Now that Gnome Angela has convinced you of the merits of getting a character commission, let me give you guys a little look-see behind the curtain.Â This is a partnership, after all, no matter how fleeting, and understanding builds bridges. The better you and your artist communicate, the more likely you’ll have a delightful experience on both ends.
There’s a number of things that you can do as a client that will help facilitate a good working relationship. Be polite in your emails, be it inquiring whether an artist is currently taking commissions or giving feedback on a sketch. Please don’t offer us exposure instead of money–if we know what we’re doing, we’ll say no, and if we don’t, we probably don’t know what we’re doing. Please, please–no, really, I cannot emphasize this enough–please pick an artist whose style matches what you envision for your character. There is little more frustrating than booking a client, only to find that what they want is totally out of your wheelhouse, and the finished product is unlikely to be something either you or the client is happy with.
Once you’ve picked someone and they are interested, it’s time to talk details. Prices should be communicated to you clearly and up-front so there isn’t any confusion.Â Unless you are going for a very large piece, like a custom oil painting, I don’t suggest agreeing to pay an artist by the hour. Not because I think that they might cheat you, but because it’s much harder for you or the artist to gauge what your final total will be. Price range will vary wildly. Ethical commissioners should think twice about hiring someone doing complicated portraits for ten bucks–it’s kind of like shopping at Walmart. You get something for cheap, but it has deleterious effects on the rest of the economy, your mom-and-pop places start going out of business, etc. There are exceptions, especially flash or charity sales. A budget conscious commissioner can keep their eyes open for these opportunities. To give you a general idea, I would start at 35$ at the low end, and make your way up from there. A full-body, color portrait with minimal background will be, on average, around 75-125$– though again, I stress these prices vary enormously. I know artists who do brilliant work, and who charge commensurate rates, starting at 250$+. The more you pay, the more likely it is you will get exactly what you want.
How pay is handled will be different from artist to artist, as well. Almost everyone you commission online will use something like PayPal, and keeping cash handy for con sketches is a good plan. Personally, I ask for a 50% down payment on most commissions. Some artists will ask for the total amount upfront, some won’t ask until the end.
That being said, once you’ve locked us down, it’s our responsibility to make sure you’re happy with the final product. A good artist will be prompt and communicative, responding to your emails within a day or two at the latest . . . though we all fall down sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with a polite check in if you haven’t heard anything back after a few days. Once the actual drawing gets started, expect some radio silence until we have something to show you.
As for how long that will be, it is imperative that you and the artist are on the same page in terms of timelines. Lots of artists offer commissions with the understanding that they will get to it when they get to it. It is completely fine if you would like something done within a specific time frame, just make sure you talk about it with your artist before handing over money. And when I say talk, I mean *be clear*. If you tell us “hey, whenever is fine”, we could very well take that to mean “I’m okay waiting six months”, while you actually expect a turnaround of a couple weeks. I like to set flexible deadlines with my commissioners, giving them general estimates as to how long I think things will take and then emailing if (when) those dates need to be bumped around some.
In terms of descriptions, Angela covered a lot of the bases. I cannot recommend enough having a ‘casting’ for your character, a celebrity or model or athlete or *someone* that you can send along as a reference. This is especially true if you have a hard time envisioning specifics about your character’s face. An artist is very unlikely to copy your reference directly, but it can give them a really good gist of your character’s design.
If you don’t have a casting, or as a supplement, I suggest taking a few minutes to pick 2-3 distinctive features for your character. These let an artist know what you consider most important, and they’ll be much more likely to capture something closer to what is in your head. There are lots of things that can work as a distinctive feature! Full lips, flat nose, cauliflower ear, gap in the front teeth, long lashes, scar over the right eye, missing limb, high cheekbones . . . the possibilities are endless. It helps if the features are things that will actually show up in the drawing. If I am doing a head-and-shoulders bust, it’s nice to know the character has a peg leg, buuutttt not so much going to be relevant.
Angela is also spot on when it comes to giving us a little bit of info about your character. Keyword: little. Keep your “order sheet” around a page, at most. Too much and you risk details being lost or left out. Personality totally informs what I draw, from expression to pose to costume to background. Plus, we wouldn’t do this if we didn’t love the crazy variety of cool stories you guys have. Â It’s one of the few times you’ll have someone say “please, tell me about your character” and mean it.
I’ll leave you guys with a look at my process, once a commission is a go. Upon receiving a down payment, I’ll begin the sketch phase. I do *really* loose, messy sketches, but don’t be fooled–a significant amount of time is poured into pre-sketch prep. Anatomy studies, costume design, thumbnails, reference hunting . . . this is the invisible work that helps us do what we do and do it well. The last commission I finished, I ended up doing over twenty pose studies, hunting for just the right one.
Once I’ve got the sketch, I’ll send it to you and ask if you have any revisions or changes.
I need to take a moment to emphasize something: Please, for the love of all that is Gnomey, if you are unhappy with something *tell me*. I mean, be courteous, but as long as you do that, I can promise you this: you will not hurt my feelings, you will not offend or insult me, I will not roll my eyes and think less of you. One or two rounds of revisions is par for the course. You don’t *have* to use these, mind you, but I will never begrudge somebody asking for some alterations. I want you to be happy with what you’ve paid for. (Con sketches tend to work a little differently, being a more spur-of-the moment deal).
Once we have the sketch to your liking, I’ll move things into the final art phase and promptly drop off the face of the world. Unless I have a specific question, I am deep in the art mines, and shall not emerge blinking into the daylight until I have your art in hand. I’ll email you a small image, and provided you are happy with that, send an invoice for the final payment. Once them monies is in my virtual hands, you will receive a final email with the high-resolution file (if a digital piece), or I will mail you the original.
Er, well, at some point. I will fully admit that last part takes me forever. It involves leaving my house, guys. *Leaving* my *house*.
That’s all I can think of. Do you have any questions about how the process works, or more about the actual artmaking?
This was a GREAT article. I especially appreciate all the detail about the process and the pricing. (Plus you do great work! But you already knew that).
I do a lot of drawing and painting (currently working on a children’s book for a friend of mine). Never thought about moving in this direction, but you never know.
Thanks so much and hope you get a few commissions thanks to this article.
Thanks for the follow up article! I love hearing your perspective on the whole process. I know I sit there anxiously waiting, bouncing like a five year old on Christmas. 🙂