Commissioning a new artwork

Victoria Lucas, Poke, 2011

Published: 19 February 2016

You might be thinking about commissioning a work for a variety of reasons: for your home, for somewhere you work, or for an exhibition or project you want to put together.

If it isn't something you have been involved in before then it can seem a bit unclear how to go about it. There is no set procedure to it, as the circumstances will change with each artist and each commission, but below are some brief guidelines to how you might approach it to get the best results for both you and the artist.

1. Find an artist whose work you really love

There are many excellent artists, so take the time to find one whose work you really enjoy and are challenged by.

Looking at artists' websites and profiles can be a good place to start, search for what you think you might be interested in such as Painting, Video or Sculpture.

The more art you see, the better your understanding of what you like will be. Keep an eye out in magazines, websites, galleries and in other people's houses for artists whose work really clicks with you and keep a list or document with their names in. Remembering a work you like, but forgetting where you saw it or who made it can be very frustrating!

2. Be clear with what you want

Good communication makes the process a lot easier for everyone. Being able to provide the artist with a clear brief including dimensions, ideas, deadlines or anything else crucial is really important.

Don't be afraid to give your opinion on ideas in the early stages, although appreciate that you are commissioning an artist to create one of their works, rather than paying them to realise one of your ideas.

3. Speak to the artist

Even if you have something particular in mind, speaking to artists will always bring up something you haven't thought about. They will also want to be fully informed of the project before accepting the commission, so be prepared to be asked some questions too. Email your brief or ideas to the an artist or two who you like, and see what response you get back.

You can use Axisweb to message artists or to find their website, contacting them through a trusted site like this can get a better response compared to though social media, which can appear a bit unprofessional.

Sometimes artists will be represented by a gallery and so, depending on the situation, you might be communicating in the first instance through the gallery rather than with the artist directly.

4. Allow plenty of time

Sometimes making work can take longer than expected, especially when developing new pieces or ideas. Artists may also have other projects or exhibitions that they're working on.

5. Speak to professionals

If you will be investing a lot of money into the project, or working with third parties or clients, then getting some specific advice on the project from someone with experience will really pay off. If there is a complex installation, transport or fabrication as part of the commission, unprofessional solutions can put the artwork and your investment at risk.

6. Pay the artist promptly, and agree ownership

Depending on your agreement with the artist, sometimes you will pay before the work is started, or at the end, or pay a deposit at the start. Make a clear agreement beforehand, drafting a contact if necessary noting at what stage payments will be made, and ownership and copyright of the work.

7. Share it!

Sharing the work with others is a very exciting part, whether it is part of an exhibition, or just inviting people to your house to admire it. Artists want their work to be part of people's lives, so don't hide it away!

8. Look after the work

Depending on the work, some pieces can deteriorate quite quickly if not looked after in the right way. Ask the artist about what conditions are best for this. Well looked after artworks will last a lifetime, and if kept in good condition will continue to gain value.

9. Keep in touch with the artist

Keeping in touch and up-to-date with the artist's practice is also really important. Follow their profile on Axisweb to see what new projects and works they are busy with (use the My Feed function on Axisweb to keep up-to-date with your favourite artists). It can't happen in every case, but building a relationship with artists over various commissions is an invaluable asset to their artistic career.

Next steps

Looking for artists to commission? Take a look at Axisweb with work by 3,000 professional artists. Filter by artwork type, keyword search or just browse. You can also post your commssion or other opportunity on our noticeboard.

See other Axisweb guides here >

Watch our films about collecting art >

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