Looking for a piece of art but can’t find exactly what you want?  Have you considered commissioning an artist?

Not all artists accept commissions but sometimes this can be the solution to finding just the right piece for that special place or person.  It’s usually an easy process but it does need good communication and an open mind!  As an artist I do make commissions but they can make me nervous if I feel that I’m not getting what the customer is trying to say!  I know it can be really hard to use words to express exactly what you want, especially when sometimes this changes as you chat about it so I thought I’d outline my process for commissions and include some general tips along the way.

TIP 1:  Find an artist whose work and style you like.

This may sound really obvious but it surprises me how often people think any artist can make anything.  While this is true to a certain degree, an artist’s natural style is likely to seep into their artwork and it doesn’t necessarily play to an artist’s strengths.  Besides, surely what you really want is something the artist enjoys making, so then that joy is reflected in the piece!

When I’m first approached to make a commission it’s all about asking questions.  I need to find out as much as I can about what the commissioner wants, not just to make the commission but first and foremost to make sure I’m the right person to make it.  If I think I’m not the right person for the job I’ll explain why and see if I can recommend someone I think is more suited.  If I’m happy that we can work together and I can make something they are going to love then I will start working on a design.  I’ll pull together photos and materials to inspire the piece, do some sketches and think about how I’m going to achieve what the commissioner wants from the piece, be it a sculpture of a loved animal or an abstract sculpture for their garden.

Tip 2: You can write a brief for the artist to get the conversation going.

Some find  the process of writing a brief helpful to get all their thoughts in order and ensuring they share everything they want to with the artist.  It needs to include all the practical elements like scale/size, material, subject etc as well as why you want the piece made and by when.

Once I have a design ready, or sometimes two or more designs to choose from, I’ll meet up with the commissioner again to share the designs.  I’ll run through the thinking behind them and see what the reaction is. I’ll run through finish and colour options and settle the small details with them.  Often there’s something that needs tweaking or changing so I’ll do that and share again until we have something that we’re both happy with.

TIP 3: Share everything no matter how obvious it seems to you! And don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Make sure that you are clear about all aspects of the commission and then make sure the artist is on the same page.  From very practical aspects like scale and materials to the more abstract like style and colour.  Share why you are commissioning the piece, if it has a particular location to go or even a particular emotion you would like embodied.  The more information you can share the better!

TIP 4: Be open to input from the artist.

You may be coming to this with a very set idea about what you want to commission but please, do keep an open mind and remain open to input from the artist.  After all, you approached them for their professional skills.

Once we have a design that we’re both happy with I then go away and start making in my studio.  This is when I get to have my music blaring as I build the clay into a piece based on the design.  I may subtly change elements as I build, as the clay talks to me and I can see something that will fulfil the brief more fully but in general I keep close to the agreed design. Again I send photos of the piece once it’s built, before it’s dried and fired, to be sure I’m still on the right track.  If they’d prefer to see it ‘in person’ the commissioner visits the studio.

This is an exciting stage as they get to see the piece in reality for the first time!  I love seeing their reactions to seeing the vision realised 😊

From here it’s finishing the making and ensuring that the piece is then glazed/decorated/finished in the colours/style agreed.  With clay it has to make it through the firing process with no problems.  Over the years I’ve found that it’s worth me making two of a commission just in case something goes wrong in the firings.  This also gives me a chance to try some subtle differences and, should they both survive to the end, the commissioner can choose their favourite.  I usually keep the second piece for myself as the commission is personal to the commissioner and not something I feel can be sold to someone else.

TIP 5: Be patient, open and kind. Both commissioner and artist.

This is obvious but when a commission is personal, it can be hard to remember that the artist is doing their best to make your piece the best it can be.  When things aren’t right, it’s not personal even if it feels that way because the piece is so important to you.  If something feels like it’s not right, please say kindly.  It’s best to catch it early if there’s been a misunderstanding or something has been forgotten/missed/misinterpreted/etc and if it’s just part of the process the artist can explain this and reassure you.

TIP 6: Allow time.

All of this communication takes time on top of the time its takes to create the commissioned piece so please be sure to allow lots of time.  Things can also go wrong in the making process that may extend the timescales so being sure there’s space in the schedule for that is a good idea.

Commissions often cost more than an artist’s regular work and I’m sure, having read through the process above you now have an idea of why that is the case.  A commission takes more time and energy and uses all of an artist’s skills to bring it to life.

I only make a limited number of commissioned pieces but I do love that I can be part of someone’s special moment by creating a piece that celebrates that.

If you have an idea for a commissioned piece and would like to chat it through please feel free to contact me.


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