A Beginner's Guide to Offering Commissions Online

16 min read
Lucky978's avatar
By Lucky978
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*Edit 06/29/2017* Hi guys! It's been over 3 years since I originally wrote this guide.  I was just rereading today, and while I still agree with many of the core principals, there are some edits and updates I would like to make.  I am going to try and make an updated version sometime soon! 

I decided to write this journal because in the last month alone, I had about five young artists ask me this question in one form or another: "How should I go about offering commissions?"  
This seemingly easy question can actually be quite difficult to answer.  The first time I was asked this question, I expected to write only a paragraph response.  I was shocked to find that once I had finished writing my response, I had been writing for almost a half hour and had written five paragraphs. Why is this not a simple question? I think the answer lies in the fact that how to offer commissions is not altogether intuitive.  I know that when I began to offer commissions, I was at a complete loss. It took me a few years before I got into the swing of things.  Even now I make mistakes.  So, without further ado I present a beginner's guide, built on my many mistakes, many accomplishments, and 5 years of experience!

:star: One of the first things I recommend to young artists is to get set up professionally on 2 to 3 online platforms.
What does professionally mean?
1. Use your real name, a business name, or a brand name in one variation or another.  People will take you more seriously if you don't have a name like dogzrule9000 (haha that was my AIM username back in 2005 XD)  Sometimes you can get away with breaking this rule slightly.  Lucky978 after all isn't very professional sounding.  The key is to work whatever you choose into your branding strategy. On the rest of my websites I use my real name or Lucky978 as a brand name.  You want to either be known by a brand name or your real name.  If you are all over the map with usernames it is hard to be recognized. 
2. Have a coherent look and feel.  If the look of your page is too cluttered and eclectic you will confuse your visitors. 
3. Have a professional email attached to your page.  Again, use a brand name or your real name with your email.
4. Link all of your social platforms together with links and tabs.  Make sure your visitors can flow easily from one platform to the other.  Not everyone will want to follow you on multiple platforms, but it is a good idea to give them the option! 

The platforms I recommend setting up with (besides deviantART) are: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Society6, Etsy, and Ebay. Each one of these platforms provides a unique service that can help artists market themselves.  You can read more about the features of each platform through Google. The key is to get yourself known. Different people use different platforms. The more platforms you are spread across, the bigger following you will build. Building a following is key before you can start selling anything. If you really commit to building up an audience, selling your work becomes much easier. The key to working any of these platforms is to get involved. Really respond to people and go out of your way to communicate with others. If you comment on other people's stuff, this will lead them back to your work. Sincere comments are always better than a lot of frivolous likes or one line comments. 
And don't be afraid of attention! I see a lot of artists look down upon artists who want popularity.  In my opinion this is ridiculous.  Everyone wants to become known and to receive recognition for their work.  There is nothing wrong with this. It's human nature, and it is the only way to get your work out there! Popularity can become a problem if you become too self absorbed, but otherwise there is nothing wrong with a little attention. 

Sooo...haha that is a lot of information and I haven't even gotten to actually selling stuff. 

I started on deviantART, but there are so many other great places to sell online since I first started selling. It really depends on what direction you want to go in! Do you want to sell original works of art? Do you want to focus on product (prints, merchandise, ect)? You can definitely do both of these things eventually, but getting started with one or the other will help you focus on starting a business. 

Here are a few steps before you actually advertise or sell anything (some of these steps will repeat):
1. Set up professional pages on each of the platforms I listed above.
a. Use your name or a business name. Something that sounds professional
b. Link all of these platforms together with links, tabs, ect
c. Have an 'about me' section on each of the platforms
d. Include a business email on each platform
e. BRANDING. Make sure each platform looks uniform and is immediately recognizable as YOU (whatever "you" might be)
2. Set up a Paypal account. This is crucial. Almost all online businesses use Paypal. Make sure you set up a business account. 
Paypal- Trust me, it is the safest and easiest way to accept payments from online customers. Commissioners are always very wary of payments. 
    They are afraid (and rightfully so) of 3 main things:
        1. You (not you in general, but really anyone who they may buy from online) taking their money without giving them a product.
        2. The safety of their card information
        3. Getting hit with additional charges or fees
    Paypal solves the last 2 problems. It is probably the most trusted online payment service. 
    The 1st issue is something you will have to assure your customer won't be an issue. I usually wait to have a customer pay until I have their work complete. I then allow them to     see the finished product but in a limited way (I can do this with a watermark or something similar). This can be risky because-very rarely- the commissioner will mysteriously     disappear without paying. If you choose to take payment beforehand, you need to be very good with deadlines otherwise you get unhappy clients. Commissioners always feel     more entitled to snappy deadlines when they have paid money beforehand (and rightfully so).  I have made the mistake many times of requiring payments ahead of time and not
    being able to deliver the product in a timely manner.  This is why I no longer go this route.  

    Back to Paypal- there are two types of accounts. You will want a business account. Technically you need to be 18 to set up a Paypal business account, but as long your parent or
    guardian agrees to monitor your account and can help you set one up, this shouldn't be an issue.  I set up a Paypal business account at 15. 

    Do you have a bank account? If not, you will want to set one up. Your parents should be able to open something up for you with their current bank. 
    Once you have the Paypal account and the bank account, you will need to link the two together. Then voila! You have Paypal funneling money to a bank account!
    If you already have a bank account, that saves you some trouble. You'll need your account number and routing number for setting all of that up.
There are really no great solutions besides paypal. If you want to use etsy, ebay, deviantART print, or any number of other platforms you will need paypal. 
        Money orders and checks through the mail are slow, inefficient, and risky. If you need help convincing your parents- you can tell them all of these reasons why Paypal is                 great! 
        Someone just informed me that Paypal has a pretty good contender. Here is an alternative site to Paypal: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stripe_(…  

3. Make a business email (If you don't already have one)
    Like I said before, make your email sound professional.  Nobody wants to order a product from sooperhotprincess12345@hotmail.com 

4. Make a commission offering page. 
    a. Decide what sizes you will offer, what media, ect. 
        -Be sure when deciding prices that you are at least making the wage you want to per hour. Many artists forget this. They will list a 9x12 commission at $20 but it will take them 4 hours to complete. That is only $5/ hour for the actual commission. That isn't including time in email correspondences (which add up), materials, or time spent on initial sketches. I like to make sure that I am at least making $15-$30/hour including time spent on email correspondences and initial sketches. That is a price to work up to. When you are first starting out, I would shoot for at least minimum wage to $10/hour.  It isn't necessarily imperative to price work at a per hour rate; however, it is a good way to figure out a base price
    b. Decide how to price your work 
The most important question you can ask yourself when trying to price your work is: How much is your talent worth? This seems relatively intuitive, but trust me- it can be a challenging question. 
        How many years of training do you have under your belt? How long do you spend on a single piece of artwork? How much demand do you have? What is your skill level? How unique is your product? These are all important questions to ask.

        Obviously, I can't answer many of those questions for you, but I can help guide you.

       First you can figure out the relatively easy question: how long do you spend on a single piece of artwork? If you can figure out a rough time estimate than that is a good start.        I always tell people that if you aren't making at least a minimum wage figure, you might want to reconsider your pricing.  I also tend to discourage offering point commissions unless you understand deviantART's point system.

       Because you are just starting out with commissions, and your demand isn't too high yet, it can help to keep the price of your work on the lower side. This can attract more commissioners in the future (should you wish to continue along this path). If you are taking this commission as an anomaly and don't plan to advertise future commissions, then maybe you want to charge a bit more. 
      In other words, weigh your time with the reward. Lowering your cost might bring in more commissioners, but if you aren't planning to advertise more commissions, then that wouldn't be a good route to go.

      The next important question: How unique is your product? What did the commissioner ask you to create for them? Is it something that only you can do? Or do you have to compete with a few other sellers? Or perhaps many other sellers? You may need to consider competitive prices; however, this doesn't mean that you should drive down the market as a whole by offering below market prices.  For example, it is probably a bad idea to charge $50 for a pet portrait if other sellers with similar quality are selling for $100.

       I know a lot of these suggestions are very fuzzy, and that is because pricing one's artwork is a very fuzzy process. Only experience and trial and error can really help answer these questions definitively. 

5. Decide on your terms and conditions. 
    a. How will payment be handled? 
    b. how long will it take for the commission to finished
    c. What do you expect from the commissioner? 
        -What kind of attitude is not acceptable 
    d. How will you handle commissioners who want to use your work commercially 
        -My biggest piece of advice is to be very careful about commercial commissions. These are an entirely different animal.  I messed up with the first few commercial projects that I was involved in. 

After all of that is taken care of. START ADVERTISING! Offer special deals and low prices at first- anything to get a few clients under your belt. I really had to push hard to get my first few clients. I was working for very little. Luckily this was when I was still in high school, so it didn't matter too much, though now I realize that working for so little may have been bad for the market as whole. If you have a steady job or are financially secure enough to sell for lower prices at first, feel free to do so. I know that contradicts what I said earlier, but if you can get a few clients fast and make them very happy, they will spread the word about how awesome you are. After the first 10 clients or so, you can start raising prices until you are at a place that makes you happy. 


Another really important piece advice, that I really need to give (and don't let this discourage you at all), is to practice every day. Don't let getting swept up in a business sidetrack you from the most important part of being an artist- improving. 
This sort of happened to me when I first started selling stuff. I was 14 and completely gung-ho to make some money. I got so carried away with the business end of things, that I found myself regressing artistically, and I was having a lot of trouble finding clients. This is fatal. Ultimately what allowed me to raise my prices was improvement. It wasn't until I really sat down and started drawing every day that I found myself improving and getting to a level that allowed me to market myself at an acceptable price. It took me two years to get to a point where people wanted to pay almost-decent prices for my work. And it has really only been in the last 18 months that business has hit a point that I am really happy with. 

Most of my success, I attribute to PRACTICE AND IMPROVEMENT. This can be one of the hardest things to accept, especially when you are first starting. Business really doesn't happen in a few weeks XD This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. I wanted things to happen quick! The problem of course, is that improvement doesn't happen too quick. Once the hours and days and weeks and years are put in, you can start to see some amazing results!

Here is a something that might encourage you:

This was done back in 2008 (when I was 14):
Zack by Lucky978

I think I charged about $5 or $7 for something like this

This was done back in 2009 (when I was 15):
Dark Wolves by Lucky978
I think I was charging about $15 for something like this at the time

This was done in 2011 (when I was 17):
Lily and Rowen Commission by Lucky978
I think that one was closer to $30. Massive improvements were made in 2 years XD I actually started to make some real money.

This is early 2013 (closer to the style I do now):
Rainbow Dragon Commission by Lucky978

And now my prices are increasing exponentially. 

I wanted to show you that so you could see where I started. It can be a slow process depending on where you start artistically. 
One of the hardest lessons for any young artists to accept is that their work may not yet be at a level that is technically sound enough to sell for market prices
I had to learn this lesson. And I am still learning this lesson haha

:star: Common Misconceptions 
1. Commissioners will come to you organically.
    This will usually not happen until you market and establish yourself. If you write a commission offering journal and don't get any bites, don't fret. This is to be expected.      Share your journal in groups, get friends to advertise, and link to your journal on other websites.
2. You should expect market prices for your work. 
    This won't happen until you establish yourself, have many years of expertise under your belt, and get your artwork to a professional quality. 
3. You should take commissions for a few dollars or deviantART points.
    This is also not a solution.  Remember that 10 points is equivalent to $0.12 USD and a few dollars isn't even minimum wage.  If you want to offer really great promotions at first to help get yourself noticed, this might be a solution. But don't undervalue your artwork! If you are finding that people are not paying acceptable prices for your work, it may be worthwhile to consider if your artwork is at a quality that is sellable.  Maybe you need a few more weeks, months, or years of practice! If you are really young, deviantART points may be a good way to practice for taking commissions in the future. 

I'll probably add to this guide later today, but hopefully this helps! Feel free to ask any other questions.  I'll add any other questions as well. 

© 2014 - 2020 Lucky978
anonymous's avatar
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StirFryNomNom's avatar

This is exactly what I was looking for. I've started to think about taking commissions recently, but didn't really know how to start. Thanks!

Tanae9's avatar

Thanks for the advice, found some things I need to work on! Great article!

STWAH's avatar
STWAHHobbyist Traditional Artist

Very helpful.

Murlott's avatar
MurlottStudent General Artist
Quick question. What's the etiquette for posting commissions to your page? On DeviantArt and Ko-Fi I usually see artists post all of their commissions to their gallery whereas on Twitter and Instagram they're not always open to the public.
Are all commissions open to being posted online? Is that off-limits in some cases? Should you specify with the customer whether they want it public or not?
Buddy2002's avatar

Thanks really helpfull

Rukyyyy's avatar

Whoa, so helpful! Thanks!

MonsterReviewGirl's avatar
MonsterReviewGirlHobbyist Digital Artist
I have a question. If a client already has a bunch of stuff like color palette and reference photos for you to use, is it sane to offer a discount since you don't have to go find this stuff yourself?
Sonheelight's avatar
Wooow, this was really helpful. I started taking point commissions here on DeviantArt since I was just curious and almost everyone does it! So I tried. Luckily, people ordered from me here on DA(Honestly, no other sites commission me due to my low skill and style). And now, I earn but its not much. Especially by US standards. But if you're in a third-world country, things are different lol. And you're right about forgetting to improve because of the earning aspect. And it really neeeds a great deal of motivation and perseverance to learn by yourself without any support. 
FluffySeaNut's avatar

Thanks for taking the time to write this in depth guide! I was on the fence about starting commissions, and this has helped me decide with a hearty no that I’m probably not good enough or old enough to start selling what I do. Appreciate the information~

ranshin06's avatar
ranshin06Student Digital Artist
Thank you very much for this great tip, but I still get confused what price should I offer ? 
Rail-Brony-GXY's avatar
Rail-Brony-GXYHobbyist General Artist
Thank you for this!!
xXwolf-animationsXx's avatar
xXwolf-animationsXxHobbyist Artist

I have a question, do you know on what age it is legal to do commisions??

i live in the netherlands btw...

plzzz someone help mehh... i cant find it anywhere...

Scrapfur-Alphawolf's avatar
Scrapfur-AlphawolfHobbyist General Artist
In order to have a PayPal, you must be at least 18 years of age. However you can always have a setup like me and my older friend does where he has a Paypal set up for me with no card attached, and when you come to be enough of age to have a credit card, you can attach the credit card and get all your money or you can set up a paypal now and not attach anything and you can link the people to pay your friend's PayPal who can then give the money to you. I'd just recommend waiting until you're old enough to have a paypal and a credit card, though. 
DuchessofMars's avatar
DuchessofMars General Artist
If you want to deal with cash, you need to be old enough to have your own debt card and bank account. 
Miyonn's avatar
MiyonnHobbyist Digital Artist
Man, this is some good advice. I wish I could open up commisions but there's no chance of me having a bank account, since im too young.
Fairchild12's avatar
Fairchild12Hobbyist Artist
Citrakara's avatar
Thanks for writing this!
DELTADRAGONNHobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks, this guide is helpful!
jadayking's avatar
jadaykingStudent General Artist
As a beginner to the commissioning world, when the commission piece is finish do you just email them the piece or have to mail it to them or something?
Nephaleim's avatar
NephaleimHobbyist Digital Artist
This info is useful but what if it rakes me tens of hours to complete a drawing?
Lucky978's avatar
Lucky978Professional Traditional Artist
Then definitely charge accordingly! 
Nephaleim's avatar
NephaleimHobbyist Digital Artist
As you can see in my gallery my art would be worth 70$, I wouldn't even say 50$
GalaxieRiaa's avatar
GalaxieRiaaHobbyist Digital Artist
Don't you have to add company information if you're making a business account? Or is that not mandatory?
mikeyquig's avatar
mikeyquigHobbyist Traditional Artist
Hi I just wanted to say i really like your guide. I’m thinking of heading into the world of art commissions and you have some really solid tips in there that I’d not even thought of. 

Also would you recommend an overhaul of my gallery on DA like get rid of older weaker stuff and just focus on showcasing my best works?
anonymous's avatar
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