2.21 // 9.23
Purchasing & selling commissioned artwork is a commonplace event that happens everyday all over the internet! I thought I’d put together this quick guide (based on my experiences as both an artist & a client) on how to get the most out of commissioned artwork - whether you are the one purchasing (client) or the one producing & selling (the artist).
the general aim is to have a pleasant, difficulty-free experience with the client, and to deliver artwork that both you and your client are happy with.
- Price accordingly & try not to undersell yourself. This is a big topic in and of itself, but generally you will be a lot happier and attract a better clientèle if you charge decently for your art. ‘Art, Mass Production, and You' & 'Why Is Undercharging a Bad Idea?' address & discuss some issues with pricing.
- Take limited slots. This is especially useful advice for artists just starting out! Limit your slots. Don’t take a heap of commissions all at one time; most artists tend to get burnt out and overwhelmed, and clients often shy away if you have a long list. If you really want to take a whole lot at once, try investing in a waiting list system. Have a certain number of ‘active’ commission slots (maybe anywhere from 3-5, I’d say no more than ten!) and place other interested people on a waiting list. After you finish your active batch, assign the next batch of slots to people on your waiting list.
- Set up a terms of service. Think of every and any event that could possibly occur, and account for it! Having a terms of service makes life so much easier if/when you run into complications with a client. Some things that you should account for when writing a TOS are: any extra surcharges (will you charge more for edits, alterations, difficult or complex character designs, extra characters, etc?), the ways in which your artwork can/cannot be used, policies regarding the cancellation of commissions and/or how refunds will be handled, the stages of client input (ie will you allow your client to suggest/make changes to a sketch, but after flat colours are laid down you will no longer make any alterations?)
- Always keep your clients informed & up to date. A lot of dissatisfaction between artists and clients often result from a long wait for artwork, along with a complete breakdown in communication. Generally, I find that people are happy to wait as long as you keep in open, honest communication with them, or provide a means of keeping them updated. As an artist, it is up to YOU to keep your clients informed, not the other way around! I generally like to give a client an estimate of when their piece will be done (it is also better to give a generous estimate, so if you think you’ll get it done in three days, say a week just to be safe). I tell them that I will contact them if I haven’t shown them any progress after x amount of time. Alongside this, I often have a public commission listing, which I refer them to if they’d like to track their progress relative to my other commissions. Many artists use a Google docs spreadsheet to list their clients and their clients’ commission status. This is incredibly useful! Here is an excellent example of a commission spreadsheet by Julia.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Please know that you are not obligated to have to continue working with a client that frustrates you, is extremely difficult to work with, or is simply making the entire commission process something miserable. You are likely not even being paid enough for the production of your artwork in the first place, let alone having to deal with a difficult client on top of that. It’s always a good idea to write in your TOS that you can cancel a commission for any reason, at any time. Of course, write in any refund policies along with that - I do not advocate robbing clients of money, even if they are being horrible.
- Keep track of recurring or ‘favourite’ clients. This is something you’ll probably do anyway! You will definitely have clients that will return to you, and you’ll probably also have clients that you absolutely love working with (and often they’re one in the same). You should keep track of these people, and, if appropriate, give them little perks! I think it’s important to forge good relationships with clients, because a good relationship with a client will often mean a good experience when they commission you.
the general aim is to purchase & receive artwork that you are satisfied with, and to have a pleasant, stress-free experience working with the artist.
- Research your artist. You’ve probably followed an artist for a while if you’re thinking of purchasing artwork from them! Even so, it’s good to research your artist and their past history with commissions. Have you ever heard any complaints about long waits with no updates? Can you find a current commission list to see how much they’ve currently got on their plate? Do you know anyone personally who has commissioned the artist? How was their experience?
- Play to the artist’s strengths. It seems obvious, but make sure that what you want drawn is something that artist actually CAN draw! Don’t just think ‘oh, I think a deer would look great in their style’ if they actually have no examples of deer or anything remotely resembling a deer. Ask them first if you’re unsure or if you think they may be unfamiliar with the subject. Many artists will gladly give just about anything a go, and many artists are also upfront and honest if they think they’ll have difficulty fulfilling your request.
I find, however, that an artist will often do a superb job if you commission them something they are confident at drawing or enjoy drawing. Lots of artists have specific preferences for what they like to draw (even if they’re perfectly capable of drawing just about anything!) and often their best work is highlighted in their preferences. Also, artists tend to talk a LOT about stuff they especially enjoy drawing. Have a look at all their artwork - maybe skip the things they’re commissioned to draw, instead, have a look at the things they like to draw freely, or constantly, like their original characters.
- Be clear. If you have a very specific image in mind, you should be clear about what you’d like from the start! Don’t trick an artist and tell them you’d be happy with whatever they turn out, then ask for an endless amount of alterations when they show you what they’ve drawn. There is nothing more aggravating than working with a client that has no idea of what they want (or never spoke about it), but is 890% certain of everything they don’t want (which seems to be just about everything the artist produces for them). You should be certain of what you want, not certain of what you don’t want.
- Allow for artistic liberties. If an artist has stuck dragon wings onto your character and they don’t have wings, you’ve got every right to tell them to change it. Likewise if the artist has coloured your very clearly red character, blue. But is it absolutely essential that the artist recolours your character’s eyes to #33CCFF when they coloured them #00CCFF? Sometimes you need to ask yourself whether an artist taking small liberties with your character really truly ruins the integrity of the artwork/your character.
- Offer to pay more if you request edits or alterations to your work. Manyartists offer this service free of charge, but edits and alterations still take time! If you require extensive edits or alterations, or entire redraws or recolourings, that’s an extra service on top of what you agreed to pay for (unless these are already covered in the artist’s TOS - some artists offer x number of edits for free, and then after that point you’ll need to pay). You should offer to pay more just as a courtesy! Artists are generally genuine folk, and will probably turn down payment if it’s something quick and easy to do for you. Still, it’s nice to be asked!
- Keep track of your money. Anything is a risk when money is involved! Hopefully you’ve done your research and have picked a reliable artist to commission. Even so, if possible, you could try to negotiate payment with your artist so that you won’t lose everything in the event that the artist is unable to deliver your request. Many artists are happy to work with you! Paying half upfront and then the other half at the completion of the commission can work very well. Offering to pay in full after seeing some progress (like the sketch or the lines) can also be a way of insuring yourself in case of any mishaps.
- Never feel like you’ve been ‘locked in’ to a commission. You are well within your rights to cancel a commission if the artist is taking an exorbitant amount of time, you are having difficulties communicating with the artist, or any other issues. However you should familiarise yourself with any cancellation/refund policies, or speak to the artist about that beforehand. Cancelling a commission may be in poor taste if you decide, for example, to ‘cancel’ your commission when the brunt of it has been completed.
- Tip your artist. This isn’t really a necessity, but it’s something nice to do! If you’ve had a particularly pleasant experience with an artist, or are extremely happy with your work, tip them! Artists, especially those on the internet, aren’t really rolling in money, and if anyone appreciates a tip, it would be them.
- Thank the artist for their work. Upon completion of the work, it’s just good manners to say ‘thank you’! It’s amazing the amount of people who will just never respond upon being sent their completed work. Additionally, just being courteous and polite may be beneficial to you, especially if you decide to commission the same artist again. I know lots of artists who will offer perks to clients they had a good experience with!