Make the Artist Dance: How to Commission a Painting

While most (…okay, all…) artists would love for you to buy their original work, it’s also very flattering when we get asked to create something based on the skillz you see in our existing art. I’m not talking about that time when you saw my portrait of Queen Elizabeth and responded with, “Ooh, draw me now!”

[From here onwards, for ease of use I’ll refer to the artist as “I” and the client as “you”.]

I’m talking about when you like how I make light and colour dance on the canvas, and you envision your horse/dog/brother/favourite tree or whatever your mind can conceptualise painted with my brushes. Now that you have an idea of what you want, how should you go about commissioning me to create a painting for you?

If you follow the steps based on these requirements, I’ll know exactly what you want from me… and then the chances are 150% that you’ll absolutely love what I produce for you.

How much will it cost? Part 1

99% of patrons who have commissioned me base their requirements on the cost, which is why I’m addressing this both first and last. Bear with me.

“How much will a commission cost?” can be answered with the same response as “How long is a piece of string?”: the cost of your painting will be determined by size, subject matter, medium (acrylics, oil paint, pencils, papiermâché, blood and vinegar… you get the idea), and style (super realistic, impressionist, expressionist, naïve, and so forth).

I have a general price list according to which I work, but once we’ve established all the requirements and yours exceed what I would usually charge, the costing becomes a negotiation.

It helps a LOT if you can tell me what your budget is before we begin so that I know what parameters I’m working with.

It doesn’t help at all if we go through all the requirements and after I quote you, you walk away from the commission without negotiating with me. Of course I want the business, but more than that, I want you to get the art you desire. By negotiating, I don’t mean bartering – I mean that if you can’t afford a 2m x 2m painting of your ouma-grootjie, instead of just walking away, we can perhaps talk about a smaller size or less detail. There are ways and means…

What size do you want your painting to be?

Speaking of size – yes, it matters! Size is a huge factor in determining cost. If cost is no issue (I like you already…), then the size of your painting will be determined by where you want to hang it or place it in your home/office/man cave, etc.

It will help me a lot of you can take measurements and tell me more or less (or exactly) how wide and how tall your painting should be. For easy reference, the following standard sizes abound in most artists’ vocabulary:


Then, most ready-made canvases that can be bought from stationery and art supply shops have sizes such as 12” x 24” (that’s a small, narrow rectangle), 20” x 30”, 32” x 32” (medium to large square), 36” x 36” (91cm square), 48” x 16” (very long, narrow rectangle), and so forth.

Many artists can also custom-make stretched canvases to your exact specification.

I’m talking about canvases here, but what if you want a different substrate or material?

What do you want your image painted on?

Many clients like ready-to-hang art, which is why stretched canvases are the most popular material to paint on. There are other considerations, too, when it comes to choosing a canvas: do you want a thick frame or a narrow frame? And there are also different densities of canvas to choose from too, so it helps to have this discussion.

There are so many more options than canvas, though… If you have a custom frame in mind, or there’s another reason for not wanting your painting on a canvas, the following are also very good options:

I have tongue-in-cheeked before about the “artist’s hard-on” that I get for supawood when painting on it. What a pleasure! There’s very little that comes close to the sensation of ease and satisfaction that arises when putting paint-soaked brush to primed supawood. The colour just goes on as it should… smooth… unbroken… clean strokes… and it blends really well… mmmm…


Oh, hey…

Right, so the other thing that makes supawood so awesome is that it comes in a range of thicknesses (3mm, 6mm, 8mm, 16mm, etc.) and can be cut to any size. Obviously the thicker it is the heavier it becomes to transport, but it’s very sturdy and won’t just sommer get damaged.

Supawood can then be mounted and framed, or framed behind glass, or just propped up on a display shelf or mantelpiece. It’s very versatile… and did I mention that it’s great to paint on?

Canvas sheeting
Canvas sheets are essentially primed, unstretched canvas that can be rolled up and popped into a postage tube. These I would recommend if you’re getting your painting framed as opposed to ordering a ready-to-hang canvas.

I personally prefer to only paint on smaller sized canvas sheeting (like A2 and A3)… because the larger sizes would need much larger postage tubes.

All these practical considerations are enough to do one’s head in!

Paper should generally be reserved for pencil/pen/charcoal drawings, and even then, there are a bajillion different types of paper as well – each one suited to a specific medium. I enjoy painting on a really thick 400gsm paper that’s made specifically for acrylic paint; something I’d also recommend if you’ve got a specific frame in mind that will fit the space in which you want to hang your commissioned art.

If you’ve seen my work and can imagine just how fantastic your image of choice would look on a window, a motorcycle tank, a car bonnet or even on your body… this is where things can get tricky. If I’m an artist with a very specific skill set (i.e. only painting in watercolour, or only drawing in charcoal), then the substrate you choose might require more than one artist to complete (a tattoo artist or a spray painter), which also has cost implications.

And this is where discussion and negotiation comes in. Anything is possible… we’re mos creative creatures.

Here’s a selection of substrates: painted round supawood, unprimed supawood (the brown squares), primed supawood beneath that. Thick-edged canvas, thin canvas at the bottom, and painted canvas sheet on the right.

What style should your painting be in?

I am very versatile when it comes to painting styles. While super-realism is not really my forte because I’m too impatient for it, if you’re prepared to pay me to sit for hours and hours and hours…

… and hours…

… then I’ll acquiesce to your demands. However, if you’ve seen what I can do and you’re happy to have your painting done in my general style, then that’s cool too.

What I won’t do, though, is paint your picture in the style of one of my contemporaries, especially if their style is immediately recognisable. South Africa’s art landscape is littered with copy-artists (most of them executing poorly), and even if money was no object, I would refuse your request to imitate another artist. Why not just go and commission them or buy their art if you like their style so much? And if you can’t afford them, then maybe you’re just not meant to have that art.

If you bring me a picture of a painting that you want me to copy exactly, then perhaps you misunderstand my role as an Artist. I have wandered down this road before and while I might get paid for having given you what you want, I’ve been repaid by karma, so if you want me to copy… the answer is NO.

“But…” you ask, “isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?”

The full Oscar Wilde quote you’re referring to is:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.

And I strive to fight mediocrity, so… NO COPYING.

How much will it cost? Part 2

Considering what you now know about stipulating the requirements for your commission, I’ll be able to quote you for the piece/s you want me to paint. We’ve come this far, so if you were expecting a R200 commission (for argument’s sake) and I quote you R4 000, don’t give me that horrified facial expression. It would have been a lot easier if you’d stated your budget from the beginning…

Secondly, bear in mind that art materials are not cheap and that my time is valuable – irreplaceable, actually, just like yours – so when I give you a quote, it’s not to make a quick profit. It’s a carefully thought-out figure that ensures I’m adequately covered for my materials, my time, my skills and experience, and for the one-of-a-kind artwork that you’ll get out of this at the end.

When the answer is no: If you have thought about it and decide not to accept my quote, then please let me know. There is nothing worse than getting this far in the relationship with you, only to have you not return my proverbial phonecalls. I would rather you tell me you’re not interested than for me to wonder if I should be preparing for your commission.

When the answer is YES PLEASE, PAINT FOR ME!: I will supply you with a deposit amount that, when paid, will be used to secure your spot and buy the materials for your commission. When it’s completed, I’ll show you a photo and if you’re happy, you pay the balance and I send/deliver your painting to you.

Final thoughts

Art is an investment. Commissioning an artist is a financial investment that could have massive rewards should you pass the artwork down as a family heirloom, or use it to build up your prized collection. Show your friends, create demand for the artist, and your pieces become more valuable.

An art commission is also not just a once-off exchange – art for money – but rather, it’s one piece in the artist’s very chequered career puzzle. It’s a feather in my cap; the confidence booster that says “you can do this for a living” and the creation of art that puts bread on my table and more art supplies in my studio.

More importantly, your commission buys me more time and space in which to do the thing that I was put here to do.

Now that you know how to commission me, shall we begin?


To check out examples of my work (for commissioning purposes or just to enjoy the view), find my Facebook page here: Rautenbach Art

Or browse back through some of the stories on this blog.

If you would like to chat about a commission or three, email me on gmail . com (without the spaces)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s