Etiquette Q&A: Inquiring about a Commission When You Aren't Sure You Can Afford It

by Terri

 Image shows a hand holding a fan of 100 dollar bills. You may want art and not possess this amount of money. We hope you follow this advice.

Image shows a hand holding a fan of 100 dollar bills. You may want art and not possess this amount of money. We hope you follow this advice.

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than the product releases, you’ll know that one of our personal soapboxes is the fair payment of artists. Our friends and family are pretty conscious of it, and most of our online followers already chime in with our ‘Fuck You, Pay Me’ art print when someone talks about working “for exposure” or anything similar.

Occasionally someone will ask us about the propriety of asking an artist about a commission if they aren’t sure they can pay for it. This is a reasonable question. Our answer is yes, you can, but be respectful about it.

Here are some specific ways to approach an artist respectfully in this situation:

  1. Be polite and clear about your limitations

    • State up front that you have an upper limit on your budget. If you have a hard number, say it outright.

  2. Give them as many details as you can about what sort of work you want them to do.

    • Let them know if you are willing to cut back on your request if it means it will be within budget;

    • Tell them you want to hear any ideas they have for trimming costs.

  3. Thank them for their time and consideration.

    • Let them know that you understand that they might not be able to work in your budget and you respect that.

  4. If they tell you no, respect that no. Do not argue.

All of the above only applies to an individual inquiring about a paid commission. You can also discuss the option of some sort of installment payment plan, if that is acceptable to both parties.

Charities/non profit organizations are another matter. If your organization is asking for a donation in kind, then that’s precisely what you should ask for. Never frame it as a job for no pay or reduced pay. Don’t act like you are doing them a favor by asking them to contribute their work (a good match between artist and institution will result in both feeling like they get something out of it; if you feel the need to frame it as a one-way benefit, that’s a warning sign to an artist and it should be one to you, too). Your organization should also be prepared to accept no for an answer without arguing, same as an individual. Unlike an individual, you may also be inclined to pressure the artist by declaiming the virtues of your organization and what a good cause they would be contributing to. Do Not Do This.

In sum, make it clear you don’t think you are entitled to their work, and be respectful of the artist’s boundaries.