When Art Commissions Stress You Out: 15 Tips to Deal with Commissioned Art Stress

stressed commission artist leaning against an easel
GVS – stock.adobe.com

As a commissioned artist, you will experience inevitable moments of stress. This can be triggered by taking on too many art commissions at once, looming deadlines, or problems getting paid. While we can’t completely eradicate stress from our lives, we can learn to cope with it so we can enjoy our art business more. The following tips have helped me deal with commissioned art stress and anxiety:

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

Not everything that comes in is urgent. Make a list of all the commissions you have to work on and prioritize them by their level of importance/urgency.

I work on a first-come, first-served basis, but I sometimes make exceptions to suit my clients’ needs. For example, if a commissioned piece is a gift and the client needs to have it on time for a loved one’s birthday, I try to accommodate it a bit earlier. Of course, that’s as long as it doesn’t affect the delivery time of other orders.

If I’m working on holiday orders, it’s helpful to separately list national and international orders. This helps me keep track of my delivery times, so I give enough time to the orders that have to be shipped abroad and make sure everything arrives for Christmastime.

When a client is interested in commissioning a portrait but hasn’t sent reference photos or hasn’t paid, I put them on a “waiting list” rather than on my to-do list. Stressing about commissions that aren’t existent yet is a waste of time!

That being said, never start working on a commission before it’s fully paid or the client has paid a half deposit. People in the past have assured me they wanted a portrait, so I started selecting photos and even working on sketches without payment, only for them to later tell me they were no longer interested.

2. Block Out Time on Your Schedule for Commissioned Work

I live by the phrase, “If it ain’t on your calendar, it ain’t happening.” To make sure I’m working on what needs to get done, I block out chunks of time on my calendar to work on commissioned pieces. I call this “production time”, and it is when I take out my brushes and actively produce work. This is not the time to write blog posts, create new Etsy listings, or make new Pins. I have a dedicated time for all these tasks.

My schedule changes depending on the season or my current projects. When I have a month packed with commissions, I normally work in the mornings from 9 to 12:00, and after lunch from 13:00 to 17:00 (with small breaks in between). I often label these blocks with the name of the client or pet (if I’m working on a pet portrait). See photo below.

screenshot of Google calendar with scheduled art commissions

Of course, you don’t have to follow my schedule. Set a production time that works for you. Ideally, when you feel most energized.

3. Always Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You Need

We often underestimate the amount of time required to complete a task. You might be thinking you can render an artwork in five hours, but realistically, it might take ten.

I’m often working on pet portrait ornaments, and I’ve realized I need two chunks of time (each day) to complete a single ornament. However, I’ll schedule four chunks to give myself a breather.

Once you know how long you need for a certain piece, always add more time on top of that. So if you need two days to complete an artwork, tell the client it will be ready in five. This way, you have extra room in case something happens. A family member could get sick, or you could spill paint on your sketch and have to do it again.

4. Make Your Processing Times Longer

Is your month fully booked with commissions? Great! Pat yourself on the back and make your processing times longer. This will keep you in the market, but it will also give you peace of mind knowing that if a new order comes in, the customer knows what to expect in terms of delivery time.

Once you catch up with some orders, you can shorten your processing time again. If you’re an Etsy seller like me, you can easily adjust the processing times in your shop settings. If you don’t have an online shop, you can simply announce on your social what the current turnaround time is. Don’t be afraid to tell a customer that it will take 6 or more weeks before they receive their artwork.

If the thought of receiving even one more commission gives you anxiety, then maybe it’s time to start turning down projects. You can tell the client that even though you’d love to work on their project, you don’t have the bandwidth or time for it. Encourage them to consider you for future projects.

Be honest with yourself and with the client, and don’t add more to your plate if you can’t handle it. There will be more opportunities down the road.

5. Switch Your Focus

Whenever I feel stressed about having multiple commissions, I switch my focus from stress to gratitude. Instead of saying, “I have to work on all these commissions”, I say, “I get to work on something I love doing.”

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Gratitude helps us appreciate what we already have in our life. You can’t feel stressed and grateful at the same time.

Next time you are stressed about having lots of commissions, think about how you can bring in a steady income every month with your art and that you get to work from your home/studio at your own pace.

Consider your work a pavement to dreams. Think about all the things you will be able to do with the money you earn from commissions. Perhaps you’ll be able to put some money aside for travels, a down payment for a house, or treat yourself to new art supplies. Remember the time you dreamed about being a full-time artist? Be grateful – you’re now living that dream.

young artist touching her heart feeling grateful
Krakenimages – stock.adobe.com

6. Unproblematize

A friend recently introduced me to the word “un-problematize”. Here’s a definition by the Lexico site:

To view or characterize as not involving difficulties or complexities.

Often, we see problems where they don’t exist. For example, we stress about finishing an art piece as soon as possible, as if the client were rushing us with a stopwatch. We feel guilty about taking too long with a commission when in reality, commission work takes time.

If you’re feeling anxious about a certain commission, take a moment to reflect on why you feel like that. Perhaps you don’t know how to blend certain colors, you’re running out of paint, or can’t meet a deadline. How can you un-problematize your current situation? Maybe you need to watch a couple of tutorials on YouTube, do a quick visit to the art shop, or tell your client you need an extra day to finish an art piece. The sooner you address the situation, the sooner you’ll feel better.

7. Ask Family for Support

In months when I know I’ll be busy working late on commissions, I ask my boyfriend to take care of dinners and grocery shopping. He then gladly cooks for the remainder of the month. This gives me mental space and helps with stress.

If you have kids/teens, get them involved with work or chores. Maybe they can help you package some orders or bring them to the post office.

dad and little girl washing the dishes
Pressmaster – stock.adobe.com

8. Get Outside the Studio

It’s important to take restorative breaks when you’re working from home/your studio. Going for a walk will help you get some fresh air, and when you come back to your desk, you’ll see your work with fresh eyes.

If you need more reasons to get outside the studio, check out this post about the benefits of walking.

9. Slow Down on the Other Part of Your Business

We are only humans, and we can’t do it all. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of art commissions currently on your plate, perhaps it’s time to pause other parts of your business. That blog post or YouTube video can wait until next month. Go over your to-do list and see what can be canceled or postponed.

10. Take it One Commission at a Time

When I’m working on a custom portrait, it’s all about that portrait. I’m not thinking about the other 10 commissions I have to do.

If I avoid thinking about what I have to do next, it helps me deal with anxiety. What’s anxiety after all, other than worrying about the future? So focus on what’s in front of you right now. Focus on the work that’s on your desk/easel. The rest will get its time.

You can make yourself miserable thinking thoughts such as “this is going to take forever”, or you can choose to enjoy the moment. If you want to think about the future, visualize the satisfaction you’ll feel once you complete a piece of art.

11. Think About the Happiness a Finished Piece Will Bring Your Client

Last month, I made a card for my boyfriend’s birthday with a character from one of his favorite games, Escape from Tarkov. When he saw the card, he was in awe. I’d never seen him so happy with something as simple as a card. He showed it to his friends and had it on his desk for days. He just couldn’t stop looking at it. His reaction made me think of the happiness my clients must feel when they receive their hand-painted portraits.

hand painted Escape from Tarkov birthday card
Escape from Tarkov Hand-painted card I made for my boyfriend’s birthday.

When a client commissions an art piece from you, they are counting on you to deliver something beautiful. You want to put love – not stress – into your art because the energy we put into things is reflected in our work.

You want to put love – not stress – into your art because the energy we put into things is reflected in our work. Click To Tweet

12. Make Time for Self-care

Just as you schedule time for commissioned work, it’s important to make time for self-care. Create a morning and/or evening routine that helps you relax.

It can feel counterintuitive to take time off when you have a lot of work, but if you want to be a prolific/happy artist, you need to recharge. Take the analogy of a phone that is running low on battery, for example. Would that phone be useful for the day? I don’t think so.

Some of the things that help me recharge at the end of a painting session are taking a warm bath, reading a novel, or watercolor painting (for fun). I also make sure to get eight hours of sleep.

Woman relaxing taking a bath
Art_Photo – stock.adobe.com

13. Have a Mantra

If you believe something is difficult, impossible, or not good enough, you will experience just that. Create new stories and believe that anything you set your mind to is possible.

One of my favorite mantras is “I create tremendously with ease.” I repeat this often in my mind, which empowers me to tackle the work in front of me.

14. Have an Accountability Buddy

Have someone in your life who gets the commission lifestyle. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a fellow artist. My accountability buddy is a freelance translator who also gets lots of assignments. We check in on each other regularly. A simple message such as “hey, how’s it going with your latest project?” can make a world of difference.

15. Stay Organized

Having a system will help you stay organized and give you peace of mind. I keep an excel sheet to keep track of commissions, deadlines, and payments. You can get a copy of the system I use by entering your information in the box below.

 

I hope these tips help you feel more at ease with your workload. If you’ve done commissioned work before, then there’s evidence that you can deliver. So trust yourself that you got this and don’t let stress or anxiety get in the way of your work. Tell me in the comments which of these tips was your favorite, or would like to start applying.

 

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Author: Jessica Araus

Jessica Araus is a mixed media artist and illustrator living in the Netherlands.

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