UPDATE: I want to share this link with you all so that you may understand better the types of clients who are out there, and why it's so important to have ToS's and contracts and know when to just say...
This is only a GUIDE to help you conduct yourself professionally as an artist while offering your skills for sale (commissions). The information in this journal comes from my own experience with commissions over the years, and as such much of it will be personal opinion.
Although pricing your work may seem like the most important part of offering commissions, how you conduct yourself is just as - and sometimes more - important than pricing. Although there may not be 'right and wrong', there are good and bad ways of doing business. Much of what you find here will be personal opinion based on my experiences over the years, however I know that much of it will be a shared practice for many artists.
Commission Information and ToS
If you are ready to start offering commissions, the first thing you'll need is to have your information readily available to your clients. This includes your pricing, art examples, and ToS (Terms of Service).
I highly recommend creating a web page, deviation and/or journal that clearly outlines your prices with relevant examples. If clients don't have easy access to this information there is a good chance they will not bother asking for it, and you will lose possible commissions.
The way you display this information is up to you, since it depends on how many types of commissions you plan on offering. I suggest only offering commissions that you are comfortable with.
Use VISUAL examples - don't use links! It's best to keep all of the prices and examples on the same page. Don't make the client have to navigate away from the pricing page to see the examples. The more work a client has to do, the less likely they are to really look through everything. In addition, having all examples visually on the same page allows them to easier find exactly what they're looking for.
Here are some commission info sheets that are easy to read, with good examples and clear information.
The first three examples are 'flat rate' sheets (the most common setup) and the last is a mixed 'flat-rate/hourly' setup.
By marking down something as flat-rate you are projecting ahead of time how long it takes you to do a certain piece. This may also mean that sometimes you will have to work on a commission longer than expected in order to meet the quality of your example (we'll come back to this).
Hourly commission sheets are only recommended for those that have a good handle on their time while working a commission. This is the method that works well for me, but I would not recommend it for beginners.
Overall there is not a lot of difference between the two styles of sheets shown, as both have prices based on an hourly rate.
Be sure to state what type of currency you are using. It will be beneficial to state several currencies for commissioners you know you will do a lot of work for (see 3rd example)
Have a Terms of Service
A ToS doesn't have to be lengthy, but enough to cover the basics of how you conduct your commissions. For any potential commissioners, a ToS will help show that you are responsible and you cover your bases. A ToS offers answers to questions the commissioner may have ahead of time, and is also to help protect you from commissions that run-amuk (for example, the client is asking to edit the image 20 times, wanting to start over, etc).
This should cover things like:
What you will and won't draw
Process and edits
Payments and refunds
Copyrights and usage
What the commissioner will get
Other important information pertaining to your commissions
You can include the ToS along with your pricing information (see the first example above) or you can link to it elsewhere. Having the information on a separate page is good for linking to people outside of DA.
As an example, here is my current ToS for digital work - LINK
They're a bit longer than most, but much of it was added as new experiences with commissions happened. As you work commissions you will likely need to edit your ToS as you go as well.
When to have a Contract
A contract sounds like something you should only have when you're doing art for a great big company for official commercial business, right? Wrong! Technically it would be safest to have a contract for every single one of your commissions, because all commissions involve property and copyright.
A contract is the terms of the agreement between both the commissioner and the artist. It's there to not only protect the artist but also the commissioner. For a private commission (a commission for personal enjoyment) then you will probably be OK with just having the commissioner state that they agree to your ToS if they're from an art site such as this. To explain, most people that regularly come to sites like this and have an account are at least mostly understanding of how art works, because it's all over the place. But if someone asks you for private commission that is not a regular user of an art site and is not familiar with how artwork is done in general - make a contract every time.
If you are doing anything that involves publishing or use outside of the client's personal view (commercial in this case), then write out a contract that both you and the client agree upon. Again, grab this book for commercial commissions!
I'm giving this it's own little section because this is incredibly important! Not only should you have a clean pricing sheet and ToS, but it's important to keep close track of each commission.
Organize your files
Depending on how many commissions you are taking in, I suggest following a hierarchy somewhat like this:
- Folders for each year
- Folders for each month (if you have a lot)
- Each commission should get its own folder
- Within each commission folder, have your references and anything the client gives to you saved here. If it's a large commission, keep a text document that includes everything the commissioner asks for and if needed a list of their emails with time stamps so you can find them later. This way if a problem comes up it's much easier to find everything regarding that particular commission.
Keep track of the progress of each commission
There is always more to a commission that literally how far along you are with the drawing. There is communication, gathering references, emailing, edits, etc.
I personally use a spreadsheet but you can do this in whatever way works best for you.
In this spreadsheet include: - If you have received the references or instructions
- Any and all payments that have been paid
- Any special notes regarding the commission
- Due date, if any
- I also include the day communication began and the day the commission was completed
- If there is shipping for a traditional piece involved (payment, address, and also whether or not it's been shipped)
Basically include any information that will make it easier for you to track. It's MUCH easier to look at a spreadsheet with all the info for a commission and know exactly when it started, when it was paid, when you finished, especially if you're looking for this information say, 3 months later.
The way that you accept payments is completely up to you and whatever works best for you. Many people have access to Paypal and so it's a widely used money-transfer system. You may also consider money orders. Don't ask clients to send cash in the mail - if they don't put tracking on it and it gets lost, then it's a big mess to figure out.
Much of doing commissions is just thinking ahead - save yourself and your commissioners the most headache possible.
Keep close records of your monetary transactions
If you take more than one commission at a time it's extremely important to keep track of who has paid. This can be added to the sheet you are tracking the commission on (such as spreadsheet as mentioned earlier). Include if they paid, how much they paid, how they paid and when.
Always ask for payments up front
Many artists require the full payment up front before even starting a commission. Some will do half up front, and half upon completion of the commission.
I never recommend doing the commission before any payments are made. This allows the opportunity for your time to be wasted if the client decides they can't/don't want to pay for it. It means that you may be doing work you will not get paid for. This isn't to say that the client will simply refuse to pay, but they could decide they need the money for something else instead.
Extra payments for edits
In your ToS you may have a fee for extra edits, since these can amount to a lot of time this is acceptable. However, if you go over the amount of time for a commission, add extra details or things to it that the commissioner didn't ask for - never charge them for it. It should be self explanatory but you know...just in case.
Never give the client the full resolution/un-watermarked artwork or send the original art before all payments are made.
Dedication to the Work
As an artist offering commissions, you have a responsibility to the client. By accepting their money, in return you are expected to produce the artwork that is agreed upon. Don't damage your reputation by exhibiting poor business practice - it can be very hard to rebuild.
Hold yourself to the quality standard as given in your examples
If you use a specific example on your commission sheet, then produce at least the quality of work as the example. Never give a client something that is less than what you originally offered. If this means spending extra time on the commission then do it. More often than not I will put in a little extra time regardless (sometimes it's hard to finally say "and now I'm done" lol)
There will always be a give and take, but don't take away from the people supporting you.
Time and Work Load Management
Hold yourself accountable for time and due dates
Not to say that you have to have due dates for every commission you take, but they should always be done in a timely manner. The main thing to keep in mind is to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do the commission(s). It's better to have extra time than to find yourself overly stressed because you realize there is too much to do! It's better to start small, and for many artists they keep it small.
This is especially true for commercial work. If you are stepping into the realm of commercial work (logos, book covers, signs, etc) give yourself like 5 times the amount of time you think it'll take to actually do the commission. Here is a journal that is geared toward freelance work.
If you have a busy schedule that means commissions will be slower than usual, put it in the ToS or mention it up front so that your clients know about it before asking for the commission. If you don't have the time to do a commission, don't take it. It's very poor business practice to take someone's money and not produce what they paid for months and months after they've paid. Not only that, but it will be stressful for you too.
Things do happen! If something does happen that prevents you from completing a commission, get into contact with the commissioner and even refund if requested. It's likely they won't mind waiting, but at least make sure they are always up to date on the progress of commissions.
Even if nothing large happens that prevents you from completing commissions, always keep your commissioners updated and notify of any delays.
Many artists will keep a visible list somewhere that shows the progress of commissions. Usually something like stars, or a % can be used to show who's commission is being worked on. This will help prevent too many questions of 'when will my commission get worked on'.
Be up-front, honest and friendly with your commissioners
The more transparent you are, more likely the more understanding your clients will be.
Be willing to talk and communicate if they message you, but at the same time know that it's ok to be stern with a client if they are pushing at you too hard - you're a person too after all!
Patience goes a loooooooong way, but if a client is being considerably difficult you may consider canceling and refunding their commission (this is something else I have in my ToS - see how that works?).
BACK UP YOUR WORK
There are few things worse in this line of work than spending the hours working on a commission and then having the file get corrupted. Back up your work. As you work in the digital program of your choice, save in several different files as you go. Get an external hard drive and back up your newest files daily. By back up that means that you have a copy of each file in at least TWO places (like the computer hard drive and also an external hard drive).