Art Talk: Offering Commissions

Art Talk: Offering Commissions


Heyo, medli20 here with another Art Talk. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from various artists asking about how to start offering commissions. The fact of the matter is that pricing is tricky and there’s no one right way to do it. So with that, thank you for watching and I’ll maybe see you in a couple years for another episode of Art Talk. Just kidding. While there’s no one “right” way to do it, there are at least a few guidelines to consider when you first start offering commissions. A general rule of thumb when it comes to pricing is to estimate how long a commission of a specific type would take, And figure out what your time is worth from there. Since there’s no one “right” way to price your work, I can’t tell you how much is a “good” price. However, I CAN say that you should do your market research to help you determine a reasonable price range for your work. What are other artists charging? You should take a look around at artists who are at a similar level of skill as you are, And see how much they charge for their work and use that as a baseline for yourself. Is your understanding of fundamentals like perspective, anatomy, lighting, and form on par with works you’ve seen at a professional level? if so, you should NOT be afraid of charging at higher prices. The most important thing is: don’t charge less than the minimum wage for where you live. If you’re just starting out and feel like you’re not quite at the stage where you can charge more, then yeeeeaahhhh MAYBE you can charge a dollar or two less than minimum wage until you get the ball rolling. If you’re ever at the stage where you get more demand than you can keep up with, or you feel that the time you’re spending on commissions is worth more than the payout you’re getting, Then that’s a surefire sign to raise your prices. There are three ways most artists handle payment: up front, at the end, or divided into installments. When you choose to accept payment reflects the amount of trust you have in your client And each method has its pros and cons. In up-front payment, your client pays the full price of your commission before you start working. Pros: It’s very difficult to get screwed over. Unless your client tries some charge-back junk with Paypal or their credit card, you WILL be paid. And if you charge via invoices with Paypal, it’s more difficult for them to do this since you have some documented proof of a valid transaction. Cons: There’s more pressure to finish your commissions quickly. Since you’ll be holding on to your client’s money while you work, your clients will be more likely to become irritated if you take too long to finish their commissions. if they become too impatient, they can spread bad word-of-mouth about your work ethic AND they can cancel their order, At which point you’d have to offer a refund. Taking payment at the end means that you and your client exchange payment and artwork at the same time. Pros: You don’t run into the “irate client” problem as often since you’re not holding onto their money while you work. This means that your clients are more likely to remain patient even if you take a long time to finish their commission. Cons: It’s easier to be screwed over. To reduce the chances of them running off, NEVER give your clients a clean, full-resolution image before they’ve sent you payment in full. I like to send low-resolution, heavily-watermarked preview images to make sure my clients are happy with the artwork before accepting payment, at which point I’ll send them the clean, full-res version for them to enjoy. A nice, happy medium between up-front payment and payment at the end is payment in installations. I’ve seen some artists split up payment so it’s half-paid up front and half-paid at the end, Or some artists will ask for installments paid after completing milestones in their work. Pros: You WILL get paid, at least partially. your clients will also generally be more patient than those who go through up-front payment, although not as patient as those who pay in full at the end. Cons: it’s a little more cumbersome to do, and it requires a higher level of organization. So being from the Team Fortress 2 community, I see a lot of people offering artwork for in-game items like keys and refined metal. I see this on other platforms too, like the points system on deviantart.com so I feel it’s important to address. A problem arises from pseudo-currencies that: A.) have a real monetary value based on actual currencies, and B.) allow users to accumulate said pseudo-currencies through free means, usually VERY slowly through menial tasks. The result is that people in the community end up paying with TIME rather than with money, which gives these pseudo-currencies a much higher perceived value than what they’re actually worth. For example, a key in TF2 costs $2.49 USD in the Mann Co. Store, or just over $2 on marketplace.tf. But much of the community will treat them as if they’re worth more, like $8-10 or so. So why am I mentioning this? Because a lot of people who offer commissions for pseudo-currencies like this will SEVERELY undervalue their work because they– as well as potential clients– perceive the value of these currencies to be much higher than they actually are. I’ve seen people spend 4 or 5 hours on a drawing just to get a key or two in return, which ends up being about 50 cents to a dollar per hour. I also see people complaining about these prices, saying they’re too high. Again, because they perceive a key to be worth more than they actually are. It’s disgusting! So what’s the solution to this? Just to stop offering commissions for pseudo-currencies like in-game items? No, that’s dumb. If you want to offer artwork for pseudo-currencies, then do it. But don’t sell yourself short. Always, always, always list the real-world value equivalent next to your pseudo-currency prices- even if you don’t have something like PayPal that allows transfer of real-world money. What do I mean by this? Well, say you want to offer a drawing for 5 keys. To a TF2 player who might not put real money into the game, that sounds REALLY high. So next to your label of “5 keys,” you should write “or $12.50.” Suddenly it doesn’t seem like a ridiculously high price anymore. If you’re taking payment with Paypal, you’ll want to look into making invoices. While you don’t get QUITE as large a cut as you would if your client were to send payment as a gift, it’s beneficial in that you get some level of protection from chargebacks, and it also makes it easier to calculate your finances when tax season rolls around. Making an invoice is pretty straightforward. All you really need is your client’s email address, as well as your price and a brief description of what you’re selling. My only word of advice here is to describe your work VAGUELY. Use phrases such as “cel-shaded digital icon” or “digital painting.” DON’T use franchise-specific phrases such as “My Little Pony fan-character drawing” or “Rick and Morty digital drawing.” Yes, it’s OK to draw custom-made fan art for a client’s personal use, But you don’t want to open the possibility of auto-tripping some filter and get in trouble for copyright infringement. Also make sure to check that “allow customer to add a tip” box. You won’t always get one, but sometimes you’ll be blessed with a client who’s feeling extra generous And you’ll at least want to leave that avenue open if they do choose to tip. You’ll need a place where you and your clients can keep track of your prices. I’ve seen two general types of price listings: Either as a single image, or as a webpage, both of which have their pros and cons. Using a single image to list your prices is nice Because it’s concise, digestible, and easy to pass around. The downside is it doesn’t really allow for detail, easy editing, or price adjustments. A webpage, on the other hand, is kind of opposite. I’ve had trouble making my commissions page concise and digestible, but if you’re better at web design than I am then this likely won’t be that big of a problem for you. It is EXTREMELY versatile however, And you can make changes on the fly. To get the best of both worlds, I’d suggest making an image for the purposes of passing around and grabbing people’s attention, And include a link to the webpage for more detailed information. So you’ve got the skills, you’ve got fair prices. What else do you need? Marketing. Marketing is important because it not only lets people know you’re available for commissions, it also gets them interested in purchasing your work. So how do you do this? As with anything, marketing is easier if you already have a pre-established audience and perhaps some name recognition. If you don’t have this, well there’s no time like the present to start. While having skills alone is important in keeping people interested in your work, it really helps to offer work that’s relevant to other people’s interests. People are more inclined to connect to art if they can connect to it on an emotional level, especially if it’s funny or it relates to ideas and franchises they already like. If you’re like me and you’re bad at being funny, then drawing fan art is probably the easiest way to do this. Not every community is going to be equally as receptive to commissions as others, however. The best communities that you’ll want to target are those that focus around character creation. People LOVE having themselves drawn, and their characters are an extension of themselves. I’m talking about communities focused around things like Team Fortress 2, Dungeons and Dragons, My Little Pony, and furries, as well as communities like deviantART that have a high number of people creating original characters. The My Little Pony and furry communities are notable in that they tend to be shunned by many folks on the internet. However, if you approach them with an open mind and an eagerness to please your client, they are some of the BEST communities for artists who want to offer commissions. Not only are the members of these communities friendly and large in number, they’re also very understanding about higher prices for quality artwork. So you’ve found a community and you’ve found a niche that you can fill. How do you bring attention to yourself? If you’re on a site like deviantART, simply making a profile and posting an ad on your front page won’t be enough. Unless you already have an established audience, nobody’s gonna see it. So you’ve gotta get out there and make yourself seen. Make friends with other artists, post your work in the forums. Engage and advertise, But only when appropriate. Nobody likes a shill. If you’re on Tumblr, Making yourself seen is a little less reliant on contact with other people. Just tag your work appropriately, but make sure to prioritize. Last I checked, only the first 5 tags are searchable from the site itself. Reddit is mostly unreliant on having a pre-existing audience. your posts will show up and be visible, regardless of how many people follow you, as long as it gets upvoted enough. Just be mindful of posting etiquette. Subreddits like /r/tf2 don’t allow posts that straight-up advertise your services, but you can get around this by sharing work you’ve previously done (whether it was paid or not) and mention in the comments that you’re available for paid work. So you’ve grabbed people’s attention. Now you want them to be interested in commissioning you. You do this by offering something unique to your own work. Whether it’s superior draftsmanship, an unusual medium, or just a unique take on characters and ideas that have already been explored before, Your work should have something that’s unique to YOU. This is where you establish a reason for people to want to BUY your work. If you’re just tracing over Source Filmmaker models or your skill isn’t developed enough, then you’re not differentiating yourself from your peers. Why should Average Joe from Topeka, Kansas buy YOUR work if he can make the exact same thing or even better if he just worked on it himself? This is why it’s important to be honest with yourself when preparing commissions. If you’re unsure about offering commissions right off the bat or you’re not getting as much traffic as you’d like, get the ball rolling by offering free requests. Be sure to limit the number of free requests you’re willing to do and remember that you are NOT obligated to do every request you are sent! From my experience, there are two main types of clients, As well as a minor spectrum that connects the two. The first type doesn’t care WHO makes their art as long as they can get it for cheap. They’re people who just want an icon or a graphic for their own project, and they want it done cheaply. Maybe they saw that you’re available, but otherwise they have no attachment to your work. They could just as easily find someone else to do it for them. While you should value their business and input, don’t feel compelled to bend over backwards or them, and don’t lower prices for their benefit. The most extreme of these guys will assume that you’d be willing to work for them for free, or “for exposure,” even after you’ve politely directed them to your commissions page. Be firm in what you offer, and don’t feel bad if they drop you in favor of someone with lower prices. You have better things to spend your time over than worrying about these guys. The second type is the client who seeks YOUR art because they love what you bring to the table, and they won’t mind paying your rates as long as it’s made by YOU. These guys will be your most valuable clients, so treat them well! ESPECIALLY if they’re frequent flyers. If you are especially attentive to their needs and complete the work quickly and carefully, these guys will be strong candidates for becoming GREAT repeat customers. That is MAJOR, and I really cannot stress the need to treat them well. So you’ve got a client who’s able and willing to pay for your work. Well, now it’s just work, right? While working is in fact a key factor in keeping your client happy, You don’t want to forget to communicate. Send them thumbnails and sketches. Keep them updated on your progress, especially if it’s a project that’s taking a long time to complete. If something comes up in your personal life that’s preventing you from working on their order, let them know but make it clear that their order is important to you. They’ll understand. Progress snapshots are a great way for keeping your client updated, but also consider streaming your work, so your client can watch. Obviously this isn’t the most convenient or even feasible method for everyone, but it means your client can send input extremely quickly if they spot something that doesn’t seem right or you just have a question that you want them to answer. So that’s basically all I know about offering commissions. Remember to be patient, and don’t expect hordes of commission orders to roll in right away. This stuff can take a while to develop. With that said, thank you for watching, and I wish you all good luck. Bye-bye!

12 Comments

  • YourPalBadger says:

    Oh nice video du- OH THERE'S MORE

  • Tobinator says:

    Let's hope I can finally get commissioned with this advice

  • forkes says:

    Good to see that you're back to making vids Medli, hope you continue.

  • DCP says:

    very good and detailed though two things i would have added (at least from someone who commissions a lot of work) would be not taking extra work and or payment when you already have Multiple commissions ahead of that person and not abandoning projects because someone more popular offers you work.

    As someone who pays upfront in full with Australian currency and thusly more when converted to USD i can get impatient sometime but one of the Biggest things i find brings this up is paying in full then being told by the artist I've been put on a 3-6 Month waiting list because they have other work ahead of them or are waiting for other people to pay their installments so they can continue their work on top of that 9/10 times the artist seems to forget to tell you about this backlog until you have paid, personally i think this is a really shady side of commissions no one really talks about and i wouldn't be surprised (since it did happen to me twice) if some artists use this as a way to score some free money by lying about the backlog and hoping the person forgets over the near half a year wait.

    Another thing i think needs to be brought up but might only be centered around Fandom centirc artists is the tendency to stop work or abandon it all together whenever someone popular offers them a job/chance to work to use an example I've seen this happens a bit in the Brony Fandom due to how big the Cults of Personality can get around some of the more popular members Fan art of them is pretty rampant especially from Commissioners looking to draw people in when they are small and a lot of them have really decent prices but the second one of the popular people shows up and offers them Exposure on their channels it doesn't matter if you had given them $100+ worth of work they are very likely to drop you because someone popular noticed them and is offering them a shot at a chance to do the artwork for a video on a channel with between 50K-200K and suddenly your $100 becomes worthless to them because as soon as they get that exposure they will have people lining up to pay them $200-$500 for their artwork a month on patreon and near equal the amount a week for commissions.

    honestly i think these are two big reasons some of the stereotypes that people who commission artwork get given happen after all buying artwork is for the most part a very big investment on both sides more so a risk to those buying than drawing while art theft is a real issue the number of safety nets is not to be underestimated such as Upfront payment and installments in addition while the story of someone not paying for art can spread like wildfire between other artists the accusation that an Artist ran with the money for a big commission can often be hand waved by the artist saying that it's just taking longer than expected or that it's just an impatient customer who doesn't understand art and by the time it comes to light the artist can have already vanished with a large some of money off multiple people or run out charge back timers so they can't get a refund which in turn affects other honest artists by seeding distrusts

  • matthew kuan says:

    Yo Medli, what sort of brushes/brush packs do you use?

  • Fear says:

    Now when are you going to start taking commissions again? I been waiting since 4/22/2014 (not joking).

  • Ann7 says:

    Thank you so much for this, i just graduated from college and i've been looking for a guide or something to help me get started to do some freelancing/ commissions, thanks again !

  • LinkaTwo says:

    Hi there Medli, what are the best dimensions for drawings?
    I kinda hate it when i zoom in to do some detail and see my strokes pixelated.

  • Rusty Dog says:

    This channel is under rated

    I just want to point that out

  • Kowalschi says:

    This is very helpful for me as I do get a few commissions now and then =) also, should I feel bad about putting off a client when I’m doing the artwork for free? Keep up the good work :]

  • AyeAye Kane says:

    http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198218506655/

    this guy added me attempting to scam me while impersonating you

  • Lavender Spectre says:

    Only thing I would add is that, as a customer, I started out having a lot of cases of artists demanding money up-front, then taking the money and running ("my grandma died, I can't pay rent, etc").

    It was only when I realized to specifically seek out artists who have not only good skill but a really professionalist process, good work pace, AND naturally draw the same type of content that I was ordering, that it started going really well and getting great results.

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