Commission Tips: Determining Artist Design Fees

Stained glass by Larry Zgoda
Stained glass entry by Larry Zgoda, Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, Our Lady of Victory Convent, Lemont, IL. Photo: Richard Bruck.

An artist’s concept and design of a work of art is as important as the actual creation of the piece. What should you expect to pay for these designs? And what should you receive from an artist in return? We asked five artists to share their design fee rates and deliverables—the variety of their responses just might surprise you.

“I try to make the design fee appropriate to the physical size of the project,” says architectural glass artist Larry Zgoda. “For that, the client gets several scale drawings to consider, consultation, revisions, and my presentation with color, texture, and other material samples, as well as suggestions about which are the best choices and why.” Zgoda says his design fee not only compensates him for his work, but it also creates a commitment on the part of the client and lends value to his creation.


Forged Iron Staircase by Ken Roby
Forged Iron Staircase by Ken Roby, private residence, Bath, OH. Commissioned by homeowner. Photo: Itamar Gat.

Metal artist Ken Roby agrees that design fees should be tailored to each project. “Sometimes a designer or client will already have an idea or even a completed drawing of what they want, so a design fee is not really a factor,” Roby explains. “In other cases design involves picking the client’s brain, getting to know what they like and dislike, discussing ideas, looking at pictures, doing sketches. This can take five minutes or five months.” When a design fee is required, Roby adds $100 to his project proposal when his idea is the basis for the final work. He then adds time spent on drawings, research, meetings, permits, or commissions to outside designers.


Heart by Matthew Gil
Heart by Matthew Gil, Renown Health, Reno, NV. Commissioned by Turkey Stremmel, Stremmel Gallery.

Some artist design fees are determined as a percentage of the final product budget. Sculptor Matthew Gil uses “old school” time cards for each of his projects, so he knows how much time he spends on each step of the process. “The design phase of a project can take 5% to 20% of the total project time,” he reports. An hourly shop rate helps him determine a price. In return, Gil provides clients with a small-scale model, accompanied by a scale drawing (plan and elevation views). “I sometimes include scale people and renderings, which helps some people realize the scale, as well as some mechanical drawings for the site engineer calling out materials and means of attachment.”


Stream by Errol Beauchamp
Stream by Errol Beauchamp, National Business Park, Jessup, MD. Photo: Tim Fiedler.

Public art sculptor Errol Beauchamp likewise determines design fee as a percentage of the total project. “Devoting 12% of the total commission to the design allows me to provide more time interacting with the commissioning agency,” he notes. His fee includes upfront discussions with his client, as well as follow-up once the project is complete. “On larger projects I will include research, three presentations or meetings, photo documentation of processes, a studio visit by the commissioning team, on-site installation approval, post-installation photo documentation, and a follow-up review of project satisfaction.”


The William B. Bryant Tapestry by Ulrika Leander
The William B. Bryant Tapestry by Ulrika Leander, U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC. Commissioned by judiciary group at the court. Photo: Tom Miller.

Other artists choose not to charge a design fee. “I have never been happy with the concept of a design fee,” says Ulrika Leander, fiber artist. “When dealing with a commission, I believe that it is the artist’s responsibility to draw on his or her experience and confidence to develop a design solution for the client.” Leander usually produces two or three different concepts for the client to consider, then remains open to accommodating any changes the client might have.