I'm not an artist and I'm here to tell you how to do your job.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Art Commissions!
This guide is for beginners. Remember, the most valuable source of knowledge is Experience.
Just go out there and do it!
Still, this guide should spare you and the people you work with a lot of misery.
1: Have a Paypal
This is the most fundamental step you need to take. This will seem almost painfully obvious to most of you (thank the gods) and the people who will be commissioning you probably won't even know what else there could be. Now, a professional bigshot company might pay you directly into your bank account, but until you have the reputation to get hired by such a company, you'll be working your way up the ladder with PayPal.
Why do I feel the need to mention this? From time to time, I'll see people who ask for DeviantArt points for their art. Now, these points may have value to artists, but if someone is commissioning you to do art for them, they're probably not artists themselves; ergo, they don't give two shits about DeviantArt and their points.
A lot of artists ask for the money to be "gifted", to save fees. This is, essentially, tax evasion.
I'm not going to tell you not to do it - but I am going to tell you that it is a risk, and if you do it it's on your head.
You are selling a product, so you have to pay sales tax.
If you want to be sales tax compliant, make sure to ask the person hiring you to send the money as payment.
2: Your price is not a factor of your skills
Remember that as an artist taking commissions, you are a freelancer. As a freelancer, your price is not a factor of your skills, it's a factor of how much the other is willing to pay you. Fret not, your skills are a part of that. But so is their budget, your attitude, how fast you work, your reputation, how much the next artist is asking (spoiler: it's less than what you're asking), how much art they're asking for (the more they need, the cheaper they'll look for), even their mood today.
Some people will tell you that your price should be a measure of your countries' average wages. Ethically, this is just, but unfortunately, it's ultimately meaningless. You are not on a salary, you are an independent freelancer. Your market has its own rules, its own measures. The only money you get is the money they give you.
Don't get me wrong though. It's you who puts the price tag on your art. Never underprice yourself. However, it's important to understand that you can't measure your price by how good you are, and you can't measure how good you are by your price. Set a price you're willing to work for. If nobody will hire you at that price, consider lowering it. If you get flushed with offers, consider raising it in the future. Of course, you should never change your prices after an offer has been made. ("You want to hire me? Great! I guess I'm worth more. I decided I want more money for it then." People will suddenly realize they don't want to hire you after all, or ever again.) You can update your prices for new offers as frequently as you like, however, as long as you keep track of what your prices were for each commission you're in the process of doing.
Never ask them to make you a price offer. It doesn't look professional, and most importantly, what they want is to pay you as little as humanly possible. You don't want to be paid as little as humanly possible.
Most importantly though, never work at a price you're not comfortable with.
I would encourage you to look at your country's minumum wage as a starting point. You can work your way up the ladder from there, but you deserve at least that much when you're investing your own time for someone else. If you live in a country with low minumum wages, consider charging more for you work. Remember that while your country's wages may be low, your market is a global one and that means your market's earnings will average much higher.
3: Get the scope of the project
It's very important to know the scope of what your being asked to do before you begin. Halfway through their project, the person commissioning you might have a majestic "eureka" moment and decide it would be so cool to have these 5 extra CG's and an extra costume set for the main character. They've checked their budget for the extra money, and are already telling you of your new workload. If you feel up for the task - no harm, no foul - you'll earn some extra cash. But you might not be up for it. You might be swamped with work. You might have relationship problems. Remember that you don't owe them anything more than what was agreed to, and that's why it's important to agree to something.
Ask them for a list of CG's, Backgrounds, Sprites, whatever it is they're asking for. They might not realize how important this is for you, so if they don't give you a list out of their own accord, ask. If you really must, settle for an estimate, but never start a commission unless they're willing to give you the scope. Any expanded workload should be per mutual agreement.
4: Get the details - ALL of them
They'll tell you what they want you to do, no doubt. Unfortunately, for both of you, it's almost impossible for them to accurately tell you what they see in their mind. They might give you the general idea, though. Don't just "do your best" with that, or fill in the details for yourself.
In other words, don't use creative freedom unless they explicitly give it to you. They might well mean to give you the freedom, but if they don't mention it, you have no way of knowing if they're the kind of person who trusts your skills as an artist, or the kind of person who will give you a vague assignment and then berate you for all the details he never even mentioned. You don't want to take that risk.
If something's not clear, ask further before you begin - you'll save yourself a lot of trouble, and they'll have a better chance at getting what they envisioned. Everybody wins. If they go out of their way to tell you the details don't matter and your free to do as you see fit? Then they probably mean it.
Just don't ever take liberties with the things they do mention. If they're paying you for a girl with green hair, don't give her red hair and tell them it's better that way.
5: ALWAYS watermark your work
You do not want to do all that work only to have them run off with it without paying. You don't need a fancy logo to paste at half-transparency over it; Just scribble annotations across the work, and only give them the unaltered work when you get your payment. This may seem like it would bother people, but as long as it's not enough to prevent them from seeing if it's what they want, they shouldn't care. At least, as long as they're planning to pay you.
An excellent example of this I've seen in Reikun, who I've been commissioning for one of my projects:
As you can see, it's not preventing me from judging its quality while still making sure I can't really use it until I've paid. Also note how even the WIP has been annotated. It doesn't hurt anyone to be careful.
6: Be prepared to get told how to do your job
A lot of people will hire you and start telling you how to do art. You probably already know how to do art, but they don't care about that. The way they see it, they know best and with their supreme guidance they will lead you into delivering the kind of quality they're paying you for. And if they are paying you, that does grant them a certain kind of leniency. That's why you need to be mentally prepared to listen to things you might not like to hear.
Be careful, they might know at least something of what they're talking about. If they have worked with a lot of artists in the past, they might have picked up some knowledge of art along the way. They might happen to have some history in art, you don't know them. If that happens, have a drink on the house, because that'll happen maybe once or twice in your life. And I say that because I'm an optimist. More like than not, they have no clue what they're talking about.
You may try to repsectfully disagree with what they tell you (try reminding them that they hired you for the portfolio you've shown them), but if they don't take that, arguing isn't going to help. Just try to bite the bullet and finish the job to their ridiculous requirements (unless it goes against your terms), and be pickier about who you work with in the future.
7: If they tell you to fuck off, gracefully acceptLateWhiteRabbit wrote:Manage your clients, don't let them manage you.
If they're being rude and disrespectful to you, don't apologize for whatever they're accusing you of (justified or otherwise), don't quietly keep at it until the work is over, don't try to reason with them, just walk away.
To the person hiring you, you may be a Pretty Picture Vending Machine, but to you, you're a human being with feelings.
Nobody in the business worth their salt is going to give you bad rep for ditching someone who doesn't know respect.
If they have hurt your feelings unintentionally, let them know and maybe give them a second chance, but otherwise? It's better for everybody if you just walked away.
Giving disrespectful people the business they're looking doesn't help anybody, and there are plenty of friendlier people who are worthier of your art.
8: Communication is paramount
Keep in touch on a regular basis, I can't stress this enough. The person who's hiring you only knows you from your correspondence. They don't know you in real life, and they can't see how hard you work. This last part is very important - how much you communicate shows how dedicated you are, not the results you deliver;
If you sit on your lazy ass all week and make some time free for art on Sunday, but only if you're not too tired after band practice... And, you communicate with the person who hired you every day? You'll still become known as the most hardworking artist on all of Lemma Soft. Because that's what they see: Someone who is involved with the job every day of the week.
Of course, don't do that. You don't need to update on a daily basis if you don't get work done every day and the aforementioned trick will only last for so long before people get wise. But the opposite is true: If you work hard every day, but you don't communicate, you will not come across as hard working.
Not only that, but communication also helps forge a better business relationship. Getting to know each other on a more personal level helps build trust, and the person commissioning you will grant you a lot more leniency. Everybody loves leniency, but in a freelance market it's generally the artist who draws the short straw on that matter. With communication and trust, you have the power to change that.
9: Actions vs. Attitude
A lot of people mistake acting professional for being professional. Always be sure take the actions you need to take to protect your business and ensure a smooth an efficient working relationship. That's being professional.
However, don't go out of your way to act professional. Forget all that business linguo and keeping a stiff upper lip. Having a friendly attitude doesn't make you unprofessional. People will choose attitude over actions any day: Between two people, where one has got the most professional portfolio and business standards, but only the other is wearing a smile on their face, the second person will get chosen every time.
10: If you don't get hired, don't complain.
They are recruiting, you make an offer, they decline, that's it. Nothing you say or do is going to change that. If they were willing to change their mind, they would have made you a counteroffer. There's really not much more to be said about this. Just don't do it.
11: Always get an advance payment.
A trustworthy commissioner should offer you one, but if they don't that doesn't mean they're not trustworthy. They may be new to this, or have forgotten. Regardless, always ask for one.
This isn't even to protect your payment; if you keep to point #5 it'll protect you better than any advance payment scheme ever will (although nothing is perfect) but here's what it will do: It will prove to you that they mean business, and actually have the money. It will get payment information sorted out early, meaning any problems will appear before it's too late. It will motivate you.
And it's just an all-around sound business practice for both parties.
12: Deliver promptly
As I mentioned, communication can go a long way to give you leniency with your speed. Still, try not to work too slowly. You are being paid for it, and unless your band practice is somehow gonna earn you more money, they'll just have to do without their guitarist this week because you've got work to do.
However, don't stress yourself. Never let anyone force you to work at a speed you're not comfortable with. If you work yourself to death, the person who hired you doesn't win either. And you're probably not getting paid, to boot. Band practice may not, but there are some things in your life that should take priority, relationships, family problems, your education... That's why...
13: Have clear standards
Before you begin, communicate your terms. If you're lenient about something, so be it, but if you're not, then you should refuse to work with someone who is not willing to deal with one of your rules. Make sure you know them yourself. Take some time to think about the following items:
- When do I want to get paid? (After each piece, after a set, after everything, on a monthly basis?)
- What am I willing to draw? (Decide on what's too sensitive for you, and clearly tell people what you won't do.)
- How fast will I work? (Make it clear if you have a busy life.)
- How lenient am I about the scope of the workload? (Do I need an exact number or will estimates do?)
- How many revisions will I allow during the process? (Don't give them too many - some people are never satisfied.)
- Will I allow them to make edits to my work after it's done? (If so, how much?)
- What kind of licence will I give them to use my art? (Can they sell the game? Can they sell posters on the side?)
- How do I wish to be credited? (Under my real name? My username?
It's perfectly okay to refuse a commission that doesn't abide by your terms or even if it just makes you uncomfortable.pineapplepocky wrote: YOU CAN SAY NO.
14: Have a contract
This may be intimidating for some, but essentially, all a contract is is your answers to the last point put into fancy words. A lot of people will tell you that a contract is to protect you and the buyer. This is a very, very optimistic view. The long arm of the law has its limits; Unless you live very close to the person hiring you, or you have an international syndicate of lawyers at your disposal, a contract won't protect you.
You should still have one, and there are plenty of reasons other than law for it. A good working relationship isn't forged by legal mumbo-jumbo, it's forged by mutual trust and understanding. The trust will have to grow over time, but having a sheet of paper that clearly states all the terms will help with the understanding.
A professional company may offer you one of their contracts. Don't just blindly accept - take out your own contract and compare the two. In a contract, what is not mentioned is often far more important than what is mentioned. That's why having your own contract may remind you of terms they've left conveniently unmentioned.
If they don't offer you a contract, show them yours. They don't have to sign it, (although better if they do. Remember, if they're not hobbyists and have an official business, they need it) as I mentioned earlier, unless there's a big business involved neither of you has the actual legal reach to invoke it. Still, ask them to read it and accept in writing. It'll also help them see if there's a point they disagree on, and negotiate before it's too late.
15: Your threadLateWhiteRabbit wrote:You might not be able to "lawyer up", but trust me, having an email to forward to the client when they break the contract showing them where they agreed to the contract is a powerful thing in resolving disputes. I've had clients swear up and down that they didn't agree to something, then instantly drop the matter or apologize when I produce the email where they did. Half the time, they are NOT trying to screw you. The human mind is a fickle thing, and they truly do NOT remember making an agreement on an issue with you. And then there are the clients that don't really read the agreement to begin with.
I usually handle such things in the most diplomatic way possible:
"Hi, Mr. John Doe. I see you are requesting some changes. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm a little confused. On the contract you agreed to on [date] you approved [this]. Has something changed or come up since then? I just what to make sure we are on the same page, since I'm still working from the original design agreement. Let me know so I can get this worked out for you."
At that point, it is usually fairly easy to get someone to admit they changed their mind after the fact. The important thing is you are not acting accusatory towards them, and leaving open the possibility of a mistake or change of heart. This also opens up making an official amendment to the agreement or even charging an additional fee or amount.
When you're not going to people who are recruiting, your thread is where you'll get your jobs from. Here are a few pointers to remember:
- People will not click your link. Post some images into the thread - if they like those, then they'll visit your DeviantArt.
- Don't be too concise. You don't have to post your whole contract in the thread, but do post the elements that are important to you.
- Have a complete price list. Don't ask people to pm you for prices; you're asking them to put an effort when you want to get hired. Not to mention, if you're not willing to publicly post your prices, people will assume they're high.
- Post references. If you've done commissions before, post them. Around here, it isn't bad not to have any, but having them is a plus.
- Mind your grammar and spelling. If you're not willing to spellcheck your post, how much effort are you going to put into the actual job?
16: Have fun
Some people would have you believe that misery is a core aspect of working life, and that if you enjoy your work, you're doing it wrong. Don't listen to these people - try to have fun in whatever you do. If you're not having fun, be pickier about who your work with; try to do more commissions for people you enjoy working with, or just do something else entirely.
Art is not something you get into for the great financial prospects of it, so it's safe to assume you're here because you love art. If doing commissions is taking the enjoyment out of your art, better to find somewhere else to earn money and keep it for your free time.
That should just about everything you need to know about starting art commissions in the indie world and maybe working your way up to pro-level. As you get better, you'll have to start learning about Income Taxes - it's different for every country, so I can't teach you about that. You'll have to do your own research at some point.
Freelance work in the indie sector can be an incredibly fun & rewarding activity. I hope I've been able to help you achieve that.