First off...what are your goals?Okay! So, you're an artist. And you want to take commissions. First off, decide what your goal is. Why are you taking commissions, instead of offering requests or trades? Usually the key factor there is money- you'd like to be paid for your time. Are you trying to save up for something, or do you dream of living off your art?
If you're just trying to save up for something, (depending on how much that thing costs) you may not need to focus as much on building a sustainable platform off which you can earn money for years to come. But if your ultimate goal is to live off your art, you have a lot of planning to do to get there!
Come up with a plan, think seriously about whether you're going to have time to take as many commissions as you'll need to meet your goal, and make sure you understand the size of the undertaking you're considering.
If you just like drawing for other people, and want to be paid for your time, these tips will also help you, but most of my focus is on the long-term goal of living off my art, and so that's where my advice will be coming from.
Question number two... Has anyone ever asked you for a commission?If yes, then you've probably built a brand, and formed enough of a following to have a devoted fan who wants your art.
If not, then you've probably got some work to do! The best way to start if you think you have a decent following is to actually offer commissions. Post a journal with 1-2 options and see if you get any business. If no one bites after a week or two, you have one of three problems:
- You don't have enough of an audience - People might like your art, but the person who wants to spend money on it just isn't following you yet! I'll cover this below, so keep reading!
- Your prices aren't right - Maybe they're too high, maybe they're too low- this is an issue I'll cover in another journal!
- Your skills aren't high enough yet - This one is a rough one to come to terms with, but unfortunately there are skill levels that are too low to expect another person to want to pay for art- this is where I started. The only thing you can do is keep drawing and keep trying! At the same time, make sure you're building an audience so you'll have a following when you're ready to start selling your art.
Building an AudienceYou need customers to buy your art, and more often than not, these will be people who have been following you for a while, like your art and want to get some for themselves. The wonderful thing about being an artist is often times your customers want your art. Your style. So you will have to compete with other artists, but thankfully not as much as in other industries.
But first you have to collect a following, and that's far easier said than done!
Build Your BrandWho are you? What is your brand? That's often hard to define, but it's whatever makes you unique. It's a combination of your style, personality, and preferences.
A brand for an artist often times just comes down to constancy: drawing the same types of things, using a skill they're particularly good at, and interacting with their fans in a certain way over time. Sometimes it's personal flair, or following a certain set of personal rules: for instance, I never draw outlines for my backgrounds. I always color my lineart. That's just a random thing I choose to do with my art.
My brand is Octobertiger: I draw felines big and small. I started with, and am returning to Warriors fanart. I draw comics, and have lots of OC's. I have multiple styles from cartoon-y to painted, but I have a very defined style of drawing cats that is fairly unique. My following tends to be other Warriors artists, and other artists in general. My work is often cute and appeals to younger people and women in particular.
As an artist you will experience phases and growth, but you'll find that your audience may not follow you if you start drawing different subjects- and that's okay! Just be prepared for it, and aware of why it happens. I unwatch artists who start drawing only fan art for something I'm not a fan of. It doesn't mean I don't like them anymore, but there's no draw for me to stay if I like one thing they used to draw, and they aren't drawing it anymore. Don't feel bad if this happens to you, it's just a transition and you'll gain new followers! It's a chance to refresh your following.
Something I'll discuss later on in this series is branching out and maintaining multiple accounts that focus on different topics. It's a great way to draw new business and keep your old following, but it's a lot of work, and not for everyone.
If you don't know what your brand is, consider what you like drawing the most, and what styles you use and what habits you follow. Your brand will develop over time on it's own, but it's a good idea to consciously consider what makes your gallery unique, and what people are following you for.
ActivityA big part of building an online presence is to actually be... present.
This is very much a hobby where you get equal to what you're willing to give.
If you can't make a weekly post, you may find that activity on your account will slow down and eventually die- then you'll have to build it up again. And if you can't handle weekly posting, will you have time for commissions?
If you're working a job or going to school and you only have a couple of hours a day, make sure you use them. If that's too much, you may want to consider making extra money another way, because commissions are very time intensive, and there's no real way around that.
I recommend posting at least once a week- even just a sketch. The best method is to have a variety of posts and to have a backlog for when you'll be busy. I like to post one fully finished image- with a background, once per week with a bust/portrait on another day and a few small images for usually a total of four uploads per week.
It's also good to post at the same time every day because then people come to expect your art at a certain time, but there are benefits on sites that have a traffic window to posting at different times because you'll attract different people.
The best method to figure out optimum posting practices is to experiment and keep track.
IconsOne of the big things that seems to define an artist's brand is original characters. Sometimes this is a sona they use to represent themselves, sometimes it's just a set of character that are iconic to that artist.
A great way to build your brand is to develop something iconic- and then use that as your mascot, your icon. You want that thing on your profile page, in your journal CSS, as your icon, anywhere you can put it so it becomes memorable. You want people to see you out in the world of the internet and remember you for that thing.
For me that's likely October. She's not my sona, but I first designed her back in 2005 and she's only changed slightly since that time.
Surface AreaOkay, you have a hook, something to draw people in, and remember you by. Now you need some billboards!
If you're here, you're likely a digital artist with a gallery on the internet. So you already have some surface area. Your name can be searched, your art can be found. It's not hidden away in a box.
This doesn't mean you're on easy street. You still have to get people to visit your gallery.
Participate!Interact with people! Make some friends! If you're a wall flower, no one will know who you are! Just have fun with this step!
- Favorite art
- COMMENT- This should be a no-brainer. It's nice to get comments, and I have been known to check out galleries based on a cool icon I saw in a comment thread.
- Donate Points- A small bit of charity that has two benefits- if that person's point pool is public it's a small billboard for donors, and the person you donate to might check your gallery out.
- Give people llamas
- Free Requests- This might seem like a backwards step from commissions, but when people get art, they often share it. It's a good way to get your name out there, although it is a lot of work.
- Art Trades- This means another artist will be exposing you and your characters to their following!
- Draw fan art for other artists- It's often featured on their page somewhere.
- Hold contests
- Commission others- This might also seem like step backwards but again, another artist is exposing your characters to their following.
- Submit to DA groups
You're not a selloutDoing any of the above list with the aim of building your following may seem a little shallow, but being an active participant in the community benefits many other people besides yourself. Without active participation we get websites like Weasyl where there are a ton of artists posting content and not a lot of people commenting. I've stopped using that site because the community was so skewed towards artists. A healthy community needs people interacting with each other, so I will never see trying to build a following as a purely selfish act.
Websites and CommunitiesYou as an artist stand to benefit immensely by having accounts on multiple social media sites. People have different preferences, but if you want to have steady business, you need to be open to different platforms to catch the orders from people that only use Twitter or only use FurAffinity. Different platforms also have different benefits and allow for growth at different speeds. (Hint: DeviantArt is no longer the best place to grow an audience quickly.) These are the sites I recommend using and why. The only one I should have and don't is Instagram and that's just because I haven't spread that far yet. (Any input you guys have on that would be helpful.)
(My opinions are based on experience as an animal/furry/human/NSFW artist on these sites.)
DeviantArtDeviantArt seems to be loosing steam these days because the large influx of teenagers several years ago have all gone off to college. It's still a good place for fan art, and art in general, but you may have to work pretty hard to attract an audience if you haven't got one already. The tools and layout on this site are the best. Far and away. The community, however has very small pockets in my experience, and it comes in as third of the top sites I make income from. Animal artists will have far more luck getting commissions on FurAffinity.
The suggestions on the side of deviations seem to help spread the traffic around and the functional search features make it easy to look up content, so you don't have to rely on peak traffic hours to get your work seen- just make sure you include plenty of keywords on uploads.
FurAffinityThe black sheep. FurAffinity shouldn't function as well as it does. It's like a two legged stool. The site itself is ancient and looks it. It doesn't have half the tools DA does, but it's community more than makes up for it. This is the place to get animal and furry commissions. The problem is the nature of the site- you have to be okay with NSFW everywhere. But the older community has very deep pockets, and on the whole are wonderful to work with. Most of my business comes from FA.
That being said, certain content does best on this site and that would be furry and NSFW (if that wasn't obvious). Other work does okay, but you may not experience the success of the true furry artists. This site also has a pretty unforgiving window of opportunity for uploading. The best times are between 4-11pm Mon-Thur EST. Other times the site will seem pretty dead. This is important because last I knew, the search feature doesn't work, so you want to be uploading during prime times when the most people may see your art in the recently uploaded category, otherwise you'll have to depend almost 100% on people finding you through favorites.
The other reason this site is so good for artists offering commissions, is the ratio of non-artists to artists, and the fact that the non-artists upload commissions to their own galleries and are fantastic about crediting artists. I often get 5-20 watchers every time a commissioner uploads my artwork to their gallery. It's an excellent method of advertisement and the greatest part is you usually don't have to ask- they love to share the work they've purchased.
TumblrUntil the recent pornbot fire and subsequent mass exodus, this platform was great for building an audience due to the re-blogging feature. Get one good re-blog from someone else with a huge following and you could gain 10's if not 100's or 1000's of followers all in a short time. The addition of the chat feature made getting commission requests slightly easier, but I typically avoided direct interaction on the site itself and opted for pointing my customers to email for taking orders. I don't know what the future of this site is, and I don't expect to lean on it much.
ArtStationArtStation is one of the most professional art sites out there, so most of the artists on there are top notch and competition is intense. To be honest I only post my best work there and have never gotten commission work from it. If you're highly skilled and professional, you probably stand a better chance of getting a job there than lowly commission work.
WeasylI quit Weasyl for the reasons mentioned above- no interaction. Even the super popular artists seem to struggle to get comments and favorites on their work in spite of having thousands of followers. It appears to be mostly artists uploading art, not people looking for commissions. The site itself is nice though, and I enjoyed using it. I just wish the community was stronger.
Last ThoughtsAlright, so that's all I've got for step one! If you're doing well you'll probably get commission requests without having to advertise slots. If you're struggling, just keep working and drawing and posting and interacting with people. Your skills will improve and people will start to take notice!
Keep an eye out for more tips including pricing (yes, I'm going to give you a solid method to price your work with), sustainability, presentation, running a Patreon and more!