Shop Forum More Submit  Join Login

Client/Buyer info: How to commission an artist

Journal Entry: Sat Mar 8, 2014, 10:23 PM

This is part of an 'Information Series' of journals

- [Now Reading]


This journal is created mostly of person opinion. I do my best to take into account others' experiences in order to make a better information journal for all. 


Without buyers (also known as clients), us artists wouldn't be able to make much of a living. But remember that without artists you wouldn't have all that wonderful artwork! Engaging an artist in a commission or a purchase is a two way street; the artist is expected to be professional, but remember that they are not some faceless online store - they are real people! It's always easier to work with a nice person than a grumpy one.

Being an artist is hard work. Most artists work alone, as in they do not have someone that writes their emails, and sends out mail/packages, and runs errands for new supplies. They are the sole owner; the marketing team, the customer service rep, the accountant, the manager, and of course the production 'team'. It's a lot to balance, and even harder to do it all and get paid for all the work that goes into it while still enjoying it.

Below I've outlined some guidelines and general information to keep in mind when commissioning an artist. This will cover both what's expected of the buyer AND to help protect yourself as you purchase artwork.

Finding the right artist to do what you want

The first step to getting a commission done is finding the right artist.

Check their reputation - beware of red flags!

It's always good to do a bit of research on an artist if you're unfamiliar with them. Check their gallery or website to see if they have any other commissions in there and go check them out. Do a quick read through their journals and look for any 'red flags' you might see such as:
  • Do they have a lot of outstanding commissions that aren't done yet? (If there are be sure to see what the expected turnaround time is)
  • Do you see people asking about where their commission is, or when it's getting done? (Keep in mind that some people just like to ask a lot about their commission if they're excited, but if there are a number of people asking then be wary)
  • Check Artists Beware
If you didn't find anything then they just might not have established themselves yet. In this case go with your gut - if it seems alright it probably is.

Match their style and their product with what you want

There are always exceptions to this, so just take it as a general rule of thumb.
By matching their style I mean, don't go to a cutsie chibi artist and ask them to do a scary zombie. Don't ask a fine art oil painter known for their environments to sketch out character concepts for your new game. The artist may agree to it, but you are risking being very disappointed. There are lots of different artists out there - find one that specializes in the style or subject matter that you want and you are much more likely to have a better experience.

The same goes with items, sculptures and crafts. If an artist does a lot of say, metal jewelry, it's probably best not to ask them to make you a leather mask unless you know they can do leather masks, or if they offer.

This is more in line with online art communities like DA since there ARE exceptions to this (like comic books may need to stay in line with a specific style already set in place)
If you want a style of a specific artist, go to that artist. If they are more expensive than you want to pay, then don't get it or save up. If you go to an artist and want to commission them, assume that you will be getting their style, or variations of it depending on what you talk about.

When you're ready to commission/buy

Okay, so you're ready to commission! Remember that you can't just throw money at an artist and expect to get exactly what you are imagining without communicating what you want, and also understanding that artists commission process. Each artist may approach commissions a little differently, so it's good to understand what is to be expected. 

Approaching the artist

Most artists will advertise in some way that they are taking commissions. If you don't know if the artist is open, look around their page before contacting them - there's a good chance you'll find their commission info somewhere. Follow their requests on how to contact them. They may say contact them by note, or by email or even by leaving a comment.
Don't just leave a comment about commissions unless the artist specifically says so.
Leaving a random comment on one of their images or front page along the lines of "Hey this is what I want tell me how much" says that you didn't bother looking for their commission information, and it's unprofessional (yep, even a client can be unprofessional!). It's always best to send inquires via private message. 

Understand their terms and conditions

Many artists have a ToS (Terms of Service). If they do, be sure to read through everything! This is incredibly important and may answer a lot of questions you may have. Some artists may have you sign a contract - don't be afraid of these! Read through it and be sure you understand what's in it. If you have questions about it, ask them to explain. 

Keep in mind that these are two very different types of commissions and it's important that you tell the artist exactly what you plan to use the art for if it's commercial. For example if you want to use it as a book cover, or a logo, or make some sort of product - expect a licensing fee. This fee gives you a copyright to use the art to reproduce and/or make money in some way. These fees can be expensive. Do not be surprised if the artist quotes you in the hundreds of dollars for a commercial commission. To get an idea of what industry standards quote for commercial commissions, take a look here.
DO NOT tell the artist that it's a private commission then turn around and use it for prints and products. You could be facing some serious legal problems by doing this.

For private commissions (personal characters and illustrations for yourself or gifts), remember that the artist will retain all copyright unless they specifically sign it over to you (usually for a fee, since they can't use it for anything after that). Commissioning an artist does NOT transfer copyright because your character is in it. If you are uncomfortable with this, be sure to talk to the artist about it BEFORE getting the commission.

Don't haggle prices

Haggling an artist on their prices is incredibly rude. If you want to get a good idea of what an artist needs to consider when making their prices, take a read through this. Basically an artist is putting a worth on their work, and only they have the right to put that price there. They know the amount of effort it takes to create the art, including not only cost but time and skill.
If you want an artists artwork but you feel it's too expensive, you have two options; save up, or don't get it. No one is getting forced into buying artwork, and that's the beauty of the internet - look around for an artist that fits your needs. 

For items that are already made - such as in shops, don't haggle prices there either. The artist set that price for a reason. Just like when you go to a department store, if you want an item it has a tag on it. You can buy it for that price or you can not - simple as that.

Don't expect free art

Not sure if this truly needs to be explained, but if an artist is offering commissions it means that you need to hire them on their terms to get the artwork. Expecting freebies is pretty rude. It's like saying "I don't think your art is worth paying for, but I still want it". 

Communication is key!

Although it might seem like a really cool power to have, artists are not mind readers. It's up to you to give them a good description and the necessary references to work from. Here are some guidelines to think about:
  • A visual *up to date*reference sheet is always best. Don't give the artist 5 different inconsistent pictures to reference and expect it to be perfect the first time around.
  • If there's a certain style that artist does that you really like, link to an image from that artists gallery as an example of what you're looking for.
  • A SHORT description is all that's needed. If you're a writer, don't give the artist 3 pages of story to go from. If the artist accepts, then you may get an extra charge. Take into account the time it will take for them to read and then essentially design the character. 
  • If you give the artist a very vague description of what you want, or tell them to do whatever they think is best, be prepared to accept whatever they come up with. 
  • Tell the artist everything up front, and don't change it half way through. If you don't specify a pose and the artist draws the character standing then you say "oh I want the character sitting", you are asking the artist to spend extra time on the commission on something that was not agreed on up front. Be prepared for extra charges.

Knowing the time frame

Depending on the type of commission, don't expect it to be finished the day after you pay for it (unless the artist specifically says that's when you'll get it). Some artists will allow a rushed deadline for an extra fee, but generally artists are working on a schedule. Also take note in how many commissions they're taking. For example if they are taking 20 slots and you're #18, don't expect your commission to be ready the week after you pay for it.
Some commissions just simply take longer no matter how many the artist is doing. For example many craft/sculpture type commissions may require supplies to be ordered specifically for your commission. It could be a couple weeks before the artist is able to begin, and then construction may take a couple more weeks on top. 
**If you're ever concerned about how long the commission is expected to take, then it's best to ask the artist BEFORE placing the commission.

Be considerate, respond to emails/notes in a timely manner

The artist should be staying in communication with you, as in - you send an email asking a question and they get back to you as soon as they can (hopefully within a day or two, if you have an active commission). However this goes both ways! If you engage an artist for a commission and then take a full week or two to reply to any of their emails (such as if they need clarification on something), don't be surprised if they start on someone else's commission or even cancel your commission if you take too long (as in weeks). Remember that they have a schedule and other things to tend to. 

Sending payments - Particularly with Paypal

When sending payments through Paypal it is critical and extremely important that you mark the payment correctly. For a commission you are paying for 'goods and services'.

**NEVER mark a commission payment as a 'gift'
, even if you're just trying to be nice. By sending a payment as a 'gift' you are risking the artist's Paypal account to get flagged, locked, or banned - and that is in no way doing anyone any favors. 

This is serious. Please don't do it.

Be minimal in the notes section when sending a payment, but at least leave enough info there so the artist can tell who the payment is from, since it's highly  unlikely they know your personal email. The reason I say 'minimal' is that sometimes Paypal will actually flag certain words, such as 'FA' apparently. Also you could be using a word that could flag the artists account for something that is against Paypal's ToS, so it's best to leave ONLY the following information in bold(unless the artist specifically requests otherwise);

your screen name

That's it. Literally, that's all that's needed. If you don't include your screen name the artist may not know you sent payment, but all they need is your screen name to know who the papyment is from.  All other communication for commissions is done through notes or emails, so there's no need to put anything else in the Paypal note. The only exception I can think of to add in the notes would be if you included a tip, then it would be good to say "from 'your screen name', I included a tip, thanks!". 

Approving the commission, asking for changes, etc.

Artists won't always get it right the first time, so don't be shy to ask about changes. As long as you were sure to tell the artist exactly what you wanted up front and were honest throughout the commission process (if they showed you progress shots) then there should be minimal fixes to make. Here are some points to keep in mind:
  • If the artist shows you a progress shot, this is your time to let them know about any edits. 
  • If you get the completed commission and there's a small edit, politely ask if it could be adjusted
  • DO NOT ask for major edits once it's completed without expecting an extra charge UNLESS the artist did not at all do what was agreed on. Again, tell them everything up front and don't change the commission half way through. 
  • Don't nit-pick the artwork to death. 
  • If you only gave the artist a description with no images and you keep asking for changes, the artist may start charging you for the extra edits, or they may even just do them but decide later that they don't want to work with you again.
  • Don't give the artist free range if you have something specific in mind! If you have any vision at all, you should communicate this.

When all goes well

Arists LOVE to hear feedback about the work. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to know that you like it! If they submit it to DA, at least throw a fav on there, leave a comment, or reply to their note or email. By not leaving any feedback the artist might not notice at all, but many will start wondering if they did something wrong.  A good business person wants to make their clients happy, and to know that they had a good experience.

Dealing with a bad commission experience

Even if you are up front about what you want, sometimes artists drop the ball for various reasons. Hopefully this is a rare experience, but there are some steps you can take to help deal with these situations.

Not being happy with the final piece - There are a few ways to handle it based on just how bad the situation is. Use your best judgement here.
  • If you're not happy with the final piece you can say "Thank you" and just never commission them again. This is if the artist did everything correctly otherwise, but the commission didn't turn out exactly what you were expecting. Remember that with a commission there is always the chance it won't be exactly what you want, so if you have a really complex mental image and the commission doesn't match what's in your mind, your imagination just might be more vivid than what the artist can produce. 
  • Ask nicely if they could do some revisions. If you are rude, the artist is less likely to be accommodating. Depending on the situation it's possible the artist will allow it for an extra charge (again this would be due to the artist doing everything correctly otherwise).
  • If you gave the artist free range on your artwork, but you had a specific image in mind, you may be disappointed. Remember that free range means *anything goes*. Don't blame the artist if you don't like how it turned out if you didn't give them any direction. You can kindly request changes, but the artist may or may not add extra charges if they make said changes.

Asking for refunds - If you feel like you've been waiting longer than what was promised, ask them how long it will be. If it feels like too long, let the artist know (nicely) that you would like a refund - assuming they're not in the middle of working on it.
If you send several emails and notes and they never reply, if you pay with Paypal, it has a feature where you can ask for a refund up to 45 days after the transaction. Remember however that using this feature can damage an artist's account (I'm not 100% on the extent of this), so be absolutely sure that this action is necessary. Do your best to contact the artist with any means available with email or website accounts to let them know you're considering this.

Don't bad talk the artist
There is such a thing as a bad reputation for a buyer/commissioner as well, so bad-talking the artist can come around and bite you. Unless the artist really did something horrible to upset you, it's best to keep their name out of rant journals or public areas.

Having a REALLY bad experience
I hope that no one ever gets a horrible commissioning experience, but unfortunately it does happen. If you have done all you can and feel that you have been really wronged, you can take a look at adding a post to Artists Beware about them.
If it's after the 45 day grace period (Paypal), you'll need to contact your bank to get the refund.

.                                                                                                                                                 .

Is there something that I missed or wasn't answered? Feel free to comment here and I'll add it in.

Skin by SimplySilent
Add a Comment:
Nova225 Featured By Owner Edited Aug 20, 2017
If you properly pay someone for a commission, though a proper platform like Paypal, you are the 'buyer', right ? You 'bought' the 'piece', yes ?

While you do not have the 'artistic rights' for the art, unless the artist sold them to you, you- as the buyer- should have the right(s) to display the piece(with proper credits given, for good measure), yes ?
Kamakru Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2017
If you pay someone for a commission you are the 'buyer' or 'client'.
Technically yes you are able to display the piece, but the platform makes a difference. On an art site it's expected that the person who posts a piece of art is the artist. 
Before a commission is paid for it should be made clear ahead of time what exactly the client can and can't do with the artwork, and how to display or post it
Nova225 Featured By Owner Edited Aug 22, 2017
I see.
This leads to me asking something in relation to that last line...

You see, I'm having a small ''dispute''(for a lack of a better word) with an artist that I paid for a commission and who then delivered the piece to me. The artwork is both exposed in his gallery, which is entirely understandable, and in my gallery- in display- with all the credits/praises/and linking to the 'artist'.

Problem is : That last line/point somehow never came to being discussed between the beginning and the delivery, and now that the piece is being display in my gallery (too), the artist is (paraphrasing here) ''reproaching me of never having asked his permission/preference'' and ''wishes me to remove it''.

Understandingly, from what I knew, I felt this was somewhat unfair... Right now, I'm still trying to come to an understanding with said artist, in a civilized manner, but things aren't moving much.
Kamakru Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2017
I know commissions are often displayed here on DA in the client's gallery, but it's up to the artist on whether or not they want it should have been discussed ahead of time and that's on them. That kind of thing happens often with inexperience unfortunately. If anything, just do as they request and don't commission them again if it makes you uncomfortable. In the end it only hurts them because they lose a possible return customer and less eyes are placed on the work they did.
Nova225 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2017
The issue was resolved, in any case.

The artist accepted that I keep my right to display what I bought from her, and I added some additional mentions in the piece's description.
ZombieHun Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Haggling, this is important. Generally, people suck at haggling and when you are seeking a service it is still a skilled labor (or else you'd be doing it).

The only times i've ever seen haggling acceptable is when the customer has sent the artist supplies on behalf of their commission. If the customer can produce supplies that the artist would not need to buy, then the customer by reason should be only paying for the labor cost and maybe a little bit extra for some other materials that the artist still needed to purchase. Never contact an artist, give them details for a commission that you want and then give them a price you're willing to pay.

Sometimes these mistakes are innocent mistakes and can be resolved by communication. But I've heard horror stories of people just not getting it and would haggle for months attempting to swindle an artist to low ball themselves to the point of the artist actually loosing money if they agreed to the project. Think about it if you ever feel you can commission an artist. We do pass names around and give the community a heads up on who to avoid working for.
ZombieHun Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
If you only gave the artist a description with no images and you keep asking for changes, the artist may start charging you for the extra edits, or they may even just do them but decide later that they don't want to work with you again. Please people, take this bit seriously. I've actually ended a commission due to the customer nit picking it to death expecting copious more edits to be done for something they paid pennies to the dollar for. Then I raised my prices dramatically because I didn't want that type of customer ever again.

We are still people, you can push us to our limits and then we will determine if the work is worth the time and effort and time taken away from seeking more clientele because we're still stuck on trying to create what is literally in your head onto a piece of paper drawn by our hands.

and if your paypal passes the 45 day mark, you will need to contact your bank to get your reparations. Your money isn't gone forever just because paypal washes their hands of the transaction :)
Add a Comment:

:iconkamakru: More from Kamakru

Featured in Collections

Lessons To Help by HelloNessa94

Journals by CoastHarbour

Tutorials by Xarti

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
March 8, 2014


25 (who?)