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All artists should try art commissions
Commissions are a great way to improve your skill, build an audience, and share your talent with others. Today we’ll take a look at art commissions and why (plus how) you should consider giving them a shot!


Let’s start with a common response to the suggestion of doing commissions: I’m not good enough yet. A lot of artists feel that their skills aren’t up to snuff in order to take commissions. That couldn’t be further from the truth! When someone asks for a commission, they have (almost certainly) seen your work, and regardless of what you think of it, they like it enough to want some of their own. We all want to be better at our craft, but that doesn’t mean where we are right now isn’t enough to do work someone else will enjoy.

So toss aside worry that you aren’t ready and give it a shot! A good way to do this is to start with a few free commissions.

Doing street art is great practice.

When to do Free Commissions

Free commissions are a great way to get some practice, especially with subjects you might not pick yourself. One of the worst things you can do as an artist is find one thing you’re good at and never expand past that. If you normally draw horses on a regular basis, it will be great to get a request for “Two pandas riding a motorcycle!” It stretches your creative skills and pushes you to places you’d be too afraid to go otherwise. And since it’s for free, you don’t have to fear wasting someone’s money. You can just let go of any worry and create art.

It is generally pretty easy to get a request for a free commission. Simply head to your favorite social media site and send out a note like the following: “Hey all, I want to get some practice in but don’t know what to draw. How about some suggestions?” If you have a lot of followers on social media, you may want to put a limit, such as “I’ll do the first three responses!” Then, whatever crazy ideas come your way, give them your all. Once you’re done, you have some art to post and you can tag the person who made the suggestion and let them see what you came up with.

When to do Paid Commissions

These days a lot of artists are doing paid commissions. Generally speaking you’ll want to make a simple price chart like the one below:

A well-crafted price chart for commissions by starZhelli

A well-crafted price chart for commissions by starZhelli

You may also want to make known how many commissions you’re taking on, so you don’t get too many. (But that’s a pretty nice problem to have!) Here are some things to keep in mind when doing paid commissions:

  •  Think about how long they will take so you can give an estimate on time
  •  Figure out in advance how you want to collect payment, through Paypal or another method
  •  Be upfront about any required deposits (if applicable)
  •  Make sure to discuss if it is a digital-only commission

Most of the time you will have no problem doing an exchange of a commission for your fee, but life is complicated and sometimes things will go wrong. First make sure there’s no misunderstanding and contact the person saying you still haven’t received payment. Hopefully they will send it along promptly and that will be the end of it. In the event that they don’t respond or refuse to send the agreed amount, there’s not a lot you can do. To pursue it from a legal end would probably be more work (and money!) than it’s worth. [Unless it was a huge commission, but that’s a different subject and you’d want to handle that differently.] Make a note not to work with that person again, and move on with your life. If nothing else, you got some good practice in creating that work, and you have something new for your portfolio. Life is simply too short to be bitter about it.

Caricatures

Caricatures are a great way to get started doing commissions (and work on your observation skills!) because everyone loves a drawing of themselves. Even if you’ve never attempted caricatures before, now is a great time to start. Whether you do them from photos people send online or live-and-in-person, you’ll learn skills you never dreamed by trying this particular style of art. Pro-tip: Even though it’s scary and harder, consider working in thick black marker to do your caricatures. It builds confidence (eventually) because you know you only have one shot at any given line, so you have to make it the best you can in one swoop. Caricatures are also a great way to unwind.

Art Drops

Some artists have begun doing a terrific form of commissions: Art Drops. They do a piece of physical art, then leave it somewhere with a note explaining it’s for someone to find and tweet or post image clues to lead people to the work! This is not only a terrific way to practice, but it creates a fun interactive element for any fans or audience you already have. Plus if a stranger finds the art, you might gain another fan in the process! (World Art Drop day is September 5th, so consider joining in!)
Creative art drop!

Fan Art

What about doing art based on copyrighted intellectual properties (I.P.s)? Because there are a lot of fans of existing I.P.s, you may get requests to do popular characters someone else owns. Decide for yourself if that is something you are interested in doing or not. As a personal recommendation, I would suggest avoiding doing this sort of art. Not only is it morally questionable, but technically creating art for sale based on someone else’s copyright is illegal. You will have to turn down some commissions, but you can be sure you will never have your phone ring with a lawyer on the other end telling you Disney is filing a lawsuit against you! (That peace of mind is worth the trade off.) Be upfront that you don’t do fan art, but are happy to do an original creative work.

NOT Taking Commissions

How you handle not taking commissions can be just as important as how you take them on! Many artists get a lot of requests for commissions through sites like DeviantArt, and as a result they become irate and frustrated. First, take a breath. It’s a huge compliment that so many people want art done by you! Calmly and kindly reply that you aren’t taking commissions at the moment because you’re swamped with other projects (or whatever honest reason). Reasonable people will understand. If you happen to get an unreasonable person who keeps asking, or becomes angry and entitled and says you’re an awful person, ignore them and get back to making the world a better place. You can’t control them, but you can control you, so be better than they’re acting!

Hopefully this gets you started at least considering the idea of taking on some commissions. There’s no time like the present, so if nothing else why not do one free commission today, right now? You will gain a lot in the process, and another person will get an original piece of art that they will no doubt love.

One last suggestion: Work large! They may want to turn your amazing art into a background for their desktop. 🙂

Have you done commissions in the past? Any advice for fellow artists as they venture into these artistic waters? Leave a comment below and share your experiences!

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