A comprehensive guide to commissioning artists

25 min read
nominee84's avatar
By nominee84
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Commissions Week


Hello everyone, I’m a freelance digital illustrator and a casual commissioner. During the last decade I completed a lot of commissions and also ordered quite a few drawings and paintings myself, so I thought I’d share a few tips that could make the commissioning process a lot easier for both artists and clients.

In this article I will give some pointers about ordering a commission. I hope you will find them useful!


  • Finding the right artist
  • Effectively communicating
  • Prices and payment methods
  • WIPs and requesting changes
  • Managing deadlines
  • Basic etiquette of closing the business
  • Short summary

Finding the right artist

Let’s say that you have an idea for an illustration and you’re looking for someone who can execute your vision. First you need to make clear what you’re picturing in your head. Is it a vertical picture (portrait format) or a horizontal (landscape format)? One character or more?  What are they doing? These will be the first things artists will ask you, so you better have these answers ready!

For example you imagine 2 characters wearing historical clothes sitting at a table in a teahouse with big windows that overlook a nice garden.

Search for different teahouses, gardens, historical clothings on the internet (paintings and photos too). If the teahouse has nicely shaped high windows, you might want to choose a vertical format, if you prefer to see the interior and the garden more or have a close-up on the characters, then you might want to go with the horizontal format.

Now you have a list of different things you’ll need to check if the artists are offering or can draw these: complex illustrations, backgrounds (both architecture and nature), characters interacting and historical clothing.

You can now start to look for an artist: if you’re already watching quite a few and favourited their commission journals, you can check your collection to see whose style you’d like for this illustration.

If you’d like to find new artists, you can always ask your followers and friends to recommend someone, or post a job offer, or look for the services artists are offering on deviantArt’s forum: forum.deviantart.com/jobs/

If you’ve narrowed down the candidates, check these first:

-Their availability (Are they currently open for commissions?)
-Commission types (Are they offering complex illustrations?)
-What they do and don’t accept (Artists usually have do-don’t lists in their commission journals.)
-Prices: both starting or base prices and add-ons (To put it bluntly: can you afford them?)
-How long the list of the current clients and the waiting list (if it’s public), or ask them how long it will take to complete your order (If you have a deadline or don’t like waiting for months or more, you will definitely need this info.)
-Are they offering wips/commercial usage/etc.?

If you find the one who’d be prefect for this illustration, you can now proceed to approach them.

Effectively communicating

When you’re ready to contact the artist, check their journal to see if they have a form you need to fill out to order a commission.

Some artists have a very short form, others have a long and detailed one – in any case, please fill out everything so they won’t have to re-ask it. If you don’t have a preference for something on the list (e.g. character’s expression or pose), then write ”it’s up to you” or ”no preference” or ”feel free to choose one”.

If there’s something you’d like to be drawn but you’re not sure the artist is okay with it, ask it first. If it’s a vital part of the illustration and they’re not comfortable drawing it, please don’t force it or try to persuade them – there might be a very personal reason behind why they don’t want to draw it. You can always find another artist who has no problem drawing that detail.

If you have a deadline, make sure to ask the artist if they can complete the illustration by that time. (Be ready for a rush fee for tight deadlines.)

Collect the references and a description for the illustration: photos and/or paintings of the interior of the teahouse, garden, clothing, poses, expressions, hairstyles, accessories, anything that’s visually needed for the scene. If you’d like the artist to add their own personal touch too, you can leave some of these up to them or give several different references for one detail so that they can choose one freely.

If they accept your commission request, the next step is paying.

Prices and payment methods

At this point you know roughly how much the illustration will cost you but if you’ve ordered something with a lot of details, chances are that the price will be a bit higher than the base/starting price. Usually artists put this info in their commission journal.

If you want to use this illustration for promotion or sell it as e.g. a print, it counts as commercial use and the price will be higher. Depending on what you want to use it for or how many copies you’re planning to sell, the extra cost may vary. It can be a fixed amount or a percent (%) of the price of the illustration. If this info is not in the commission journal, ask the artist.

When you’re ready to send the payment, there are several ways to pay for an artist’s services. The most popular ones I see are Paypal and deviantArt points.

If they take points only, they have commission widgets on their profile or will set up a custom one for you only. To pay with points, you only need to click on the button of the widget to send them. If you’re unfamiliar with the point system, you can find more info about it here: about.deviantart.com/points/

If the artist takes Paypal payment only, they’ll ask for your Paypal address, so they can send you an invoice, or they’ll give their Paypal address so that you can send the payment. If you have a different currency than what the artist uses, adjust the amount (e.g. 56 USD = 50 €) to send the correct price in the requested currency. Feel free to add a tip as well!

Depending on the artist, they can ask for full payment upfront, or half before sketch, half after sketch or after completing the artwork.

WIPs and requesting changes

”WIP” means work in progress. When an artist sends a WIP, it means a sketch of the artwork. This can range from a loose sketch with a few lines, to a roughly-colored, almost-done progress shot.

Depending on the artist and the type of commission, you can get 1-3 or more WIPs while they’re working on your order. It’s quite common to not show WIPs of quick and simple sketch commissions and send several for complex ones.

When you receive the first WIP, it’s important to point out everything you’d like to change. However, if you gave a clean description of the scene and the artist did exactly as you asked, you should not ask them to redraw it from scratch just because you realized that the scene isn’t looking as good as you imagined or you simply changed your mind. If you really want to make them redo the whole drawing, you can expect an extra fee or a refusal.

Since the artist already spent a lot of time to draw exactly what you wanted, they are not at fault in this case and entitled to a fair compensation for their extra work. They might also state in their commission journal that they won’t make drastic changes after sending the sketch. That’s why it’s important to visualize and find good references before you place the order.

On the other hand, there are times when the artist makes a mistake, forgets an important detail or draws something you don’t like while you gave them artistic freedom. In the first 2 cases, ask them nicely to correct their mistakes by pointing out exactly what you want to be changed. After the edit, they will send another WIP to show the corrected version.

In case of the artistic freedom clashing with your taste…well, you should know what type of artistic choices they make by checking their gallery. If it’s something you haven’t seen from them before, ask them to take off some things or tune it down to find a middle ground. Alternatively, ask what they’re planning to draw before they accept the commission or get ready for some surprises!

Managing deadlines

After ordering and paying for the commission and agreeing on a deadline, the artist will give you the date when they’ll send you the first WIP. If they don’t, ask them when can you expect to see the sketch. After receiving it and making the changes (if necessary), you can ask them to send you another WIP when they finish the next step e.g. the lineart or coloring (unless they state in their commission info that they don’t offer them).

If days pass by and the artist didn’t send anything, no need to worry, they’re probably working on multiple orders at once, or having a part-time job while trying to balance their life as well. Try not to send too many notes or emails requesting for an update as it won’t get your commission done earlier and just stresses the artist out needlessly.

However, if you got the sketch but after several days or weeks (depends on the deadline you agreed on) there’s no info nor WIP or completed artwork, it’s time to send a message to the artist, asking for an update. There’s a chance that they ran into an unforeseen problem (unrelated to the commission) and they’re still trying to solve it – in this case, they’ll reply within a day or two, asking for a little patience.

To make sure that the artwork will be done on time, try to give them a deadline days or even a week before the actual deadline you need the artwork for. This way there’s room for delay.

Also, do read and answer the messages from the artist on time. While they’re waiting for your feedback, they don’t work on your commission!
My opinion is that the best way to keep the business up-to-date is to answer all messages within 24 hours (if possible).

Basic etiquette of closing the business

You’ve received the finished artwork and you’re satisfied with the result. What you should do now next is thank the artist for the artwork. It can be elaborate, or nice and short, or a simple ”thank you”, they’re all good!

Why is this important? Because other than showing that you have manners, the artist who worked hours or days on your commission deserves a thanks for their hard work. They also need to know that you got the artwork and you like it – otherwise they can’t be sure about either of these!

If you had problems with the artist (time management, quality, etc.), still stay civil and say ”thanks” for the finished artwork. You don’t have to work with them again, but it’s better to close the business with them in a well mannered way.

If you upload your finished commission, always credit the artist. On deviantArt, write their username or link back (@[artistsname] or :icon[artistsname]: ), and put their e.g. deviantArt URL in the comment/description section on other websites, so other people can find them too.
Some artists have a preference for a certain link-back method/crediting and most of the time this info can be found in their commission journal.

Even if it’s not stated anywhere by the artist, it’s better if you don’t upload the full size of the commission, only a small sized one. This way no one will download and make unauthorized prints or sell your commission.

Please do not edit the finished artwork without the artist’s consent. Cropping it for icons, headers etc. is fine, but drawing on top of it or edit the colors/erase parts is frowned upon by almost every artist.

Also, please refrain from writing anything negative or harshly criticizing comments under your commission you just publicly shared. Not liking the finished artwork can happen, but please still stay civil. If you’re that dissatisfied with the finished artwork, it’s better not sharing it. After all, the artist could find this out and you can imagine how bad it’d make them feel! Instead, you can always go to find someone else to work with.

Try to be polite and pleasant in every case, it can do wonders! :)

Short summary

  • If you want a complex illustration or a character design or a realistic portrait, simply liking an art style is not enough - approach someone who’s experienced in that specific theme, you can afford them and they’re open.
  • Always give every important info about the must-have details of the illustration to the artist.
  • The artist’s commission journal usually contains the starting prices, everything else (add-ons, commercial use etc.) should be asked and agreed on before placing the order.
  • Visualize what you want to be drawn beforehand to avoid requesting drastic changes and know the artist’s creative style before you give artistic freedom.
  • Let the artist work on the commission and only request an update if they go silent for an extended time. Check and answer the messages from them too!
  • Stay polite in every case and respect the artist’s rules.


I hope this article was useful for the fellow and future commissioners! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section :)

The next article with tips and advices about commissions for artists can be read here: A comprehensive guide to accepting commissions

Title by Astralseed
Edits by Memnalar

© 2019 - 2021 nominee84
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errid7's avatar
Also, ruleset.

There are somethings that artists' are not capable/willing to draw and this is different for each artist.
Maybe they don't like the franchise or character/don't want to see a beloved character of their's drawn in a certain way. (Artist might love a videogame franchise but hate another/a certain character or they love a character too much to draw them in a degrading way to them.) The work might be too complex or they simply don't know how to get it right. (A character or location with a lot of complex parts and difficult to draw characters/can draw a cat but not a horse or a mech.)  They dislike/not know how to draw the art style requested. (Might draw Japanese anime but can't draw realistic or dislike western cartoon style.) Or it might be a bit too vulgar, controversial, or against their beliefs and morality for them to draw it. (R34, fetishes,  extreme violence and gore, religious content, political content, Loli/Shota con.)

It's best to find an artist that can draw what you want and look up what they will and will not draw.
nominee84's avatar
Yep, it's important to check the artist's gallery and their do-don'ts lists!
Thanks for the examples c:
errid7's avatar
Sayna-Yuki's avatar
As a frequent commissioner I think this is a pretty detailed and in depth guild. (I don't do commissions atm though so I can't say how that might be for that side of the fence)

I have four more foods for thought - expansions?

-Under Communication - I would express the need to communicate clearly. My only really bad commissioning experience came from what I believe to be someone who marked English as a primary language. I still think to this day that it maybe if I had been less conversational and less complex in my request things would have went better. 

In context I asked for artistic freedom in interpretations and that I was open to minor color adjustments to fit their style. I should have left it at that but proceeded to elaborate and say just no pastel colors because I didn't like them. The artist became distressed because they thought I was asking for a pastel commission - which clearly wasn't their forte. Longer story short - I think of it as a learning experience and not to do what I did. (I feel very bad about it.) So I always try to do clear and concise thoughts and try to communicate it clearly - and even more clearly if an artist openly discloses they use a translator.  

Which I would also say is a good area to say - look for artists that have the style your looking for. If your looking for something really cute and only have pastel colors - its probably a good idea to look through an potential artist's gallery and see if they can or cannot. (This normally isn't something in the T.O.S. but might be good general knowledge to a newer commissioner)

This is something I really need to stress - I love seeing my OC's in a bunch of different styles - but I think there is a round hole in a square peg if an artists style doesn't mesh with the commission type your asking for. 

My third point is less important - but I like artists who have public to-do lists. At this point I have probably well over 100 commissions under my belt - and I have had 2 cut and runs and 1 I highly question will ever complete it. In each scenario I got in trouble because of them not having public to-do lists. 

If you want to know what I consider a cut and runs - unresponsive to notes - no contact within the past 6-12 months - or flat out deactivating their account.  

My forth one is hands down - art takes time.
You kind of dance around this with the idea of deadlines.
I normally don't deal with any artists that have deadlines most promise about a month or two in wait times. So if the TOS says there is a bit of a wait - just please be patient. Artists are humans with human problems - and pressuring them and bothering them just stresses them out. So give art some time and breathing room and don't note back to back. (Maybe I am just stressing how important this point is!)

Fifth - (sorry this is so long!)- The benefits of having references
Have references of some kind - visual references are almost always a must. Even something scribbled down - or searched on the internet - a mood board is so helpful. Most will not even take written references - and if they do they normally up charge for the walls of text and the fact that most people think of something and then when describing it doesn't often line up with how an artist draws something - so there is normally a lot of redesign in having or doing heavy design work. 

Anyway - sorry for the rant - I do think this is a really good beginners journal to commissioning - very nice work! (I wish I had found this when I had first started commissioning work!)   
nominee84's avatar
Thank you for your feedback! c:
(I think this is the longest comment I've ever received haha xD)

Most of what you mentioned will be in my next article!
But to answer you:

1. Communication: in my experience, artists who don't speak English too well and/or use translator often display this info and have a detailed commission form to fill out. It's the artist's responsibility to let potential clients know that they can't understand too complicated words/sentences, slang words etc.
So what happened to you wasn't your fault at all and you shouldn't feel bad about it!

2. Style: I agree, and like I wrote in my article, clients should always check the artist's gallery and the commission journal to see what they can do and what they actually accept to do ;D

3. To-do lists: When an artist has a ton of orders and therefore it takes months to finish them, it's advisable to have a public to-do list. If they don't have a public link to the list (or they don't have a list at all), you can always ask the artist how long it'd take to finish an order, before ordering anything. c:

4. Deadline: Yep, like I mentioned here, let's not stress the artist out with too many notes xD
But in this article I meant agreed deadline! When the client wants an illustration for an exact date, e.g. for their book, and they too have a deadline for publishing. So while yes, art takes time, if the artist agrees on a fixed date, they will have to deliver.
I'll talk about this and managing other orders with no fixed deadline in my next article~

5. References: Yep, I wrote about the visual references in this article too! But I don't remember if I've ever heard of somebody charging extra for too much text before, though! Interesting :U

It's all right xD
Thank you, glad you liked the journal! ^u^