Wednesday, November 3, 2010
About doing commissions
I want to know your opinion about working on commissions. Recently I got a commission to do a big abstract painting, then I came to know that they wanted a particular painting in mind and asked me to copy it. Though I didnt feel good about copying, I went ahead because it was good money and I needed that. Does this mean that there is no freedom for the artist in commissions? Or it is not the same case all the time? How much can an artist compromise in such cases? Should I have refused the deal because there was no freedom for me to express in my own way?
This question comes in from India. I like doing commissions, but they do take a little prenegotiation or you can end up holding the short end of the stick.
Here is what you need to tell the client up front.
I LIKE DOING COMMISSIONS AND I DON'T CHARGE MORE TO DO THEM.......BUT, I GET HALF UP FRONT, AND HALF UPON YOUR SATISFIED ACCEPTANCE. THE UP FRONT HALF IS NONREFUNDABLE THOUGH, IS THAT GOING TO BE A PROBLEM?
If they won't give you half up front, walk away. You cannot accept their offer otherwise, because that offer is "make the picture that I describe to you, then if I like it I will buy it". That's a losing hand for you. Anyone who is serious will give you half up front without hesitation, any one who won't, is going to be a problem when the piece is finished. So NEVER, EVER do a commission without half up front. If you aren't going to get paid, find out before you do the job!
You need to agree very clearly on what it is they want you to make. It sounds like this job was a little fuzzy from the start. But now they want you to make a copy of an existing painting. That is not a moral dilemma so long as you write "after so-and so below your signature. Copies are fine but the original artist must be credited. I would suggest that you only copy paintings by artists who are dead. Do not copy anything recent enough to be covered by a copyright. Rembrandt is OK, Warhol would not be.
You do give up some freedom on a commission but that is your choice. If you don't want to do the job, don't take the commission. The person who commissions you has every right to get the painting that they contracted for, just as you have a right to expect payment,. that's the deal. If you don't feel like you have room for your self expression, don't do the job. It is nice to make the paintings and if people like them, they buy them. But you are working on spec.
If there is a dealer involved, getting you the commission I would expect them to take around 15% not half. If your dealer wants more, you will have to decide if you want to take the job, but I wouldn't allow them much more. The beauty of doing commissions is generally that there is no dealer involved and you make the full retail price for yourself.
Most people who have commissioned me to do a painting have been excited about the painting and have been a delight to work with. They chose you to do the painting because of their faith in you. That is a complement to your ability. They deserve the best you can give them. Many commissions result in more work from the client or their friends, so I work hard to make them as good as I can. I have been known to make a second painting if they were dissatisfied with the first.
I hope that works out for you and you learn something from copying that abstract. I would grid up your canvas from a photo of the painting you are copying. That will save you some time and since it is a copy you are doing an essentially mechanical exercise.