Commissions, Sales, and Gifts; oh my.

I am not an expert on commissions. Not by a long shot. However, I'm going to attempt to lay out some thoughts and situations that will give artists some criteria that I have settled on in the last few years. This might prevent buyer's remorse when asking an artist to paint a portrait of a loved one, dog, or cat. The buyer and the artist can have some agreement on what they each expect from each other: Deposit, how long will it take, expectations, framed (or not), work in progress, and any questions.


When I look back in my "career" as an art teacher, I don't see an artist. Why? Because I was busy with lesson plans, checking materials, working with a classroom teacher who might want the art lesson to piggyback with her animal life cycle curriculum, and balancing the schedule of the school district's K-6 art curriculum. The only times that I was called on to be an "artist" was when a classroom teacher "solicited" (as in, begged me) to do her bulletin board. {cough}


Now I am an artist who paints almost every day. I have more than 300 paintings or drawings in my portfolio unless I have sold them, or have given them as gifts.




As I began to think about this post, I realized that I have sold or given more images than I remember. That's a pleasant feeling because I haven't really had a bad experience with doing commission work. Not like the time I volunteered to take photographs for a neighbor's wedding. My photography was quite good. However, I didn't have any sort of agreement or contract, took no deposit, and didn't take into account the stress level of taking photos of an event that you can't have a "do-over". This is a recipe for a disaster. A verbal walk-through with the bride/groom, instead of the parents of the two would have been beneficial. Long story short...the reception hall had fluorescent lighting which absolutely casts a green tone on everything. The parents were horrified at the photos and refused to pay me anything for the photos. Lesson learned: put things in writing.


Let me show you some of my commission works and give you a taste of how I feel about them.



My alma mater, Westfield (Massachusetts) State University invited alumni to join a gallery show in their new administration building. The show theme was "The Garden". I was due to visit my hometown area so I submitted this acrylic painting, called, "Sage". It is a 16 x 20-inch canvas. I love this because I decided to create the illusion of a basket weave on the whole design. I was pleased with how this added visual interest.


I knew that we could sell our work at this event. Hmm. what to price this? I had no idea. I priced it at $75. When I arrived at the gallery my painting was on the wall. It was among the smaller works displayed. And it was among the smallest price tags, by a lot! Most were $300 or more. It sold, however! Was it the most affordable? Probably. Would it have sold if the price was $175? Probably.



More recently the Facebook page of a local coffee shop was inviting artists to bring in their work, ready to hang. They listed how many they would be able to display. This "Queen Bee" watercolor and pen painting, 7 x 5 inches, looked nice in a simple black frame. It was among three others that I displayed, and I priced them all at $50. The coffee shop got a call from someone that wanted to know if I would accept $40 for the bee. I told the owner, no. The lady later came back to the shop and purchased it for $50.







This next painting was for my niece. She has two Bichon Frise dogs; both rescues. One is a tripawd, and gets around pretty well. She had a picture of the two dogs on her back porch with a stuffed "friend" in between them. I gave her the original for a Christmas gift. Needless to say, she loved it. Priceless!



Our church was having a dinner / social event with a silent auction to raise money for a worthy cause.


This watercolor Virgin Mary 5 x 7 inches, matted with a gold frame. The final auction winning bid $50, a disappointment in my mind.
















I have talked about this in an earlier post:

Dick and Rick Hoyt This duo is the father/son team that has changed the running events world. Dick and Rick ran their first event in 1977. After they were done, Rick told his dad, "When I'm running, I feel like I'm not handicapped."


Rick was a student in one of the schools where I was the art teacher. He was an amazing young 9-yr old. Little did I know how he and his dad would change the world.


After I reunited with them in Rick's apartment many years later, my husband took a picture and I drew father/son in charcoal pencil. It was a gift to them from me and hangs on Rick's wall with so MANY other photos and mementos they have as a world-famous running team for athletically challenged bodies. Dick Hoyt died on March 17, 2021.






I sell my artwork at Heather Boutique in downtown Fredericksburg Virginia. (see my story on Heather Boutique) The image on the right is an original pen & ink that I brought for this Trunk Show, an event where the artisans that Heather has featured in her shop is an opportunity to show their wares. I brought my greeting cards and seven original works, framed and ready for sale. This piece called "Floraison" (french for flowering) was purchase shortly after the shop door opened for the day. Wow. Was I excited? Yes, indeed. The work is 18 x 18 inches framed. I had worked out a rolling scale for the time, materials, and size. Articles about how to price your own works are out there to read but this one helped me take the emotion out of it: Do's and Don'ts of Pricing Your Artwork I use this "formula" still today and the shop owner is pleased because it keeps my work consistent throughout the store where my works are displayed. "Floraison" sold for $150. I sold 4 original works at this event. My prices at the shop are reasonable and take into account my time, materials, and skill.



The thumbnails below show my new style change to pen & ink with light color done with crayon or colored pencil. A blog post discusses this change of pace and style.

The first thumbnail is a commission by a family member. It is her son's home in northern Virginia that she wanted to give them as a Christmas gift. The size kept increasing as she ordered the purchase. It ended up one of my larger works (14 x 11-inch image, matted and framed to 20 x 16 inches. The total price including the frame was $230.00


The other thumbnail is a neighbor's home. The couple is a good friend and they are our ages. The husband and wife have purchased other artworks of mine, and they continue to compliment me and ask how my painting is going. The pandemic has been hard on them as they have been unable to see their son. We have enjoyed go