Commissioning Artists & Artisans – a buyers guide

The idea of commissioning an artist or artisan to create a piece for you or your home can be more than a little daunting, and a lot of people wouldn’t even consider it as an option.

However, it is not the exclusive province of wealthy art patrons, and need not be an expensive or risky process. You can have an exclusive, commissioned piece of work created just for you, almost within any budget. It also need not involve, necessarily, meeting the artist face-to-face. Although that can be an exciting part of the creative process for both the artist and the buyer, simple commissions can be carried out online. Most artists and artisans welcome the opportunity to work with you to create a special piece that reflects your taste, and it need not be prohibitively expensive, risky, or with an eye to a long term investment (unless that’s what you really want) as long as you follow a couple of simple guidelines:

  • know what you want – in detail – size, colour, style, etc, but be prepared to be a little flexible in terms of allowing the artist to interpret your brief in line with their own vision (after all, you have chosen them because you like their work!)
  • do not ask an artist or artisan to create something that is either a copy of someone else’s work, or is completely outside the style they normally produce – this will offend, and potentially breaches copyright law

Within those guidelines, there are a range of different circumstances where you might ask an artisan to create a piece exclusively for you.

The simplest form of commissioning would be a fairly straightforward request for an existing piece in a different size or colour.

For example, you are browsing Etsy and discover the perfect summer knit:

but it’s not the right colour for you, and it’s not listed in your size. A simple convo (etsy message) to the seller asking if it would be possible for them to, say, knit the same top but in blue and in a size 12, would be enough to communicate your needs. Be polite, but be clear about your requirements, and there’s a good chance you’ll get a positive response. And then, for little more than high-street prices, you get a handmade piece that is exclusive for you, that no-one else will have. kudos!

This approach would work equally as well at a fair, gallery or other event, where you meet the artist face-to-face and they can tell you on the spot whether or not they can help you. If you do order at an event, or contact the artist after the event to place your order, you will need to agree with them when and how they should be paid, and when and how they will ship the item to you if you are unable to collect in person.

Slightly more complex, is when you admire the work of a particular artisan, but they have nothing available that exactly matches what you want, or seeing their work inspires you to think “oh, if only I could have a {insert object} in that style, it would look perfect in my {insert location}.”

Again, the first step is to speak to the artist and ask if they would be interested in your commission. Assuming a positive response, you need to be precise with your requirements – both in terms of the dimensions (height, width, depth) and colour(s) of the piece you want , and any important related information – for example, you want a free standing mirror, but it has to fit a windowsill with a depth of 20cm. Be prepared to photograph the room (if it’s an object or piece of art) so that the artisan can picture the piece in place and tailor it accordingly to its intended location. If the artisan needs any further information, then be prepared to answer as clearly and concisely as possible to avoid any possible confusion or misinterpretation. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re not sure what you’re being asked to provide, or agree to.

Again, the costs need not be exorbitant, but for large or fragile pieces, you need to factor in the cost and method of shipping the piece to you (assuming you are unable to collect it in person once it’s complete) – it’s best to do this up front, so that you don’t suddenly run into additional costs you didn’t expect. If the piece is fragile, then it is worth paying a little extra for shipping insurance – there is nothing worse than eagerly unpacking your new treasure, only to find that it’s been dropped, and is in smithereens in the bottom of the box.

The most complicated form of commissioning is when you know exactly what it is that you want, and you need to find someone to create it for you. You will need to do some research! It may take a little time to track down the right artist to create the piece you want, but it is worth having the patience to ask around – friends, local galleries, craft fairs, or even the google monster – because it is important to get it right, and you don’t want to compromise or settle for a ‘well-that’s-close-enough’ piece when you’re going to be looking at every day and thinking ‘it’s not quite what I wanted’.

When choosing an artist, look at their catalogue of work to make sure it’s a good fit both with what you want them to create for you, and in terms of matching your budget. It’s also worth looking at reviews and testimonials from previous clients if these are available – if people were happy with work, then they are likely to be more than happy to share their experiences with you.

In this instance, you will need to be very precise about what it is you want – what size, colour, shape, where it will hang, and, if relevant, what materials you would like to be used or included in the piece. The more complex your requirement, the longer you have to be prepared for it to take, and, particularly if it’s a complex or expensive piece, then you need to be prepared for it to be a collaborative process, with checks along the way – don’t be afraid to ask to see preliminary sketches or colour swatches or material samples, for example, if you are very specific about what you want.

At the end of the process you have the enormous satisfaction of owning a piece that you know has been created exclusively for you, by a skilled artist or artisan, that you can treasure, that will give you pleasure every time you see it or wear it and that exactly reflects your taste, individuality and needs.

And, of course, if you are interested in commissioning me to create a textile piece for you, I’d be very happy to hear from you! Please use this contact form to get in touch 🙂

I'd love to hear from you! Let me know what you think ....