Some Things You Always Wanted to Know About Working with an Artist But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Sep 19 2023

by Anna Jarrell

I am a portrait artist in Winston-Salem, NC. I also paint custom pieces for peoples’ homes and businesses. I graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in Studio Art and started painting full-time almost 8 years ago. I work in oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, charcoal, you name it! I love collecting art for my own home too, so I have a few tips and tricks to share with you today….


1. Are prices negotiable?
Like tipping or not tipping in Europe, this feels tricky. You just want someone to tell you the protocol – so I will!
Note: this advice is for working with someone in your general price range. Do your homework to find out where the artist falls on the price spectrum. Many artists, like me, have prices on their websites to be transparent. If they do not, please don’t be embarrassed to ask the price. They want to sell their work!
If you are commissioning an artist to create a piece for you, the price is not negotiable. If the final quote ends up too high, just tell them what you dreamed up is out of your budget and what your realistic budget is for the project. They can often offer some options to get the price lower: smaller piece, different medium, less detail, solid background vs. decorative etc.
Alternatively, they may be able to refer you to someone less expensive. Most artists can work with you to get you where you need to be and still make it worth their time.
If you want to buy an existing piece that the artist already made, there might be some wiggle room with the gallery (think in the 5-10% range), or you might just need to be patient. An artist that just released a collection is not in the mood to negotiate on those pieces. However, there might be a piece they did two years ago that is gathering dust in their studio and they wouldn’t mind quietly offering a discount. The best thing to do is to let them know that you
love their work and want to own a piece someday, that their prices are a little out of your budget, but if they ever have a piece that isn’t moving to please let you know. You may not get anywhere, but sometimes you get lucky! In the meantime, save your pennies until you can buy one at full price.


2. Should I surprise someone with art?
I run into this a lot… the answer is, it depends.
When gifting someone with art out of the blue, keep it small. I often make pieces as gifts for the grandparents. I steer my customers towards something 8”x10” or less. A watercolor of the grandkids on the family vacation earns you a lot of points. It fits just about anywhere and does not demand the entire mantel.

There are some cases where friends or family know they can go big. A previous portrait client of mine, gushed to her friend for a year that she wanted one of my palette pieces. We snuck around gathering the right colors from her house and created one that fit in perfectly. It was a surprise from one friend to another and huge hit! Husbands at the holidays can be the trickiest. They want to surprise their significant other with the oil portraits of the kids that will hang in their dining room/living room/entry hall forever. Most women want input in that process. They want to pick out the childrens’ outfits, choose which smile suits each child best, and make sure the colors work with their design esthetic. I strongly encourage these husbands to wrap up a gift certificate from me, tell their significant other that this is the year to do the portraits, and they want to make sure it is exactly what they envisioned.

3. Commissioning a piece sounds risky… how does it work?
Handing over your idea (and your money) to an artist then waiting weeks or months can seem daunting. Here is a bit about the process and a few tips to help you love what you commission. Start with picking the right artist. Do they take commissions? Some artists loathe it and can drag their feet as a result; other artists love it and will make the process easy. If you have a specific place in the house that you want to hang the piece, share the wall size and any pertinent furniture measurements. The artist can help you get the right scale/size for the space. I love getting photos, paint color names, or fabric swatches for the room – anything to help me see what colors and patterns are already there. For portraits, if I am not going to meet the children, a few short videos of them talking, dancing, or playing help me understand the subjects better. Send the artist screenshots of 3-4 of their pieces that you love. That helps them understand why you picked them and the general direction you would like to go. If you like most of the pieces they create, it’s probably a good fit. Trust them in the process.
Give them a good bit of info, then back off until they get back to you with the piece. There should be a chance for minor revisions at the end. Most artists do not want to share progress photos with you, because they know it isn’t finished yet and they don’t want to scare you.
Paintings generally go through what I call “an awkward middle school phase” before they turn the corner into something fabulous. You can expect to settle on the final price before they start working. Some artists include shipping, and some do not, so ask because it can be significant. Expect to put a 50% deposit down and the balance upon approval of the final work. Ask for a general time frame for completion of the work. Don’t hesitate to check-in with them around that finish date if they haven’t contacted you yet but try not to stalk them in the meantime.

I commissioned a large piece for my dining room last year. I saved a lot of money by working directly with the artist (not through a gallery), but I did wait about a year for the piece. It was exactly the size that I wanted and had a lot of the colors, elements, and style that drew me to that artist. I hope this gives you some useful information in case you want to do the same…
This will be my fourth Summit and I always look forward to taking the time to focus on my work goals, connect with other females in business, and get inspired. Please reach out and say “hi” – virtually or in person!


Anna H. Jarrell
insta @ajarrellart


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