Since I’ve seen a lot of artists out there who are new to the commissions process, here are a few things I’ve learned that might help along the way:
1. Don’t be afraid of pricing yourself fairly. If you’ve never sold before, it’s all right to test the waters with a lower introductory pricing system, but try not to go below minimum wage. How long does it take you to finish a piece? How much effort is being put into the artwork? For example, minimum wage in California is $8.00/hr. If it typically takes you two hours to draw a sketch, price it accordingly. Don’t worry about what other artists are doing— give yourself the credit that your artwork is worth more than the average part-time job workload.
2. Don’t take on too many commissions at once. Ten spots may sound like an easy task, but when you finish one commission a week, you’re making your clients wait a long time (not that this is necessarily bad, but money comes and goes, and commissions are sometimes impulse buys). Keep in mind that real life gets in the way. Try doing four or five, and then open up for more. If you get a bunch of “easy” commissions (like sketches or flat-colors), I’d suggest knocking those out of the way first, or while you work on “harder”/more complicated commissions. Pace yourself!
3. Communicate with your buyers! I know it’s hard. I know it can be scary. But if people have a rough estimate of when they’ll receive their commission, they’ll feel a lot better about it. Show them rough drafts if you can. It’ll save you from future headaches if they spot something they don’t like before you finish lining/coloring. I’m admittedly a perpetrator of “promising”— too many “I’ll get to it soon!”s starts to sound suspicious. Because of this, I tend to fall back on:
4. Asking for payment AFTER starting a commission**. It’s a lot like selling Girl Scout cookies. The customer doesn’t pay until they see a low-res copy. Should anything happen that keeps you from finishing (or starting in the first place), nothing will be held against you. If you want assurance that your customer will pay, charge half price beforehand and the rest when you send them the low-res copy. Don’t send the final full-sized piece until you receive payment in full.
**Unless you’re doing “professional” commissions that are paying industry standard. If you are doing work for a company or a representative of a company, ask them how they’d like to organize payments. More often than not, you’ll be required to provide an invoice with logged hours.
5. If your customer wants a print-size, make sure you set your DPI high enough. I’m a traditional liner, so I have to make sure my scans are higher than 300dpi. Even then, I often end up sending files that are HUGE to compensate for the print size. Try setting your DPI anywhere between 300-600, and do your best to keep the canvas at a “normal” print ratio (8x10, 9x12, 11x17, etc..).
6. If your commission is digital only, embed your file with metadata. This is pretty important! You can usually change the file properties to include copyright, author, date, and other useful information. This way, your name will be attached to the file information.
Good luck! Commissions can be fun once you knock the stressful parts out of the way. Try out new things and remember to simply be honest with your buyers. They want to help you out, after all.