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Commissions, Sales, and Gifts; oh my.

I am not an expert on commissions. Not by a long shot. However, I will attempt to lay out some thoughts and situations that will give artists some criteria 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 it will take, expectations, framed (or not), work in progress, and any questions.

Looking back on 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 school district's K-6 art curriculum schedule. 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 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 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 consider 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 cast a green tone on everything. The parents were horrified at the photos and refused to pay me anything for them. 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's 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. "SAGE" 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 works 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 asking if I would accept $40 for the bee. I told the owner no. The lady returned 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" between them. I gave her the original for a Christmas gift. 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 is 5 x 7 inches, matted with a gold frame. The final auction-winning bid was $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-year-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 hung 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 Heather has featured in her shop can 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 purchased 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 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 still use this "formula," the shop owner is pleased because it keeps my work consistent throughout the store where it is displayed. "Floraison" sold for $150. I sold four original works at this event. My prices at the shop are reasonable and take into account my time, materials, and skill.

The photographs below show my new style change to pen & ink with light color done with crayons or colored pencils. 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 was 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 is a neighbor's home. The couple is a good friend, and they are our age. 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 eating with them during the year, but that has not happened during 2020. We are going to surprise them with the artwork of their home. It will be fun to see their faces as they are not even aware that I have done this. Price: A joyful surprise.

This is "Meatball." My daughter took care of this dog when the owners were away. I painted this watercolor of him shortly before he died. He was a sweet dog, and I loved giving this to his family.


I painted this for a friend who lost a dog earlier this year, and recently got this dog, "Lassie". Her Facebook posted pictures of some flowers from her spring garden. I commented that I wanted to paint the flowers. Her friends (who know me) said, Yes, Do it! So, I did.

It's a gift, too.

If I reread this post, I guess I do "gift" more than not. My reward comes with the smiles and thank-you's, and that's why I paint.

The story is that I do love doing commissions. When the client is pleased, so am I. Everyone deserves to have an original piece in their home, commissioned or gifted. I put my heart and soul into the process and years of learning. I want the owner to love it.

Pin it, Please.




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