or charcoal. If you wanted a 4″x4″ oil painting portrait, again you may be paying more than you would for a larger piece with the same medium.

Wait, what? Yes, sometimes smaller paintings cost more than larger ones! Painting tiny or drawing huge pieces can be more difficult and time consuming because of the nature of the medium. Of course, it can be done. For a price, wink wink. If you’re not sure, just ask the artist! They should be able to recommend the best size and medium for you.

commissioned painting
Commission from a photograph, Oil painting with glazing technique


Another item to consider is color. Now, if the artist is going to simply replicate a photograph, the image will probably dictate the colors automatically. But sometimes you might want to get rid of a background that’s too busy. Maybe there’s another image you want to incorporate into your piece. Or you would like the artist to change the “mood” of the piece by using cooler colors. Perhaps you want it to match your couch!

Of course, you can just let the artist do their thing and pick colors that will best compliment the work. But you can also let the artist know what you have in mind if you want to get color conscious.


So you got your photos, picked your size and medium, your sketch is done and you have a good idea of what’s going to be painted. Now, what? (Singing like Tom Petty) The waaaaaiting is the hardest part. Waiting for your piece to be finished is the hardest part of commissioning a painting. But now you can just relax and let the artist take over!

I like to give my clients picture updates on their piece as it progresses. The most important thing to remember about commissioning a work of art is that communication is key. Be clear about what you’re looking for and you will have a successful piece to enjoy for years to come. Probably the best part about doing commissions is seeing the look on my clients faces when they receive a work of art that brings their ideas to life!

By the way, I am still taking commission requests for the holiday season and beyond. The sooner you book, the better. Take a look at this link for pricing info!