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How to Commission an Artist in 10 Steps: A 2023 Guide from Industry Art Experts

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 initial sketches or their previous artworks. Remember that this is in fact the benefit of collaborating with an artist, as they can evolve the piece and make something unique to you.

6) Setting your parameters

Once the concept is decided upon, establish the specifications for the artwork together with the artist. This includes deciding which materials will be used, what kind of finish will be achieved, and the colour palette. You can also discuss the final composition for the artwork, using sketches to articulate ideas. Know your expectations, and respect the limitations of both the artist and their materials.

At this stage, discuss the timelines for the project, setting milestones for when you would like to see reports on progress and receive samples. When setting the final deadline, take into consideration time for delivery and installation, as well as leaving room for any unexpected delays.

7) Sampling

Having the artist develop samples is a great way for you to review the ideas in practice, especially if the artist has not made anything similar before. Discuss what would be useful for the artist to develop – these could include compositional studies, sketches, maquettes, colour swatches, and smaller scale samples of the material and finish. Colour studies and samples of materials are especially important, as their true qualities cannot be expressed on screens or through photographs.

Samples are an essential part of the commissioning process for both the client and the artist. The client can be assured of quality control, and given the opportunity to make more informed choices between different options. Meanwhile, the artist can feel confident before they develop the main artwork that they are creating something that meets your expectations. If there is no opportunity for the client to visit the artist’s studio and experience the artwork as it evolves, samples become the only way to get a true idea of how the final artwork will look.

8) Managing the commissioning process

As the commission gets under way, give the artist adequate space. While management is important, respect that artists need time and space to make the work – if they feel like they are being over-managed, their creativity may feel stifled. Be in tune with how the piece is developing, but appreciate the artist’s way of working. It is also important to maintain your close working relationship with the artist and for you to take time to visit the studio at regular intervals.

A successful way of managing the project is to establish milestones of when you will communicate. You will be assured through getting these updates, in whichever forms had been previously agreed – updates could come in the form of samples, photo documentation, or calls to fill in on progress. Artists often appreciate encouragement and support, which also makes them feel more comfortable to reach out should any new questions or concerns arise. Remember that many subtleties, effects and nuances in artworks cannot be captured by photography, so be sure to view the work in person in the studio before it is delivered.

9) Shipping & Installation

The highest level of care in shipping and installation is paramount, and often underestimated. By far the greatest risk of damage to the artwork comes in unpacking, handling and installing the artwork, and fixing any damage can be exceedingly expensive. To avoid this, communicate closely with the artist; they are likely in the best position to safely pack the artwork, so can advise on unpacking and any particular areas of fragility.

Be honest about whether the people who have been assigned to handle the artwork can do so risk-free. It is advisable to hire an experienced art handler to unpack and install the artwork, as they have specialist training in how to ensure damage is limited. In addition, establish a thorough audit trail, so that it is clear who is responsible in case of damages. Ensure you have specific art insurance in place with a trusted company that will have you covered not matter what happens. The insurance cover should not only cover the replacement value of the artwork, but also the return shipping and any other associated costs you may incur.

Shipping art internationally also demands preparations for the artwork to travel through customs and multiple shipments, so appropriate packing is especially crucial. Customs officials are also entitled to open the package, and may unwittingly damage the artwork or its packaging in the process. Be sure that the insurance for the artwork covers all eventualities.

10) Curation & Presentation

Consider how the artwork can be curated within the space to maximise its effect. Examine different viewpoints, and how it is placed – wall art, for instance, should be at an optimal height, and not competing with too many other artworks on the same wall. Lighting is another make-or-break factor; no matter how well-executed the artwork, if it is not lit properly it can lack lustre and impact. Think about how existing light sources could bring the artwork to life, and consider potentially installing new lights to specially enhance the artwork.

Key elements of the presentation also include frames or plinths. It’s essential that the frame or plinth is elegant and subtle, in keeping with both the piece itself and the design of the room. Specialist fixings may also need to be designed, in order to display the artwork safely and securely, without detracting from the artwork. Presenting artworks is a specialist practice, and often the artist is not in the best position to advise on the most effective and visually pleasing presentation solutions. A professional third-party can offer helpful input: an art technician or framer can give focused guidance on how to select or develop the presentation, in order to make the most out of the artwork.

While commissioning art is a clear and often linear journey, some artists are more experienced than others at working in this way with a client. Artists who are less experienced in creating custom commissions often deliver the most exciting results, but will likely require more attention and guidance from the commissioner to unlock their full potential. Any private art commission, however, is not without risk if working directly with an artist. Collaborating with an art consultant who is experienced in commissioning will not only help you discover under-the-radar artists, but make the commission seamless and easy by managing every aspect of the process.

Discover all artists included in Artelier's Artist Walls collection here, with whom we collaborate to create monumental feature wall art. To learn more about Artelier's art consultancy services, and our process for commissioning art more broadly, please visit our Art Consultancy homepage.


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