So you’ve decided commissions are right for you! Here are some tips to help you along the way. Have some questions? Don’t be shy, your Top Web Comics login works on this blog. Just log in on the front page of TWC, and post your thoughts below. I’m here to help. I may not always have all the answers, but maybe someone else in our community will have some advice as well. You’ll never know until you post.
7. Share as many examples as you can.
There are customers who will just pay you for a commission if they know you are some form of artist. However, if you’re looking to turn this into an ongoing source of income, you’ll want to get as many examples out there as possible. Either share them on your own site in a gallery, on deviantART, or another image gallery site. This will give you somewhere to refer potential customers to.
If you’re at a convention, you may want to bring along numerous binders with both comic work and full page drawings. Especially if these are originals, you may want clear inserts to keep your art pristine as possible with many people leafing through it. Portfolios are good as well, but in general those can be cumbersome for convention goers to leaf through, especially in a crowded dealers room or artist alley. Sometimes, just the right drawing will spark inspiration in a potential customer and then they’ll inquire about commissions.
Of course, for those of you who are actual web comic artists, your work does speak for itself. Sure it’s good to have more to share with customers, but in general you usually can put up a notice that you’re taking commissions and you’ll be able to find some interest from among your fans. The best of course is when they actually want one of your characters, or more. Until you get quite a readership on the go, or even after that, it never hurts to have a gallery.
6. Be reasonable with your prices.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Feel free to set whatever prices you like and enjoy the skill you have achieved. Typical high end prices I’ve seen can range up to $20 per inked, black and white, character. While this can seem extreme especially when you’re starting out, if you are a professional with a huge following, enjoy it! Of course you may want to set your prices a bit lower if you just enjoy what you’re doing.
The main factor to look at here otherwise is time. Do your drawings take forever to put together? Then you’ll probably want to focus on professional prices as well. If you can sketch up commission art in no time, then consider what price range would fit best for your expecting income per hour. It’s a balance game of keeping your fans happy while earning what you consider you deserve.
When you’re just starting out, a fun option is to do incredibly low priced drawings at a convention. If you set out a sign that says you’ll draw inked character sketches for $5 a character, you’ll get interest. You may get bogged down with a lot of work, but it’s a good way to get some experience. This is great if you’re just minding a table with a friend in the artist alley and haven’t had much experience. Odds are as well that expectations won’t be that high if your customers are investing only $5.
5. Pace yourself.
Especially at conventions, it’s good to know your limit. But even on your own time, you don’t want to clog up your schedule with commissions and end up missing deadlines. There is nothing worse for a fan than to come up to your table at a con and see their name isn’t crossed off your commissions list at the end of the event. Most people who are buying commissions don’t want their money back, they want their drawing.
Start slow so you can get used to taking commissions. Don’t even advertise it outright if that helps. Offer commissions to those who seem most interested in your art, or whom you see getting commissions around the artist alley. Of course sometimes leafing through your binders, you’ll get people asking you if you take commissions as well. All of this is a great way to get used to how fast you can produce art.
While at conventions too, you will be talking to people as well. That’s one thing to keep in mind since odds are you will be taking breaks. So your drawing speed at home or in the office won’t be the same at a con. When that over excited fan shows up at your table, potentially in full cosplay of one of your characters, you will quickly forget what you’ve been working on to spend time with them. Make sure you have ample time to get your list done.
The exception here is if customers are willing to leave an address at a con. You still don’t want to fill your schedule after a convention either, but it doesn’t hurt if you have a couple drawings to mail off afterwards. Some artists like to take that one extra day to just unwind after a con. Everyone is going home, the hotel lobby is full, and the roads are a nightmare. It can be fun to just stay in your room an extra night and sketch away in a new environment. Some hotels even have professional mail services and you can send the artwork right out from there in a sturdy folder and protected tube.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.
Nothing is worse than assuming you know what someone is talking about. If you are not 100% sure of what the customer is referring to, ask them for a reference. I had someone get me a reference once and they scoured the entire dealers room until they found a gaming magazine that showed the character they meant. Sure sometimes they just won’t have a reference, but in this day and age odds are someone has a smart phone with internet access around.
Many characters have similar names. Ask questions. See what they like about the character, and what features stand out to them. Make sure that even if you know the character, you know what they’ve seen that character in. Of course all of this is easy if it’s a basic request or something based on one of your own creations. It can be tempting to just accept what you think is being asked of you, but it doesn’t hurt to get the customer to elaborate. That and if the concept seems unique, inquire what the person likes about what you’re drawing. See if there are things you should focus on. Listen and be attentive to details. Especially if you’re on a convention schedule, these things can both help to inspire you, and get that customer what they’re looking for so you can get drawing your next commission.
3. Make a list of rules for what you’ll draw.
Odds are you will have some requests that will just irk you. Even if you’re the most easy going person in the world who thinks they’ll draw anything at all, you’ll probably find that one person who will ask you for something outlandish. Even if it’s just some basic rules, write them down and present them with your prices. You’re not being mean, you’re just expressing what you either don’t feel comfortable drawing, or just find slows down your process too much. This can be an enjoyable addition to your regular work, you don’t want to end up inviting in something you don’t want and then getting many similar commissions coming afterwards.
Be understanding though too. If it’s something you can tolerate and someone is willing to be polite, or even pay you extra to do their commission, then that’s you’re decision to make. Obviously you don’t want to alienate any fans either. It’s usually a big deal for them to come up and talk to you anyway. If you see that someone does legitimately like your work, try to do your best for them. I’m not saying go outside of your comfort zone, but treat them as a friend. After all, besides your own enjoyment they are part of the reason you do all this.
The main thing about a list of rules is it keeps things flowing. You’re a busy person! Conventions can book up a commissions list fast. I’ve seen some professionals get an almost full list before they even make it to the dealers room / artist alley. Even otherwise, you’ve got deadlines to meet! Politely rule out work that would take you far too long to complete.
2. Be sure to complete your commissions.
This may sound obvious, but if you do take on a commission you find daunting, it’s easy to put it off to the side to work on later. Deadlines get tight and you soon find those weeks turning to months. Naturally, this can make you feel absolutely terrible about letting someone down. Of course too, there’s nothing saying that person wants their money back. They still want their drawing instead, even if it is later than expected.
It’s best to put other commissions on hold and keep a reminder that you do need to get that one done. There is no way it will just get better on it’s own. If it’s a difficult commission, dig up all the references you can and practice at it. You need to complete the work you take on. Sometimes you can refund a customer, but it’s best to just put in the effort to do your best. It’s better that they get late artwork than never at all.
1. Don’t let your imagination run away with you.
The worst thing you can do to yourself when you get a commission is to get carried away with crazy ideas. Have you ever watched baking constests on TV? That’s a great example of how an artist should take on a project. Usually they’ll come up with a solid idea of what they want, and what will fit into the time frame their given. You have to look at drawing commissions like this too. You need that professional quality to bake them a masterpiece in the time allowed.
That doesn’t mean you need to work faster. It means you need to focus on what the best creation would look like, with the time and funds presented. It’s easy to get inspired, and by all means feel free to enjoy and indulge in commissions you like with your own time. Just avoid that at a convention where you’re on the clock. You need to be realistic. At first it can seem daunting when you’re expected to create art that is worth $20, but you’ll get used to it. It helps too when you start seeing the reaction of your customers. Sure everyone will vary but you’ll get an general idea.
Focus, don’t add too much, and know when to put your pencil down.
Hopefully this tips will help you get into a good groove drawing commissions. It can be a wonderful thing to get into, you just don’t want it to become a chore that you fall behind on. Be realistic about your time and ideas. Talk to the people giving you these commissions and get to understand what they’re looking for. In the end you’ll find your own method and be able to improve upon it as you continue drawing for your customers.