"Don't Be Afraid": 2 In-Demand Artists Tell Us Exactly How to Commission Art

Updated 03/06/19
How to commission art
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: Kate Lester Interiors

There are certain aspects of interior design that seem fundamentally daunting at first mention, and commissioning art has to be high on that list. For one thing, it feels as though the very act of asking an artist to make a personalized work is reserved for those with yachts just outside their front doors. And for another, it appears as if the commissioner would have to have a deep understanding of art to be sure not to waste the artist's time. Right? Well, not exactly.

"Don't be afraid to commission a piece of art," Salt Lake City-based artist Holly Addi told MyDomaine. "Art brings magic into a home and adds soul to its design."

Addi knows that the word "commission" can scare potential clients, but she says that it's nothing more than collaborating on a piece that shows off your tastes and complements the look of your home. Alexandra Valenti, an artist, and photographer based in Los Angeles and New York City, agrees.

"It's a one of a kind piece of art that was made with the buyer and the buyers' space in mind. That's pretty special," she adds. "That's not to say that buying a piece of art that has been mass-produced is bad, it just depends on your preference."

Below, Addi and Valenti discuss what to know about commissioning artwork, from how to go about contacting an artist, to the questions to ask before any agreement is made, to the expectations to keep in mind during the process. Above all else, they encourage anyone who's interested to shake off any hesitations that they might have about this detail of the interior design. It isn't as intimidating as it seems.

"I want my clients to feel comfortable and excited, not worried—it should be a positive experience," Addi says.

How does someone go about finding an artist?

Valenti: "The easiest and fastest route is social media—no big surprise there. Specifically, Instagram is the greatest platform for emerging artists and for those looking to find a new artist. There's no limit to the kind of genres you can find. Personally, I have created my entire client base from my Instagram feed. There are also other places online that are a great resource to find artists, like art magazines Artsy or Juxtapose, for example. Also, go to art shows in your city or town. You will discover some gems at those shows and you can actually meet the artist. At my first show in Austin, Texas, I met dozens of new people who not only bought my work but then went on to commission a piece later."

Addi: "Other than hashtags, Pinterest has made it easy to search your particular styles with one word and when you seem to resonate with one artist, in particular, start exploring their work deeper. Visit their website, or galleries that exhibit their works, or even companies that sell their prints. If you like the majority of what they do, then it's a good sign that you have found an artist that could create the perfect piece for you."

Holly Addi Ila Study 1
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Alexandra Valenti Iris Series #3—How to commission art
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What types of questions should someone ask about the work they're commissioning?

Do you commission work? "Believe it or not, some artists don't offer commissions and would rather sell what they have available, or perhaps they are not interested in creating a piece with anyone in mind—which I understand," Valenti says. "There's a different kind of pressure when you are making something for someone as opposed to creating a piece for a show or for yourself."

What will you create for me? "Be as clear as possible about which pieces you have seen of theirs that you love," Addi adds. "I always ask my clients to send me a screenshot of the top three pieces of mine that they love and why. It gives me a starting point as to what I will be creating for them because the end goal is to produce a piece that will bring beauty to their life."

Can I send images of my space? "As an artist who has created a lot of successful commissioned pieces, one thing that has helped is having an image of the space," Addi continues. "I always ask my clients to tape-off the area where the piece will be going and send me the image of that. It helps me to visualize the piece belonging in the space."

What's the best size? "Getting really clear on the perfect size will make all of the difference," Addi notes. "If someone asks me to paint a certain size for them, and then sends me an image of the space but the size is going to be too big or too small, it will make a big difference. Don't be afraid to ask the artist for their opinion, too. They know where their works look best and in what format."

Do you frame the painting? "Framing is a very important component, and personally, I have certain frames that I use for my work," Valenti says. "It's a crucial part of the finished piece. I don't usually like the buyer to frame it because if they use a frame that's not meant for the piece, it could throw the entire vision off-kilter."

What's the price for the piece and the price for shipping? "You should always have the artist send you an invoice and be very clear about payment expectations," Addi says. "Clear communication about pricing upfront for the piece and for the shipping is crucial. It makes for a streamlined process."

How do you expect to be paid? "For some artists, they want a 50% down-payment before starting and then the rest of the money when the painting is finished, but before it is shipped out," Valenti says.  "This could vary from artist to artist." 

What will the timeframe be? "The artist should give you a timeframe for when you can expect the piece," Addi says. I always give my clients a range so they have some sort of an idea of when the piece will be done. It usually depends on how busy my production calendar is when they book the piece, but a typical timeframe is three to six weeks. Being flexible always helps. I think it's also crucial to know what happens once the piece is finished. I always send an image of the piece when it's finished and I also let my clients know that we can make any changes they would like to see at that time."

How many revisions do you allow as part of the process?  "I usually allow one to two edits, depending on the piece," Valenti notes. 

Do you have a contract we could both sign? "The contract should lay out the expectations for the art making and delivery process," Valenti says. "This will save a lot of potential confusion, should issues come up, and could protect both of you."

Holly Addi Porto Covo Study 2—How to commission art
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Alexandra Valenti Fog Series #1—How to commission art
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Is there anything someone shouldn't do when commissioning art?

Addi: "The main thing you shouldn't do when commissioning a piece is to ask the artist to create something that clearly isn't their style. Asking an abstract artist such as myself to create a realistic work with some beautifully-aligned pieces of pottery in a portrait, for example, probably will lead to a bad experience."

Valenti: "Much like you wouldn't try to negotiate a meal at a restaurant, which takes time and love, I wouldn't try to haggle with an artist about the price. They are placing a value on their work for a very specific reason, and I would respect it."

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Alexandra Valenti Deep Purple Series #3—How to commission art
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