There are two ways that artists should look at commissions. Commissions IN and commissions OUT. You need two different understandings and two different approaches. Both IN and OUT have rewards and costs. Both IN and OUT have to be done well.
Commissions IN are great. Someone phones or emails with a request that you create a piece of your work for them. You can discuss details and price of course. But a commission usually means that the sale is agreed. The good thing is that this is a result of all your previous hard work. You have established a style and expertise, and you have told people about it, and now someone wants you to sell something to them.
C’s IN have to be sought. Get potential byers attention, get their interest, provoke their desire, and be ready and able to take action as soon as possible. Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. AIDA. That might be familiar already if you read my blogs.
It is an accepted practice for the artist to get a percentage of the agreed price before the work is started. The client would usually ask to be kept informed as the work progresses.
One extra thing to consider. Depending on your place in the world you might find that a ‘commissioned’ artwork does not have the artists automatic copyright status. It may be possible for the client to commission and buy an original and then reproduce it without the artist getting any further share. An artist accepting a ‘commission’ should write into the deal that they ‘retain copyright’.
Commissions OUT are where you pay commission to someone else to sell some of your art product and they get rewarded with a percentage of the sale price. Their ‘commission’ comes out of your income. They earn their share by finding the buyer.
C’s OUT might be when you use an ‘Artists agent’. See my previous blog about them. The cost of using an agent is probably their ‘commission’, which is usually a percentage of the sale price. It can sometimes be a very large percentage.
Typically an artist could pay 25% to 50% commission from sales of their artwork from an exhibition.
I use one agent who finds buyers for my prints who asks for 90% of the income.
They find the customer. They woo the customer. They persuade the customer to order. They can print the actual item for sale. They frame it and deliver it and even hang it. They accept the risk of rejection or non-payment. They invoice and collect the money. They keep me informed. Then they give me 10%.
And I am happy to take it because it is a no-cost, no-work, extra income for me. In fact it is better than that because my work and name gets out there for other unknown potential buyers to look me up and buy direct.
One or two snags need to be looked at. Some businesses, earning commission from artists, will demand that their artists sign a contract that limits the artist’s freedom to sell elsewhere. It is even suggested that some businesses in this arena will get artists to agree to a contract in exchange for a bigger more attractive percentage, but their real purpose is to control your sales and take your art off the market so that they can promote other similar artists who take a smaller percentage.
Another big disadvantage of using a ‘commission based’ agent is that the artist will probably not meet the client. The buyer’s feedback to the artist is absent. The agent wants to repeat success by finding new buyers without the need to lose or share any positive or negative feedback from previous ones.
The agent will even discourage a contracted artist who wants to develop their style or subject into new unknown territory.
So the artist only gets a percentage, gets no genuine direct feedback, plus development discouragement.
Even worse are the agents who take commission for any sales success but expect you to pay them a commission for all the sales that you get even when the agent is not involved.
Even worse is the agent who expects to get a retainer to put the artist on their list.
Commission IN. Understand AIDA and get good at it. Enjoy the direct contact feedback. Make your client happy.
Commission OUT. Artists need to be very careful if they use agents working on commission even though it sounds as though this arrangement is a win win situation. Avoid contracts, ask for genuine buyer feedback, do not be deterred from your artistic development.
I hope that helps.
P.S. Another dictionary definition of the word ‘commission’ is ‘the act of committing a crime’. Hmmm!