The Story of a Custom Painting or How a Commission Works

I've been working on creating answers for a FAQ section on my website and one of the questions I wanted to tackle is how a commission works. It is pretty straightforward, but I understand how the idea of commissioning a painting over the Internet might create some uncertainty or at least bring up a few questions.

I love working with people to create just what they're looking for. It's such a fun challenge to get us both on the same page (and then to put paint on the page to create a joy-filled piece of art).

Maybe you have something very specific in mind. If so, that's great. If not, that's fine, too. I like brainstorming ideas, making suggestions, throwing around possibilities and collaborating with you in order to create something which will delight you and bring you daily joy.

I'm going to use a recent commission to give you an idea of just how the process works. When this customer approached me, she wasn't specifically looking for a custom painting. One of my paintings had caught her eye and she wanted to purchase a pair to hang together.

vegetable leaf watercolor painting by Anne Butera

She knew she wanted a painting that was the same size and was similar in style, layout and subject matter. Because I didn't have anything like what she was looking for, I suggested a custom painting and our discussions began.

I started by throwing out a few ideas, but was open to anything. She stressed that what she liked most about this painting was its focus on shape and texture and so I had that in mind from the beginning with my suggestions. We also discussed the size of the paintings. She wanted them to be able to fit in standard-sized frames. The original painting would needed to be trimmed (which I am happy to do with any of my paintings) and I began planning the new painting with that size in mind. My customer also wanted to work within a specific budget. Although we hadn't nailed down the exact subject of the new painting, we were both clear about size, style, theme and budget. All of those are important parts of the conversation and I'll make sure we discuss them near the beginning of our collaboration. For the budget I'll usually give you a range of prices based on size and intricacy of the painting. I factor in the time I think it will take and the cost of the materials. I'll also give you an idea of how long the process should take based on what other projects I have going on, how much planning and prep work is needed and how much painting time I estimate I'll need.

After we have those details figured out, or at least considered, we have to design the painting. This is the fun part of our collaboration! My recent customer spent a while deciding just what she wanted and I was happy to let the process take as much time as it needed. Your painting should work within your timeframe and at your pace; I take my cue from you.

To help with brainstorming this project, I gave my customer some ideas of where to look for inspiration in print and online and I also suggested she walk around a well-appointed grocery store to see if any herbs or vegetables caught her eye. At this point in the process I might send you images or links to images. If it had been gardening season when this customer contacted me I would have taken my camera out to the garden and snapped photos of plants that caught my eye.  I might also ask you to send me images or links to images that are inspiring you.

Once we decide what you want me to paint, I'll create some sketches and send you photos. I might also mix up paint colors and send you photos of the swatches.

These are the first two sketches I sent for the recent painting:

herb sketches by Anne Butera

herb sketches by Anne Butera

I realized I kept sketching some of the same herbs in different arrangements so I decided to cut up my sketches to make shuffling them around and trying out different layouts easier. I was thinking about layout, shapes, textures and color.

My customer gave me suggestions for changes. I made her changes and sent a couple more possibilities, including this one:

herb sketches wth paint swatches by Anne Butera

I also sent her a photo of basil from last year's garden to give her an idea of what the purple basil would look like. Purple for the basil was my idea as a way to help tie the two paintings together, but I wasn't wedded to the idea and made it clear that the choice of the color of the basil was entirely up to her. A custom painting is all about you -- your appreciation of natural beauty and your joy. I'm always going to let the decision be yours.

She suggested a couple small changes and then I went ahead with a sketch on the watercolor paper. At this point the sketch will very light. I try to do my best to capture the final sketch in a photograph so I can send it to you for approval before going ahead with the painting. If the final design would have been drastically different than the previous sketch I would do another full sketch to clearly convey the design to you.

Here's the final sketch from the recent commission:

herbs sketch

Once I get approval from you I'll also give you an idea of when the painting will be finished. And then the painting begins.

If the painting is going to take me a while to finish, I may send you photos of it in-process, otherwise I'll just send you photos of the finished product.

herbs watercolor painting by Anne Butera

To make sure you get a clear idea of what the painting looks like, I'll send you a few photographs. At this point I will also send you an invoice through Paypal, or if you are more comfortable working through Etsy I can create your custom order there.

Once I receive your payment I carefully wrap up your painting and send it out to you. I like to get your purchase in the mail as quickly as possible, usually the day after I receive payment. I'll ship anywhere in the world. If it's in the US I use Priority Mail, which depending on where you live should take 2-3 days. Your package is insured and you'll get a tracking number. Because of the insurance, you will probably have to sign for it. If you live outside of the US, I ship First Class. Insurance and tracking for international packages depend on the destination, but I include them when possible. You will be responsible for any customs fees.

I hope this makes the process a little clearer.

Do you have any questions about my art or my business that you'd like to see me answer?


  1. Those leaves look so real I feel I can reach in a touch them. Wonderful, as always!

    1. Awww... thanks, Laurie. This one was really fun to do, though I wish I had had the actual herbs with me on my painting table. Made me antsy for my garden!

  2. Beautiful, beautiful work!!!!

  3. I think you have explained how to commission a custom painting just perfectly Anne. I have made a page myself quite some time ago, but I don't think I've ever made it public. Thanks for the reminder! Your paintings are so clean and fresh, I can just imagine you walking through the garden and picking the perfect subject :)

    1. Thanks, Jaime. That is good to hear. I was wondering what other artists would think of my explanation.

      I can't wait to be walking through the garden picking subjects for my paintings. Soon.

  4. Beautiful. You do a great job. I love how easy you are to work with!
    Best Wishes,

    1. Thank you, Carla! I really appreciate your enthusiasm and encouragement!

  5. Fascinating Anne! You put so much thought into the process and involve the client every step of the way. I hope you get many more commissions! :-)

    1. Thank you, Simone! It's really a fun process and I try to do it in the most natural way possible.

      Your kind words of encouragement always mean so much to me!


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