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
By this I mean, don't go to a cutsie chibi artist and ask them to do a scary zombie. 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. DON'T ASK AN ARTIST TO MIMIC SOMEONE ELSE'S STYLE
If you want a style of a certain artist, go to that artist! If they are more expensive than you want to pay, then don't get it or save up. There are some exceptions to this, but overall it's really strange to basically say to an artist "Hey I don't feel like paying/can't buy from this other artist because of ____ but I want you to give me their style/quality of work".
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 they have examples of course, then commission away!)
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.
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.
PRIVATE COMMISSIONS VS. COMMERCIAL COMMISSIONS.
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, gifts, etc), 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.
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.
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.
Asking for refunds -
- 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 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
If it's after the 45 day grace period, 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.