Commissioning Artwork for Less

You know all those times when you woke up in the morning, stared at the wall opposite your bed, and thought, "Man, I really need to commission a new art piece to hang there." Yeah, you probably don’t, right? Even if you’re a fan of art, you’d probably dismiss that notion as a luxury, unless you’re Donald Trump.

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So did Melvin Yuan, co-founder and CEO of The Commissioned, which is based in San Francisco and Singapore. "I’ve always struggled to find the perfect art piece," he says. "In hindsight, it’s because I’ve always wanted art that’s personal and meaningful, but I never gave a second thought to commissioning an art piece. I’ve always assumed it would be too costly to do so."

Melvin Yuan, The Commissioned co-founder and CEO


Melvin says that changed when he met an artist in a remote island in Indonesia. "[The meeting] gave me reason to believe that anyone can commission beautiful and original works of art at affordable prices." So that’s what The Commissioned does: it lets you commission original works of art at manageable prices from a selection of artists.

Accessible through the web or an Android app (iOS is forthcoming), The Commissioned is host to artists from all over the world. Users can browse through the available works, and if something catches their fancy, they can get in touch with the artist and commission a custom piece.

"When we commission an art piece, we participate in a beautiful act of co-creation," Melvin says.

While this is exactly the kind of thing one would expect to hear from someone who’s created an art marketplace, the draw is clear: by commissioning a work by an artist they like, users get something more than just an impersonal piece to hang on their wall. They become part of the creative process by communicating with the artists and exchanging sketches and photos of the work in progress, Melvin explains.

Artwork commissioned through the service: “Have Faith, Take Flight” by artist Yong Yee Beh

Freedom to create

To help the process, the site offers suggestions on potential themes and ideas that clients can use for inspiration when they order a piece. It features advice such as how to best showcase your new artwork or how to choose the right artist. Once an artist and client have connected, the startup takes care of all the administrative stuff, including contracts, billing, payment, documentation, and logistics.

The service has been in beta until last week, and Melvin says it features over 200 artists from more than 35 countries all over the world. The website currently has more than 200 registered users and Melvin claims several art pieces have already been commissioned and delivered.

Melvin was previously co-founder of Singaporean startup YFind Technologies, together with Dr. See Ho Ting and Dr. Ying Han. The indoor location tracking company was acquired by Silicon Valley wireless technology specialist Ruckus Wireless in 2013. The Commissioned is his second venture.

He co-founded the startup with Howie Chang, who serves as its head of product. Howie is a former head of UI/UX for video streaming startup Viki (acquired by Rakuten in 2013) and director of products for grocery delivery service Redmart. Angel investors and VCs such as Scott Anthony, managing partner at Innosight, and Tim Draper, founding partner at VC firm DFJ Ventures, have invested in The Commissioned.

Seeking the art lovers

The Commissioned is one of those startups with a positive idea driving them – promoting art by providing a new source of revenue and networking for talented but obscure creatives? Awesome! But the question is, what is the potential audience for this service? The concept, as mentioned, is to bring the idea of commissioning personal art to the masses who can’t afford the art world’s greats. But there will have to be enough people like that to support the company long-term.

Artwork commissioned through the service: “A Forest Walk” by artist Deusa Blumke

There are currently many online marketplaces that allow artists to monetize their work. Most of them, however, like Society6, PosterGully, and RedBubble rely on selling merchandise based on the artists’ work. Others, such as Saatchi Art, mainly sell ready-made artwork.

And while commissioning artwork online is actually a quite common practice, it’s mostly done through online communities such as DeviantArt, where the artist usually has to handle the administrative aspects on their own. The Commissioned could therefore serve an audience of art lovers who want bespoke, original art at reasonable prices – as long as that audience is there.