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The Trials and Tribulations of Producing a Commissioned Artwork

'Is it a bird?'

I'm pretty pleased with this acrylic painting recently framed up and delivered to a customer based in Scotland but its been a rocky road to completion and I feel I've learned a lot so thought it was worth a blog post.

It's not my first commission and I went into it feeling relatively experienced and organised. The customer had reached out to me on social media and asked if I could design an image based on some snaps shed taken on her phone of her husband and children on the beach flying a kite. She wanted herself and her dog in the picture too, even though they weren't in the photos taken that day. I asked her for as many photos as she could find of her family from different angles to help me get an idea of how they might interact and be positioned in the composition. I did an initial rough sketch to give her an idea of what I was thinking.

I then drew up a contract in which we established all the necessary details including the materials I would be using, the dimensions of the artwork required, its orientation, whether framing would be required, the colour palette and style of painting, the overall concept of the painting (in this case a painting of the family playing with a kite on the beach loosely based on the photographs provided, with an emphasis on the sky creating a sense of space) and any existing Hayley Stokes Art images being referenced. In this case the customer had particularly liked my "Hornsea Hike" sketch so I was aiming for a similar style.

Importantly, we agreed a payment process. On payment of a non-refundable deposit of 50% to cover labour and materials, I would aim to complete the painting within 1-2 months. It was agreed that the remaining payment would be made on completion of the painting and that at this point, the customer could choose not to purchase the painting if she so wished, in which case no further payment would be required. It was agreed that I would regularly check in with my progress to try to increase the chance of the customer's satisfaction with the final result. We agreed that framing and delivery charges would be in addition to these costs and would be agreed upon completion when it would be clearer what the best framing options would be.

Sounds like a bullet proof plan right?!

It did seem to be going seamlessly until I began to near the end of my initial artwork and was picking up that the customer seemed to be politely agreeing with the progress but was somewhat lacking in the enthusiasm she'd had at the beginning. Just as importantly, I was losing enthusiasm myself, and even though the customer had agreed to purchase the artwork and had even sent payment for framing and postage, I decided to double check with her that she was genuinely happy with the result (shown below)..

She was grateful for the question and admitted that she felt something had been lost in the process. At this point we were already past the agreed 2 month deadline (although she had emphasised there was no rush, especially after I had to take some time off when my daughter was very unwell in hospital). I gave her the option to call it a day and I would refund the final payment she had made or to wait another month to see if I could achieve what we wanted to within another month. She chose the latter. Following this I tried something completely different, which the customer did not feel met the brief at all but it did help her to put into words again exactly what she wanted. She also sent me a useful digitally altered image of the snap that most closely met her own idea of how she would like the scene to appear.

At this point, I regained my confidence in the commission and decided to work to a slightly smaller scale that could be framed to A1 size. This seemed to suit my approach better and I felt it came together successfully. At that point I had achieved this.

The customer loved it too but had one request....could she be wearing shorts like the rest of the family?! Thankfully acrylic paint is quite forgiving to adjustments and changes and I was able to oblige, producing the finally image (as shown at the top of the blog).

A visit to Brik a Brak Framers in Leicester helped give her some framing options and me some packaging help and last week I finally got the framed image sent safely to Scotland at relatively low cost with parcel force. I forgot to get a good photograph of the final framed image although here's one at Brik a Brak beautifully modelled by the framer whose name I can't recall even though I feel I know him so well now after he's helped me frame several of my works. I don't feel too bad though because he only knows me as "the lady who left her handbag here" - haha! Anyway, this snap is a lovely one of him and gives a good idea of how it looked. I've included a close up of the frame, which I absolutely loved.

So there you go. It took nearly 6 months from start of negotiation to successful postage and at times it was quite stressful and I was worried the commission might be my first failed one. I'm so glad I was honest with the customer about my own reservations though and thereby allowed her to open up about hers. She was conscious of the amount of time I'd spent on it and was clearly a lovely person who didn't want to make life difficult for me but I am so much happier knowing she is hanging something on her wall that I am proud to say I painted and that she loves to look at.

I will certainly be increasing my price next time to reflect the amount of time I invest in making sure I get it just right, but to be fair I was ridiculously cheap in the first place! I'm not sure who reads this blog but I'd be fascinated to hear other people's stories of their journeys in producing or buying a commissioned piece of work.

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1 Comment

Good for you Hayley, it sounds like you were really great to work with. I haven’t ever commissioned an art piece but i have commissioned designs for work, personalized products etc. It is definitely a lot easier to work with someone when you can be honest and not feel like you might offend them at any minute. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be trying to balance all the requirements of a commission but it sounds like you managed it amazingly.

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