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December 4, 2013
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PE: Creating art on Commission

Wed Dec 4, 2013, 6:07 AM

PE: Creating art on Commission

At some point in your career as an artist, you'll be asked to create artwork on commission. Whilst it's a wonderful feeling, being able to make money creating art, it's completely different than selling a personal piece you previously completed - accepting a commission means entering a temporary relationship with your client. As simple it may sounds, there's a lot to satisfying customer's needs, sometimes the best you can do is to say no. Being picky regarding which commission you accept is not a bad thing, but try not to automatically turn down commission because it seems to be violating your artistic integrity, it's hard to survive without paid jobs. 

The Frustrated Artist by BlotoAngeles

✐ 1. Communication and flexibility

This is the key aspect to being able to work on commission. Listen carefully, better to ask a lot of questions before you start working than having to start over. You should be able to respond to concerns and questions too, to the best of your ability and as quickly as possible. The way you communicate with your client reflects on his overall satisfaction with your work and his will to recommend you. 

Beware of customers that don't respond or ask for more and more sketches before they even pay the advance. Yes, people are busy and sometimes there's a valid reason why a person replies a month after your initial conversation (by that time, you might not have time for their commission anymore or your price-list has been updated) but there's a good chance this deal will fall apart on their part and you will loose a great deal of time.

✐ 2. Accurate Expectations 

Make sure your client is familiar with your work, this can help you avoid some serious commission nightmares. Some people think they want to commission art while they want a copy of something they saw. You know best how far you can go when trying to meet your client's expectations and you should always set ground rules before agreeing to a particular project. Watch the client react to your art, that tells you something about their taste and preferences. Ask them about the aspects of your work they don't enjoy. 

Beware of a client with unrealistic expectations and the ones that want to (metaphorically speaking) lead your hand to make every brush stroke of the work. The first will never be satisfied and the latter should paint the commission themselves, you're not a grass-mower to borrow for one afternoon.

✐ 3. Contract

Regardless of whether you're signing a contract on paper or depend on a verbal agreement, make sure you have discussed all aspects of the deal such as payment method, time and amount, completion time and final delivery. I'll be strict here, always require an advance, 1/3 of the total commission cost is a usual - this helps you cover the material, takes the pressure off of you to finish the artwork fast and commits the other party as well. It should be non-refundable, from this point on you are investing your time and labor and your client should understand that. 

Beware of not having contract or up-front payment from people you don't know and never dealt with before.

✐ 4. Work in progress

It is recommended to keep informing your client on your progress and send WIP shots of the work. This allows you to address concerns before it's too difficult to do something about them. Encourage dialogue, the other party should feel comfortable asking questions at all times. This part of the process can be really tricky and exceptionally uncomfortable for the artist, since it may disturb your usual working process, but it's very important to learn how to deal with it.

Beware of reacting negatively to potential criticism, this will only stop him from discussing things with you and lead to dissatisfaction with the commission. Also, you should know the best when it's convenient to send WIP's - client does not know your working process and often has no idea how a piece of art evolves during creation, therefore there's a chance they'll get unnecessarily scared when seeing first layers.

✐ 5. Final delivery

Just like you started with a dialogue, end with it. Caring for the finished piece to the last minute is crucial, if you're posting it as a package, keep on talking to the client and make sure it arrived properly. Write a thank you note, after all every customer helps you to survive as an artist.

Beware of bad packaging of your works or providing inaccurate pictures of the commission before the client sees the live result. 

Starving Artist by EbonyLace

Looking forward to hear your feedback :heart:

What's your personal experience with art commissions (as an artist or a customer) ?


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Windklang Featured By Owner May 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
A very friendly deviant looked at one of my adoptables - at that time my first try with gimp. He/She said, he/she could only afford 20 points, and asked me not to bring the prize (100 points) down for him/her. So I did not, and by now I sold one adopt for 100 points. I am really thankful for that advise! Since it was my first proper gimp image, I thought, that it might be worth less than 100 points.... :)
Celeste-Reyes Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014  Student Digital Artist
I opened my commissions during the summer of 2013 and I'm guilty of working for 80 :points:. As time went by I decided to bump up the price to 200 but I had less commissions coming in. As a result, I decided to keep the price at 500 and for the quality of the work I think the price is reasonable. Although I don't like working under minimum wage many have told me that I should lower them.

I have submitted to various groups and posted on the forums. What else can I do?
ParanoiiidA Featured By Owner May 26, 2014   Traditional Artist
You can also try on different sites, not just DA.
jane-beata Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Just be active in the community, that always attracts people to your profile. And keep it regular, don't let the commission-related dialogues to be the only interactions you have on the site :)
bonetags Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
im also planning to start an art commision though i have a huge problem i confused on how to send digital work i get that you ship traditional work but with the digital one im pretty confused im afriad to start right up and not know how to manage the sending part and im qute afraid of screwing up ive been searching the net and still nothing i really need a step by step process on how to send a digital art anyone who could help?
jane-beata Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
You can always upload your digital files in high resolution to some server that offers storage, for example here on DeviantArt. You than only send link to your customer.
bonetags Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
thanks so much :>Llama Emoji-62 (Rawr I'll get you) [V3] Llama Emoji-62 (Rawr I'll get you) [V3] 
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I would recommend creating a terms of service document outlining the basics of how commissioning you works, policies about payment, ownership, usage, etc., that can be copied and pasted into your correspondence with the client. Have the client acknowledge the ToS and agree with it, so they cannot claim ignorance about anything that was clearly included in the ToS.

For quoting prices to a prospective client, a good rule of thumb is to quote a price that is at least 10% higher than what you'd be willing to do it for. If the client agrees, gravy! If they don't, you still have 10% of haggling room. Even if they end up negotiating you down to the minimum price you were willing to do the job for, you're still getting paid what you're satisfied with and the client thinks they got a good deal from you. This practice is pretty standard in the industry.

Another good habit to protect yourself is, whenever you send a WIP for the client to approve, always watermark it somehow in a way that will make it unusable for the client. I usually write "SAMPLE" across the image in red on a separate layer in Photoshop and make it transparent enough that the client can still see the image well enough to approve it.

Last but not least, I think this one is the most important:


Many artists AND clients don't know this, and the client will think they automatically own the rights to the image because they paid for it. They did not pay for ownership of the image, they paid to have the image created. All rights automatically stay with the artist by default.

If the client wants to own the image outright and dictate what you can and cannot do with it, they have to pay for that right. In the graphic art industry it's called a "buy out" because they are purchasing all of the rights to the image including the copyright. Industry standard pricing for buy outs is 100%-500% of the original cost of the image because copyrights are valuable things.

This is going to piss off some clients who believe they should own the image automatically and in some cases, if the commission is of the client's original character, the client will try to claim that they automatically own the image because they own the character. Legally, that isn't true. Yes, the client owns the character. The client does not own the IMAGE of the character. You — the artist —own the image you created. It's the same principle that allows a photographer to own the copyright to a photo of, say, the Statue of Liberty. They statue is public domain, but that specific photograph OF the statute is owned by the photographer.

Don't let the client take advantage of you! If they're trying to dink you out of what's rightfully yours, they don't respect your work OR you, and they aren't worth working for!
Windklang Featured By Owner May 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Would this also mean, that I could sell one piece more than one time?
Exept the agreement was different?
KrisCynical Featured By Owner May 31, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Yes, precisely! :)

The re-selling of usage rights is the bread and butter for many illustrators and graphic artists, which is why your copyrights are so important (and expensive if the client wants to buy you out of it). Any piece you retain the copyright to can be sold again and again infinitely until either you decide to stop selling it or someone buys you out of it.

I'm not sure what you mean about a different agreement, but every time you re-sell a piece to a new person/company, you create a new agreement for that specific interaction. The agreement lays out the terms of how you're allowing the image to be used, and for how long you and the client have agreed to. You can sell the usage rights to more than one client at the samd time, too, so long as a client doesn't want EXCLUSIVE usage rights.

If the client wants exclusivity for the length of time they're going to use the image, that increases the price of the usage rights because you cannot re-sell the image to anyone else for that length of time. Once their purchased time is up, you can resume reselling it.

A really great reference book for standard business practices, pricing, and actual form contracts you can use for such agreements is the Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines which you can find on amazon right here:… The GAG is basically our union, and everything in that book is the industry standard.
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