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The trouble with Commissioned artwork

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, Nov. 24, 2017

As a comic artist you build up a repertoire of marketable skills that people would like a piece of. When you need a bit of money you're able to offer your services, which is very useful! Sometimes people will look at your work and just offer you money to do art for them out of the blue, fantastic! But it's not really quite that easy…

You have to deal with clients
Clients run the gamut from wonderful people who will become your friends, all the way to bastards and scammers.
Some people are willing to pay a fair price for your hard work but you'll find that the majority are out for a bargain, some are even out for free work. BEWARE the dreaded “exposure”. Unless the person or brand is hugely famous and popular AND your name will be prominently advertised alongside the work, “exposure” is worthless. NEVER fall for it, it's a cheap, deliberate tactic to get a freebie.

Some clients will use other tactics to get you to knock down your price like: “Oh, I can get this quality work cheaper from that person over there.” To which your response should be: “Well why don't you just go and DO that then?”.
The other big issue is “changes”. Clients often imagine that any changes to a finished design should be totally free, regardless of how much work that will take you. Do not fall into this trap! Changes often take more time and work than the original piece. Changes should be charged for. And if possible you should get them money before you do them. More on that later…

So how do you go about it?
The best process I've found is to find out exactly what the client wants and then quote a price before you begin. When they agree to that then you can get to work providing them with a range of rough designs. Provide them with low resolution images of your ROUGH work and get them to pick one. You can further alter the designs to their suggestion till you get it right but DO NOT start any real work yet.
Once they've agreed to a design then they must pay you. Don't work before you are paid or you may never be. Many, many artists find out that the hard way. Almost all do. Even for trusted clients this is important. ;)
Do the work and come up with a finished piece in the agreed upon formats. Don't take too long about it, this is work that someone paid you to do! Provide them with high resolution examples. Sign it but do not watermark it or any other dickish behaviour, it's their work now because they commissioned and paid for it!

But what if they ask for changes?
This is where trouble can start. In the initial stages of the commission you can agree to unlimited changes if you like, as long as you factor that into the cost (it should cost a lot more). But mostly the standard practise is to offer about 2 changes for free, as long as they don't take too much work. After that changes cost money. If you haven't agreed on a standard amount before you started then quote them on a case by case basis and get the cash before you work.

Good communication is key! If your client and you communicate well at the beginning then there should be no need for too many changes at the end. If your client can't communicate well then that's a good sign not to take the job at all. If you can't understand each other or they take ages to get back to you or they're far too vague etc then things probably won't work out so don't bother, no matter how much you need the money.

If you're a female artist and the client is being too sexual in their communication then drop them. It isn't just you, they're doing that deliberately and it will get worse. Doesn't matter how much you need the money, if it's not something you're comfortable with then don't put up with it. This happens to men too of course but not as much, and it's the same story: just back out. This isn't prostitution, although sometimes you feel it is, art is what's on the table, nothing else.

When you're doing the job, give them constant updates. Be verbose, be accurate, be descriptive. You want to avoid misunderstandings, it will save a lot of time and money.

But WHAT to charge? There is no easy answer to this. You don't want to scare off your clients, but you still have to change what your time and effort is worth. You also don't want to undervalue the work of other artists and devalue the market as a whole. Do a Google search and find out what others are charging. Look in forums, Deviant art, FAQs, price lists…
If your cost of living is low and you have a lot of free time then you can afford to charge less. If you are super busy and your cost of living is expensive then you should charge more in order to make it worth your while.
The more experienced and skilled you are also means you should charge more, and vice-versa. Your materials and time should be factored into your costs as well as a decent profit. Compare it to any other job: is your time and skill worth $10 and hour? $20, $40, $100? You decide, estimate the time it will take and quote accordingly. If you charge a flat rate for a certain thing ($50 for a small drawing), then make sure you don't work on it for more than it's worth.

Artists are like athletes in that if you're really good at one thing then you'll usually find that you can do other things just as well: like a sports person can do great at multiple sports, an artist should be able to handle multiple media and styles. Be aware of that! Stay adaptable and stay loose, you'll be a lot more marketable that way. Don't be afraid to try new things and different media. If you're digital artist then drawing and painting really shouldn't be an issue, and the other way around. There are various technical challenges that are specific to each medium but they're easy to learn if you're dedicated. Drawing in ink, painting in watercolour, oils, acrylics, spray-paint, charcoal, sculpture, printmaking, sewing, whatever, there's no difference. Your brain handles them the same. Just learn the technical tricks, limitations, and advantages of each medium.

On the same note though don't be afraid to tell a client that it's just not your thing. If taking on a new material or style is too difficult for you or will take too much time then be honest and let them know. I can't do manga for example.

So that's my advice on commissions
Do YOU have any advice? Please offer it!
If you have any horror stories or funny stories about clients I'd love to know ^_^
Have you been on the other end and paid an artist? If so what's your advice to both parties?

We're still interested in scripts…



Ozoneocean at 5:04AM, Dec. 5, 2017

Thanks for that outline of your process man! :D

KomradeDave at 10:45PM, Nov. 29, 2017

I charge on a sliding scale, taking into account what it's being used for, how long I think it will take, and, honestly, how much I actually want to do. I drew a mock-up for a local ad guy to use in a pitch, I charged more than I would for a teen that wants a picture of their RPG character. I root out the deadbeats at the start. Once I have all the details I give them the estimate, and then I get half as a deposit before I start. A lot of people don't like doing this, but I always explain that it commits both of us to the piece. I try to get out a rough copy, with a watermark, and ask for any notes, before the deadline. Once I have the finished work I send another low-res watermarked copy and send the high res scan in png when I get the other half. I don't get a ton, it's mostly word of mouth around town, and a few veteran groups on Facebook, but doing it this way has been relatively snag free.

Shardojan777 at 10:19PM, Nov. 26, 2017

Well i am working on my manga but its gonna take a while due to some stuff going on..

Ozoneocean at 2:55PM, Nov. 25, 2017

I'm glad if I can help! 😁

KimLuster at 5:12AM, Nov. 25, 2017

Wonderful article! I've done acrylic paintings in the past, most for family members (meaning it was free), but enough have seen my stuff and liked to ask me to do something for them. I've done a few (way undercharging), and I've always been unsure how to go about it - this is so helpful!!

Ozoneocean at 2:44AM, Nov. 25, 2017

Interesting stories!

Emevsa at 2:19PM, Nov. 24, 2017

Fantastic article! I haven't done much in the way of illustration commissions but I have worked as a graphic designer for years. You soon get a feel for how easy or difficult it will be to work with certain people. The biggest thing I think is that artist are afraid of missing a huge opportunity which is why the "exposure" line works more than it should. Giving yourself the permission to say, "No, I am not working with this client," will help you establish yourself as an artist. If missing out on that opportunity or "exposure" means you're saving your mental health than it'll be worth it.

usedbooks at 10:19AM, Nov. 24, 2017

I've never been commissioned or commissioned someone else. I've very much wanted to do both but do not have the skill/confidence for one or the money for the other. (Honestly, I would be terrified to disappoint someone who commissioned me. Maybe someday I'll produce some finished work someone would want to buy, but I can't see myself ever doing a commission.)

Banes at 9:47AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Fascinating stuff!

Prototype at 9:20AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Very informative! Thank you!

Tantz_Aerine at 8:14AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Oz, you were awesome, as always :)

KAM at 6:25AM, Nov. 24, 2017

A few years later after becoming friends with Toshubi (writer/artist of The Blade of Toshubi) and he started telling me of some of his horror stories about dealing with commission artists, like commissioning a gal on Friday of three-day convention for a convention badge and getting it two months later, and one gal who hadn't done any work on the commission for over a year, I realized the guy who commissioned me must have thought I was a "Johnny-on-the-spot" artist. ;-)

KAM at 6:24AM, Nov. 24, 2017

My only commission had me trying to finish a personal project before the paid project. After a month I realized how stupid that was and focused all my attention on the commission amazed that the guy who commissioned me never complained. I even got a bonus when I finished it.

diegogue at 4:54AM, Nov. 24, 2017

comissions as single illustrations I did a little, but I made a lot of Comicbook pages for pitches and independent authors, here you can find a very good reference for prices:

bravo1102 at 4:45AM, Nov. 24, 2017

I used to do model commissions but it got very repetitive and was never anything that was interesting to do. My brother lucked out in that the client delivered the model he wanted built and then never contacted him again. And these were expensive kits.

Ozoneocean at 4:08AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Tanks Tantz! It's interesting to see how others handle commissions. I hope I used my own insight well when I commissioned art from you :D

Tantz_Aerine at 3:22AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Amazing advice Oz! I've been on both ends. I've commissioned work once, because in all fairness the artist wanted something specific so much so that they were offering three for the price of one, so i bought that thing for them and got the drawings instead. I made sure that any changes I may have wanted, I asked before the artist moved beyond the initial sketch phase. I also provided as much information as possible to ensure changes wouldn't be needed. It was a smooth collaboration! So much so that I will make it a point to start supporting my fellow artists as much as they have supported me. I will just need to set some money aside for that purpose- I'm making that my new year's resolution!

Ozoneocean at 2:35AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Contract and finished work is so much easier!

bravo1102 at 1:07AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Precisely why I don't do commissions and only sell finished work.

AmeliaP at 12:08AM, Nov. 24, 2017

Do you believe I never did a commission art? Never. More than a decade and I just did jobs under contract o__o.

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