How To

Everything You Need To Know About Commissioning An Artwork

After we featured the beautiful portraits of Fiona O’Byrne on TDF recently, I was compelled to commission a painting (for the first time!) of my daughter Minnie from this brilliant local artist. I initially reached out via Instagram to Fiona, but as I did, wondered if this was the appropriate way to start a commission?!

With this in mind, we chat with upcoming TDF Collect artist Hannah Nowlan and stylist / creative agent Julia Green, to compile a list of top tips for commissioning artwork, and ensuring a successful collaboration for everyone involved.

Lucy Feagins

The Bromley’s signature style on show in their Ballarat property. From left – Matthew Johnson painting, small David Bromley embroidered artworks, light shades by Bromley studio, girl portrait by Mark Schaller, right – Zhong Chen painting, David Bromley eggshell and lacquer works. Styling – Annie Portelli, Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Hannah Nowlan, studio details. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Painting by Fleur Woods. Styling – Julia Green for Greenhouse Interiors, Photo – Armelle Habib.

Artist Hannah Nowlan. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Hannah Nowlan On Developing Trust + Connection

As an artist who is frequently asked to do commissions for clients, Hannah Nowlan is well placed to share her expert knowledge on what makes (and breaks) a successful commission! We walk through the process with her, from first contact to final delivery.

1. If someone is interested in commissioning an artwork, how should they approach an artist?

The best way to contact me would be via an email or through the contact page on my website! The message or email can be as simple as, ‘Hey, I’d love to enquire about a commission artwork!’ Or if you already had more ideas in mind about the artwork, you could add these thoughts to your email as well.

2. What is the first step in the process?

My process begins with sending you all of the information you need to consider before proceeding with a commission order. I like to be as upfront as possible so everyone’s on the same page. It allows the client to feel totally comfortable and that way they can completely trust in the artistic process. This trust is key to creating a piece that mutually resonates with both the artist and the client!

3. How specific should a request be?

I have a ‘Commission Artwork Questionnaire’ which I ask my clients to complete in their own time. This nuts out all the specific details of the artwork such as; medium, orientation, scale, framing, artwork references and personal references too.

Firstly, I ask the client to select three of my previous artworks that they love. Everyone is drawn to artworks for different reasons so this helps me understand what colour palettes, themes and motifs they’re drawn to and why. Seeing as most of my work is based around a specific landscape, person, memory, myth or story, commission artworks lend their hand beautifully to this; as they can become so special, site-specific and personal to the client. These personal references elements are often portrayed as loose symbolic representations within the artwork, and are subtle and metaphoric rather and literal.

4. What happens once the brief is created?

Once the brief is created, the artist will submit one or more quotes to the client for consideration, depending on their budget/space. This usually also includes the shipping costs and a loose idea of timeline. A 50% deposit is required to secure your artwork/order and the remaining 50% due upon completion of the artwork, usually prior to shipping/delivery.

5. What happens once the work is complete?

I love to send progress updates along the way; images of each layer of the painting so the client feels very involved in the process. However, some clients prefer the ‘big reveal’ so I leave this decision up to them. A final photograph is always sent to the client of the completed artwork before it is prepped and framed for delivery.

6. What is your advice for someone unsure about commissioning a work?

If you really admire the way an artist works, almost all of their creations resonate with you. If you feel there could be a really beautiful connection between your space/idea/story, which could only be created as an artwork by this artist, then a commission artwork is right for you!

Admittedly though, commission artworks are not for everyone! If you feel hesitant about the process or the commitment, there is no rush to proceed. You could always wait until the artist’s next exhibition or think over the idea further with people who may share the artwork with you such as family, friends or colleagues.

Hannah Nowlan’s next exhibition ‘Chimera’ opens next Saturday, June 15th, at our gallery, TDF Collect. The works are available now, and can be viewed at

Styling – Annie Portelli, Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Greenhouse Interiors Group Shoot. Styling – Julia Green for Greenhouse Interiors, Photo – Armelle Habib.

Paintings by Katie Wyatt. Styling – Julia Green for Greenhouse Interiors, Photo – Armelle Habib.

Painting by Fleur Woods. Styling – Julia Green for Greenhouse Interiors, Photo – Armelle Habib.

Paintings by Hannah Nowlan. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Julia Green On Transparency, Expectation Management + The Grand Reveal

Julia Green is an expert on the other side of commissioning, and brings us some top tips from her experience of helping clients to commission the artwork-of-their-dreams from Australian artists!

1. What risks are involved when commissioning an artwork?

The most common pitfall when commissioning works is that the purchaser has often fallen in love with a piece that has previously sold. And the fact remains that any original work can’t, and should never be, reproduced as that flies in the face of it being ‘original’.

Whilst it’s entirely possible to use the previously sold piece as a reference point and inspiration guide, the purchaser needs to accept that it will be different to the original piece they may have initially fallen in love with.

2. What do you include in a commission brief?

At Greenhouse Interiors, we prepare a thorough written brief with clients to submit to our artists, which includes the size and orientation of piece required, a Pantone colour palette, previously loved works by the commissioned artist with a detailed written explanation about what it was they loved, and any other pictures as inspiration references.

3. What should someone commissioning artwork watch out for?

The most important part is managing expectations, and ensuring the artist is able to interpret the brief to create an original work that makes the buyer jump with glee.

Artwork is so subjective, style is so personal, and so commissioning artwork is best left to those that are prepared to give an artist creative freedom, despite working to a tight brief, as they genuinely love their style.

I think if a buyer really loves the work of one particular artist, and is able to articulate why, a commission can be one of the most special pieces as it’s made just for them – and them only!

Greenhouse interiors represents a diverse community of Australian artists, and sell a huge variety of artwork online – check out their website here.

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