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How to Commission an Artist

As international art consultants, commissioning artists is integral to Artelier's role when delivering projects. Through decades' of specialist experience in sourcing contemporary art and managing custom art commissions, Artelier's art consultants know what makes a successful art commissioning process. In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide to working directly with artists, explaining the considerations of how to commission art.

Commissioning a custom-made artwork gives the opportunity to collaborate closely with an artist, who brings onboard their creativity to develop something truly unique for your project. There are many contexts where specially commissioned art makes a powerful impression. In private residences or yachts, bespoke artworks are an excellent way to personalise a space and enhance a design scheme. For large-scale projects like hotels, multi-use developments or corporate spaces, a statement artwork can create an unforgettable atmosphere for guests and visitors. Public art can be used to articulate narratives or values to the public, or make for an engaging and interactive experience.

Before embarking on commissioning an artist, it’s essential to understand the process. Learning important considerations allows you to identify an artist that is the ideal fit for your project and form a successful working relationship with them, and so receive an artwork that realizes your vision.

Below, Artelier’s art consultants have put together a step-by-step guide for working directly with artists. Collaborating with an art consultant streamlines these steps for the client, as art consultants are specialists in sourcing artists, creatively evolving ideas, and managing the commissioning process.

1) Refine your vision

Before approaching an artist directly, decide on the parameters of your project and assess your needs. So that the artist understands your expectations, take time to contemplate your aesthetic ideas. Are you inspired by a particular style, or wanting to convey a certain theme? Are you looking for an artist working with a specific material or technique? An art consultant can help you expand on these ideas and offer new options, with an insight into the market and an eye for how to create inspiring spaces.

At this stage, also take into account logistical considerations, assessing your timelines and budget, as well as thinking about potential artwork locations and scale. It’s especially important to identify any special requirements, such as durability against weather or resistance to damage in an area of high footfall.

All of these elements will need to be conveyed in a brief, so consider how best to explain to them to a potential artist. It’s also useful to decide if you have something specific in mind, or if you’re happy for the artist to have the freedom to creatively interpret the initial idea. Communicating this with a potential artist lays the foundation for your collaboration.

2) Research the Market

Take some time to research the market, not only to broaden your knowledge of exciting artistic practices, but also to get a feel for what makes a good artist. Artelier has devised a set of 12 wide-ranging considerations, which we use to assess an artist's suitability for a project:

  • Undiscovered Talent

  • Emerging Career

  • Originality

  • Quality of Ideas

  • Mastery of Materials

  • Skill & Ability

  • Integrity & Commitment

  • Training & Experience

  • Longevity

  • Innovation

  • Versatility

  • Artistic Focus

We expand upon these considerations and why they are important in a recently published article.

3) Identifying a suitable artist

While discovering talented artists brings you a step closer, it's essential to contact an artist to ensure they are a suitable match. Establish these considerations with artists from the beginning to manage your mutual expectations for the project.

Even if the artist is skilled, they may not be able to fulfil a commission. For instance, they could not be comfortable working to your desired scale or volume due to lack of specific experience, limited facilities or time availability. It’s also important to be realistic when approaching artists; some emerging artists may not feel confident in accepting the commission, and equally an established artist may not be interested in creating work that fits the project brief. It’s important to also identify an artist who works within your budget. If you have a smaller budget, consider collaborating with an early career-artist who displays great potential, as the cost of their work tends to be lower.

4) Get to know the artist and their work

Once you begin working with an artist, take the time to understand their career, materials and practice. If you recognise how their work has evolved, you are in a better position to understand the themes and trajectory of their interests, and discuss how their current practice can be relevant to your project.

Working with an artist, rather than a manufacturer, relies upon forming a personal connection with the maker of your artwork. It is fundamentally important to assess whether you can work with the person themselves, and not just whether their art is suitable. For a successful commissioning process, you will have to be able to understand each other and have a good line of communication. Take time to visit the artist in their studio to assess their studio capacity, whilst getting as closer sense of how the artist works and how professional they are – after all, this will be a business contract with potentially quite a lot at stake.

5) Developing ideas

Before the artist starts creating the artwork, artist and client should collaboratively develop ideas beyond the initial brief. Listen to the artist's insights and suggestions, as they have an intimate knowledge of the possibilities of their material, as well as being accustomed to developing intelligent concepts for artworks. In turn, be sure to openly put forward the ideas that you want to be explored, and express them clearly.

Regardless of whether you have a preconceived idea of what you’re after or if you’re happy for the artist to interpret an open brief, it’s essential to allow the artist creative freedom as they develop the artwork. As they are not a manufacturer, there will always be nuances and subtleties to what they produce which will slightly differ from the init