Sunday, September 12, 2010

Miri's (Hopefully) Helpful Guide to Taking Commissions

Why is this here? What are you telling me?

Recently, I have had many people ask about how to set up taking RL (real life) commissions. This is a great way to make a little extra spending money, or to cover that last few dollars of bills your regular job can't cover. Plus, it's just a fun way to use up some creative energy or build your portfolio! Especially with the decline in the American economy, I thought putting it up officially (?) in writing might help those curious about the process to learn more and feel more comfortable. I have been taking private commissions for over 7 years now, mostly with small personal clients, though I have worked on some larger projects. There are many ways to set yourself up taking commissions, here's just a few (or QUITE a few!) methods that work for me.

Before You Begin:

Before you begin, consider what you're going to offer, where you'll offer it, and any policies you might have concerning your work. I suggest making a written list of the types of commission you are planning to offer. I usually type this list up and save it so I can transfer/easily edit it later. These can include Sketch, Lineart, Colour (CG or whatever traditional media you prefer), and include any information about backgrounds (referred to as BG from here on out) and number of characters. Make sure that you have samples of what you're offering. Most times, people will not buy a fullbody from you if they see only headshots in your samples. If you haven't been commissioned to draw a certain kind of sample you want to offer, make one of your favourite fanart, an original character, or something just for fun.

Setting Up:

Most artists I am friends with set up their commissions on their DA Journal. The things that you need to include in this entry are:
- Samples:
Those things we talked about above - make sure you have one for every type you're offering! If you have a subscription, it's best to use the Thumbs feature DA provides to show a preview of your work. I list starting with the smallest commission (like headshot sketch) and work my way up (to like fullbody couple CG with BG). This keeps things organized and gives a logical structure for the client to browse through. You may also want to give a small description of what the final product will look like (ex: Fullbody CG: Fully detailed and coloured, full-body up)

- Prices:
Take a moment to think about your prices. How much time are you spending on each type of piece? Do you spend 15 minutes on a headshot? 20 hours on a fullbody? Give yourself a fair look at the time you spend on your work. Time IS money here. Look at many artists who you feel are artistically at your level and research what they are selling their work for. Also make sure your prices increase logically with each step up in the "sample ladder". It makes no sense to charge $5 for a headshot sketch and $10 for a fullbody CG. You prices may seem really cheap at first, but after some experience under your belt, you will be able to raise them. *If you are a traditional artist, you may also want to account for any material usage that comes from creating the commission, or any cost of shipping if you choose to ship the original to the client. (If you do this, I highly suggest getting Delivery Confirmation on all items you ship - it costs about $0.75 and you can enter the tracking number online to confirm that the client received it. It also ensures that if the post office loses it in the mail and your client is having a WTF moment, you can pull out your receipt and say "Aha, I did my part!")

- Slots:
This is where you will list who is actively commissioning you, plus any open slots that are available for commissioners to take. I usually have 5 slots open, but you can do more or less depending on your schedule and availability. For my own reference (and sometimes my commissioners) I will list the name of the commissioner (linking to their request thread/DA page/character desc), what they purchased, paid/unpaid/halfpaid, and the stage of progress. For example, one of my current commissions looks like this: "Allariele on GO: CG Fullbody w/BG: paid: Sketched; approved; starting more painting" This tells me all of the critical info I need to remember about the commission in a glance. My commissioner can also see "Oh, Miri is now painting my piece! Yay o!"

- How to Request:
I ask potential commissioners to send me the following info in a note/PM/email: Order info (what type of art they'd like), a description for what they would like drawn with several reference pieces (if possible), total the commission. Sometimes I also like to ask if there is a certain date they need the work by, like if it's for a present for someone.

- Rules:
I have several rules stated clearly in my journal in regards to the use of my commissioned work. The first states: "YOU WILL NEVER USE MY ART (even art I have created specifically for you) ON YOUR WEBSITE/BLOG/ETC WITHOUT GIVING ME CREDIT (either stating my name or linking to this gallery) AND GETTING WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM ME FIRST." Loud and clear. I've had issues with this.
- ALL orders must be paid upfront to reduce scamming (I'll talk more about this in the pricing section)
- All requests must have a reference piece (more than one preferred) or a detailed description. (I can't draw it if I don't know what it is!)
- Couples cost double the original price for whatever amount you're ordering. Any others in the piece (after the couple price) are half the original price. If you do not understand, please send me a note and I'll talk it through with you.
- Will/Wont: This is where you will customize what you are and aren't willing to draw. Don't like cluttered avis but LOVE to draw animals? Put it in here! Open to yaoi/yuri but not erotica? Let your commissioners know.
- If there are any other questions, I have this at the end: "Anything else? Feel free to send me a note and I'll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have."

Okay, so you're set up in your journal and ready to go! Don't forget to make some spiffy, eye-catching banners so people know you're open for commissions (you can upload graphics for free at Photobucket)! And now you've gotten your first customer! But how do you set up payment?


If you don't already have a Paypal, get one. They're extremely easy to use, completely secure, and will be critical to your success in taking online commissions (you do need a bank account to set one up though - if you are under 18, you should talk to your parents about this first). Buyers will not pay for art that they have to jump through hoops to get. And most people have a paypal account. I've used mine for 7 years and have never had even the smallest problem with it. NEVER send cash through the mail, and even personal checks I don't feel comfortable accepting. Once it's in the mail, there is no guarantee it will get to me, and I cannot be held responsible for funds lost in the mail. And that just equals an unhappy everybody. If the commissioner insists, have them make out a Money Order for the exact amount of the commission and mail it to you. They can do this quickly and easily at any local post office.

For smaller commissions (like CG headshot), I let the commissioner know that all the payment is due upfront. Most people have absolutely no problem with this, as I have a 7 year track record of finishing every commission I've taken. If you're new, your customers may not feel fully comfortable with this. For this (and for my larger commissions), I separate payment into two installments. I take half of the commission price upfront to start the sketch. Once I have finished the sketch, I upload it and let the commissioner make any small changes they'd like. Then I request the second half of payment, and I finish the painting portion (once I have received it!) and send them the highres file. (Traditional artists, you may choose to offer to send the original - make sure you've covered your shipping costs in the price of the commission!) The two-installment payment plan ensures that you, the artist, do not make work you're not paid for, and it ensures that the commissioner does not pay for something they don't receive. I NEVER start a commission without some part of the payment. Even if you know the person and think they'll never disappear, it can happen (sadly).

I do have a Highres File Agreement that I ask each commissioner to acknowledge with an "I agree". I take a screenshot of their agreement, and save it so that if they end up taking my file and using it commercially, I have proof that they are directly violating our contract. I've never had someone do this, and it may be something you don't feel you need just starting out, but it's helpful for me.

So you're all set up and ready to go, but how will people find you? I spent the last year working in the industry in Los Angeles, and one of the biggest lessons I learned in business is that, "If you don't tell people, they won't know." Don't wait for people to wander across your DA page. Don't be shy - get your work out there! Let people know you're open for commissions!

- Advertising on Deviantart:
The BEST THING you can do (on any site) is make friends. If you're going through DA, start commenting on other artists works and journals. People will start to recognize your icon.
- In your journal, sponsor an artist feature (first 5/10 comments get their icon and 3 thumbs featured for 3 days/1 week/whatever), and ask other artists to feature you in their journals with a blurb about your commissions. Provided I have time, I will always help an artist who politely asks me to include something in my journal about them.
- Check out the Job Services Forum. Here you can list a blurb about your commissions and link to your journal.
- If you're willing to hunt around for the perfect project, stop by the Job Offers Forum, where you can browse through other deviants looking to hire someone with your skills for pay!

- Advertising on GaiaOnline:
If you're a GO user, friends and a lot of exposure are just as important!
- Most of my watchers come from Gaia because they click my sig. Take your most eye-catching work and make a little design; put it in your sig with "RL Commissions" on it. People will click! (Make sure it is under 500x500 pixels, though, or someone could report it and have it removed!)
I also scour the Requests&Commissions forum for Request threads. Make sure to read the fine print, though. Spend some time looking through their rules and characters. If they consider RL or do not explicitly say "Do not offer RL", then go ahead and post and politely ask if they would consider RL commissioning you. Link to your site/commission journal, or provide examples in the post. (Do NOT include RL price in the post; Gaia will get mad) Also, do not post about RL in any old thread without reading. It's extremely rude to inquire if the OP has already specified that they do not consider them.
- Post your work in the PicturePost, ask for feedback, and link your DA in the first post. Not only will you receive feedback that will most likely help you improve, people will click your DA and see your commission info.
- If you have the time, participate in joint auctions and contests! This will not only give you an excuse to draw and build another sample or work for your portfolio, but it will connect you with other artists who can help get your name and work out there!

- Advertising on Twitter/Facebook:
A lot of my personal friends recently have been messaging me for commissions on Facebook. It's been a great source of exposure for me!
- Create a photo album of your artwork; name it something cool and catchy (mine is "La Bella Vita: the beautiful life"). Upload new works when they are completed. Facebook resizes your images automatically, so I always provide a link in the comments for the full version on DA. You can also link to your commission information journal in the comments! Same goes for Twitter - link it up!
- Talk about your commissions on Facebook and Twitter! People buy personal nowadays, and you're selling your personality and spark as much as your art. Be excited - others will feel it and get excited too!
- Follow other artists on Twitter and sync it up to your DA page; if you feel comfortable, include your Twitter and Facebook info in your DA journal.

After a certain amount of time, you will get a natural feel for where most of your commissions come from. For me, I get most of my commissions through Gaia, so I focus my advertising efforts primarily on that audience (but still don't ignore my other opportunities!).

Sealing the Deal:

It's exciting to get those first few commissions in the door! But this is a business, and if you expect your client to hold up their end of the bargain, you must hold up yours. Most commissioners are aware that you have a life outside of commissions, but it is always best to be respectful of their time.
- Always deliver the quality you promise. This is #1. You will have a very unhappy customer who will tell others very unhappy things if you give them mediocre work in comparison to your sample image(s). Treat every client as your most important client and deliver work to the best of your ability every time. You never know when that one commission will turn into a long-time business relationship.
- Be upfront and honest. If you know that you are going on vacation without your tablet/materials for 2 weeks, let the commissioner know upfront. 99% of the time, the commissioner will say, "That's cool! No problem! Have fun!" It's always good to be honest. If you're finding that you've gotten busier than planned and the commission is taking a long time, just shoot the commissioner a small PM ("Hey, just wanted to let you know that I've been busy but that I'm really excited to continue working on your piece - I haven't forgotten about you!") There's nothing worse than having someone simply disappear and most commissioners will demand a refund after a certain period of silence. This will also spread unhappy tales to potential new clients. If in the end something happens and the commission will just not be able to be completed, be open with the commissioner and tell them what's going on. Offer to refund their money.
- Honour deadlines. In the event that the client needs the piece by a certain date, make sure it is there a few days ahead of time (if possible). You never know if the client wants to get it printed or giftwrapped. At the absolute latest, get it to them the day-of. *Traditional artists, if shipping the original, factor shipping time into the deadline!
- Be friendly and courteous. It sucks to work with someone who is negative. Be positive about your work and don't be afraid to talk with the client a bit. Most people feel more comfortable if they feel like they're communicating with a real person, as opposed to an avatar on a screen.
- Say thank you. They truly are golden, magical words. It is always good to be gracious about your work, and to let the commissioner know how much you appreciate their support (they did just pay you afterall!) Those fuzzywuzzy feelings will be returned, especially if the client is happy with the quality of the work, if it's on-time, etc.
- If you feel comfortable, you can let them know that you have more slots open and politely say, "If you have any friends who might be looking for commissioned work, I'd be so flattered if you'd mention me" Most people will speak about you or show your art off to their friends anyway, but it's okay to ask if they would consider doing a little word-of-mouth advertising for you :) Most people would love to!

Wrapping it Up:

I may add more sections as I think of more helpful things. If you have a question I haven't answered, please feel free to ask in the comments of this entry :)

In the end, there are many, many ways to go about taking commissions. You may find that using these policies works for you, or you may develop a process that better suits your needs. Either way, I hope you've found this information helpful and relevant!


  1. Miiiirriii thank you so much for this, I really needed it since I was considering starting commissions in 2011... now I kind of have a grip on what to-do and not-to-do. Thanks!

    -hugsss from Sorelliena :)

  2. Thanks for doing this; it really is helpful.

    I've got everything written up for my commissions now. Just gotta get some more samples done, and wait for my payment for a premium membership to go through on DA. ; u ;

  3. Very helpful and informative! Thanks for taking the time to write this all up, I'm sure a lot of people will make use of it :)

  4. This was incredibly helpful! Thank you thank you thank you for taking the time to type all this up!! You are simply wonderful!

  5. oh my, this is PERFEcT. I've been having issues lately with pricing my work, and this is the best thing ever. i have it saved on my laptop now. THANK YOU!


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