Commissioning a Painting: The Next Step for Art Buyers

royal exchange Bar with friends painting

Wedding portrait: This couple wanted an inclusive wedding portrait that had room for the whole household, including beloved pets and their farmhouse in the background. The presence of the horse and motorbike represent their private passions, hers for riding and his for motorbike racing.

Always dreamed of that special painting but never found it in any gallery? It may be time to consider commissioning.

Commissioning a painting can be a thrilling experience for any art buyer. It allows them to move beyond the gallery walls and step right into the studio where the artwork comes to life. Communicating directly with an artist of their choice, they initiate the creation of something that’s new, highly personal and completely bespoke.

Special commissions are an important part of painter Michael Alford’s creative practice. The London-based figurative artist accepts a limited number of projects every year, completing them between gallery shows.

“I enjoy doing commissions,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to give the client what they really want. Often they’ve had a certain idea in mind for years by the time they come to me. It feels good to finally make it real for them.”

The variety of commissioned projects appeals to him, too. He’s selective about what he takes on but his bespoke work covers a range of subjects including portraits, commemorations of special events, significant landscapes and city views.

The clients, Alford says, are as diverse as the paintings. “I’m always interested in their stories and their reasons for wanting a certain picture. Part of my job is listening carefully, really hearing what the client is saying, and finding ways to connect their vision with a practical approach to delivering the painting.”

Private commissions have landed Alford in some unusual situations. One day he’ll find himself sketching on the roof of an office block in the City. The next he’ll be driving cross-country in search of a particular view his client has their heart set on.

His most challenging commissions, however, have involved working in war zones. He has served as a war artist on three occasions, embedded with the British military in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It was a fascinating experience and a unique environment for making art,” he recalls. “I found it highly stimulating.”

Alford is obviously up for a challenge, but are there private commissions he wouldn’t tackle?

“I wouldn’t take on any commission I thought was wrong for me or didn’t suit my approach to painting. It simply wouldn’t turn out well. Fortunately most of clients come to me because they know my work—some already own one of my paintings. So they make an informed choice when they choose me and that leads to the best outcomes: good paintings, happy clients.”

What to Expect When You Commission a Painting

All special commissions begin with an in-depth discussion between Michael Alford and the prospective client.

The client has a chance to bring their ideas to the table and present any reference materials or examples of what they have in mind. A visit to Michael’s London studio often helps facilitate the conversation and can be an excellent way to kickstart a new project.

Once the main concept of the painting has been agreed on, the discussion can move on to details such as size, medium, price and expected delivery dates. Michael will do his best to give a realistic estimate of time to completion.

Payments for special commissions are staged in thirds. If the client is happy to go forward, the first third of the total is payable at this point.

The design stage follows. Michael produces a detailed sketch of the proposed painting for discussion with the client. Small alterations can be requested at this point and some details adjusted.

As soon as the client approves the design, delivery dates are reviewed and firmed up. The second of the three staged payments is due.

Completion. Michael delivers the finished painting to the client. The third and final staged payment is due.

The client, a large law firm, commissioned a painting of the view from its newly constructed City headquarters. This is Michael Alford’s initial oil sketch of that view, which he presented to the client for discussion.
cityscape oilpaintng commission
The completed project, painted in oil paint on panel. It now hangs in the firm’s main reception area.

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