A list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for art commissions.

I made a list with suggestions based on my own experience selling commissions, my artist friends experience and also on what I could read on artists forums and groups online. 

I’m sure it’s not completed and if you find anything important missing please write it in the comments below.

If you were looking for an article about how to establish commissions’ prices please check that article first.

DOs

  • Get paid upfront. This is the ABC of freelancing. Don’t get scared and don’t feel insecure about this. Everyone gets paid upfront, it’s just a standard thing to ask for. If someone ask you to pay you after the work is done (no matter what excuse they have) just say no. They’ll do fine. You don’t go to a bakery with an empty poket and ask for bread promising to come back with the money the day after. If you’re really uncomfortabe with the idea or if your commissions are particularly expensive, what you can do is to establish a payment in multiple times with an advance payment that shall never be under 30% (ideally 50%) of the total price. You can then decide the details of this type of agreement with the client (more on this in the ‘up to you’ section of this list).
  • If a customer asks you to pay in a way that it’s impractical, not safe or expensive for you, just say no. You’ll be fine without them, believe me.
  • Set the delivery date by taking into consideration how many hours completing the task it’s gonna take you and triple that amount. You will most likey need that extra time.
  • Ask if the client has a preferred pallette/outfit/position for the character and request for samples (pictures, drawings, referrals of any sort). It happened to me that a customer asked for a background without specifying the color they wanted and then they request to change it.
  • Use high res/large files, minimum 300 DPI. The client might want to get your work printed.
  • Plan ahead the cost for adding characters to your offers. Some people are definitely gonna ask. In my case for exemple is +$5 for half figure and +$10 for full figure.
  • When you promote your commissions showcase as many different styles, poses, options as you can. If your former customers allow you to do so, include the initial reference (the picture on which the drawing is based on). It will help your perspective customers to figure out what they will get and it will avoid you a ton of problems later on. Also specify important details like sketch vs full line art/color vs black and white/half vs full figure/themes accepted vs restricted themes (if you have any).
  • Include pets portraits in your offer.
  • Make a checklist of all the information that your client needs about your work and make sure that you checked each case with each one of them. If you wanna see mine it’s a little bit lower in this article. You can also make a template with all the basic information and keep it in an e-mail or a note on your phone but just remember to customize it for each client.
  • When you fix your prices keep in mind not only the amount of time and resources that you are going to employ to produce the art, but also the fixed costs, the transaction fees that the service you use generates (bank, Paypal, eshop platform and other). For exemple Paypal has a fee for all transactions outside the US (expressed as a percentage of the transaction + a fixed amount) and also a conversion fee if you need to change currency. 
    If you use their business service (that gives your customers a wider amount of payment options) there will also a transaction fee for using this service.  All these costs should be taken into account when calculating the final price, but it can be really hard to calculate the total amount of the fees. To help you with this a wrote a separate article on how to calculate commissions prices. Same goes if you’re selling an item on a shop (see ‘how to sell your comics merchandise‘) and you take into account all the production, bank, postage and tax expenses in order to establish your final price.
  • Wheter you opted for a multiple payment or a full payment upfront, establish how much money you will keep if the clients decide to cancel their orders once the job is done and inform them about this in advance. It could be 30 to 50% up to 100% of the commission’s price. It’s really up to you.
  • Add extra cost for extra speed. If your customer asks for a super quick delivery he’ll have to accept an additional cost.

DON’Ts

Some stuff you really REALLY have to avoid at all costs. Believe me. Been there, done that. It wasn’t ok.

  • Accept compromises about the payments. I can’t stress this enough. ESPECIALLY for small amounts of money ($5 to $10): they have be paid entirely upfront. FULL STOP.
  • Start working if you’re not sure that the reference material will be enough to complete the work. Always ask the client as many references as you need.
  • Accept a customer if you don’t ‘feel it’. If your customer runs a shady account online or shares content you don’t agree with don’t feel obliged to accept. Better say no before starting than changing your mind at the last minute… *huge sigh*.
  • Accept tweaks that are overcomplicated and that you know already will end up explosing the project’s budget (money OR time). If what they ask goes beyond what originally negotiated, just feel free to say no or to charge more for the changes.
  • Forget to sign your work. I do it all the time -_-
  • Get nervous if a client is not happy. Try to find a solution that accomodates their needs without screwing you over. If you can’t, just be firm and repeat the terms you agreed on(show them proof, like the emails you exchanged or what’s written in your promo material) and that you are sorry but you can’t do much more than what was established upfront.

In between (up to you).

These conditions depend entirely on the type of work you do and they can or cannot apply according to your style, experience and overall work ethic.

  • Multiple payments vs a single payment upfront. If the commission that the client has requested is particularly complicated it will most likely require a lot of time to make and it will be very expensive. For these two reasons (time and money involved) it’s recommended to fix a couple of milestones and proceed with multiple payments. An example might be: a piece cost $200 and it takes a week to finish. The customer will pay 30 to 50% in advance. Once the preliminary sketch it’s completed, the artist shows it to the customer that has to approve or request modifications. Once the sketch is approved the customer completes the payment. This proceeding is very common for big commissions (illustrations with complicated patterns/color schemes/backgrounds, traditional illustrations and comic pages) and the terms are usually a result of a negotiation with the client. It’s very important for this type of work to negotiate also the amount of modificaitons the client is allowed to request once the work is finished. Some artists use this approach also for simplier commissions (up to $50): it can be time consuming but at least the customer satisfaction is guaranteed.
  • Change your prices. You can move prices up and down and create special offers every now and then, as you would do with an item’ sale. This might boost sales at a given time (for exemple an xmas or a Halloween special offer). Don’t be afraid to bring the prices up again when the special offer has expired, just make very clear that it was a seasonal thing. Also, by gaining experience your arti will most likely improve so adjusting your prices consequently it’s just fair.
  • Change your commissions. If a product doesn’t work, just replace it.
  • Send and invoice when the work is done. This, in theory, it’s true for everybody (you’ll need a piece of paper showing from where you got the money in the first place for legal reasons) but if you have like 2 micropayments of $5 in a year, well… Let’s say you are justified. But if we are talking about a regular income you should 100% make invoices and send them. Paypal has an inbuilt feature in their business profile. If you don’t want to invest in a professional software you can download an Excel template from the web and just update it with your coordinates but you’ll need to collect the customer’s ones each and every time (full name and address).
  • Use third party platforms to sell commissions. Some platforms like Etsy, Bigcartel & co. allow you to sell commissions by creating a virtual item. If you have a shop there it might be interesting to add commissions to your catalogue, as it might drive sales. Watch out the fees though, because the platform will take its share on each transaction (or in alternative you will have to pay a fixed price every month in order to use the platform).
  • Set in advance the number of modifications that the client can request after the delivery and have it written somewhere (in a contract or in your email conversation) in order to be able to prove it later on.
  • Keep commissions open all the time/ Open commissions from time to time/Make available only a few ‘slots’ (aka orders) at a time. This is entirely up to you, to your availability and to your marketing strategy. Just make sure that the status of your commissions (open/closed/limited) is clearly stated on your social media in order to avoid questions about it.

My checklist

Here is my personal checklist. It’s what applies to my art style, workflow, prices and experience so please don’t take it as if it was the Bible. Each artist is different and you have to make your own.

  • payment upfront and only via paypal;
  • my delay: 2 days, 4 if the commission is received during the weekend;
  • if they want an exact pose or if they prefer to send me a lot of pictures in order for me to improvise a scene;
  • send the picture to my email, not to my phone (this way I’ll already have the address for the file delivery);
  • how much extra characters cost (if they ask);
  • if you can use their pic/commission for your advertising;
  • inform them that the copyright is only for personal use, no commercial one (unless I’m selling a commission for commercial use, but in that case the terms will be established in a separate contract);
  • I tell them the dimensions of the file and that I don’t do prints.

Conclusions

Learning about commissions has been an eye opening experience for me as an artist. 

99% of the creators tend to understimate not only their work, but even other artists’ one. I have seen comments like ‘are you crazy to charge that price??’ SO MANY TIMES that I can’t recall them all.

Don’t give in.

Judging how much your art is worth will be a combination of what do you think your art is worthy and what the market (your clients) think.

When in doubt, start with a higher prices. If the public don’t bite, lower it a bit, until you find the perfect balance.

Stay committed, be always kind and open minded with your precious customers, try to make them happy but never at the cost of making yourself unhappy.

Ready? GO!

RESOURCES

A terms and conditions template for commissions provided by Crafty Marten. You can read his comic here.

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