Commission tips

Q. Since I’ve started painting, I’ve done portraits of a few friends and secured a few commissions from around my neighborhood. Now I want to start taking on more commissions. How do I create a larger client base and where do I find more people interested in commissioning my work? If I can’t find interested people, does this mean I’m not ready to take commissions?

A. The number of people who are willing to pay what a well-done portrait is worth is small—perhaps five percent of the public. Even then, you’re up against portrait artists who dot the beaches of Florida and California, cranking out reasonably well-done works for as little as $100 a pop.

While this stuff is fine in its way, an in-depth portrait is in a completely different category. Unfortunately, those inexpensive portraits may prejudice people into believing that painted portraits should also be relatively cheap—meaning roughly $1,200 for a 24×30 painting. This is absurd. My advice? Don’t get mad, get smart.

You have to help create your market. Start by establishing a Web site that showcases your talent. Make sure it’s well-designed and that it has a clean yet dramatic look. Many Web designers work out of their homes, so there are inexpensive ways of doing this. Make sure that your Web site can be found under all relevant search engines; if it’s a completely new site, it must be manually submitted to the search engine sites. You can also ask art societies in your area to include information about you and a link to your site on their own Web sites.

At the same time, you should print either a simple bifold brochure that can fit into a business envelope or, if you can’t afford that yet, a crisp postcard that shows one or two images. On either the brochure or postcard, print your Web address and all relevant contact information. Do the same with business cards, which you should have by now.

Once you’ve covered these bases, begin to get your brochures into the hands of well-connected interior designers, socialites, university and corporate administrators, select galleries and anyone else you can think of. Be willing to pay the designers 20 percent of the gross sale for any commissions they help you land. The same holds true for galleries, unless they represent you, in which case their commission is 50 percent. Conclude this marketing program by attempting to get some newspaper—any newspaper—to do a story on you, your journey and your artistry.

Be willing to take the necessary time in developing this aspect of your career. If your portrait work is truly singular, then the small precentage of people who can afford it in your area will begin to seek you out. But remember, if you can’t find interested clients right off the bat, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t ready to take on commissions. It may only mean that you’re suffering under the same constraint as all emerging portrait artists—the restrictions of a limited market.

Your clients are out there. You just have to be creative enough in bringing them to you.

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