Dwwrider’s Guide on Art Commissions on deviantART (last revised June 2016)
This guide is based off of my personal experiences of commissioning artists on deviantART. I hope future art commissioners or artists who take commissions find this information useful. I’ll try to update this guide once a year and look at the title to see when the last update was.
All the information in this guide is a recommendation and results will vary.
Table of Contents:
Phase 1: Determine the Subject/Topic of the Commission
Phase 2: Search for an Artist on deviantART and Other Websites
Phase 3: Learn about the Artist’s Commission Availability, Rules, Rates, etc
Phase 4: Communicating with the Artist
Phase 5: Developing a Commission Write Up/Description with References
Phase 6: Payment
Phase 7: Give Feedback to the Artist
Phase 8: What to Do with a Completed Commission
Additional Tips & Pointers
Phase 1: Determine the Subject/Topic of the Commission
The first step to a commission is figuring out what you want drawn. It may not be clear now, but everything related to your commission depends on this decision. The themes, characters, emotions, elements, etc., you want in the picture will determine which artist draws/creates it, the amount of detail required, the size, the style, the type of drawing, the color, the price, etc., etc.
Begin with a general idea of the picture you want in your mind and then write notes about it. Do this over a period of time and flesh out your idea. As time passes, add specific details to your description and spend time translating the picture you want in your mind into words and phrases. This exercise will help refresh your memory of the important details you will want in your commission and it’ll help guide the artist who you’ll hire.
Tip #1: Get inspired!
Use audio and visual media like movies, music, photos, pictures, books, comic books, graphic novels, music videos, and other media to stimulate your creativity. Utilize different resources to collect ideas or themes you would want in your commission. If it's a film, watch it again to study the details you would want. If it's music, find the theme or emotional notes you want reflected in your commission. If it's specific images, begin collecting and organizing them in folders dedicated for references.
Starting a reference archive will provide resources to the artist you eventually commission. You can begin adding to your archive by searching on deviantART for the specific subject you're interested in or by using any image search engine. deviantART has a special section in each user account called the Sta.sh. This can function as a shareable archive for your references. Other tools online include Google Drive and DropBox. Those accounts can hold reference images, music, photos, and other types of media for future use.
Phase 2: Search for an Artist on deviantART and Other Websites
After you’ve determined what you want drawn, begin the search for an artist.
One suggestion is to use the dA search engine as a research tool. Chances are someone has already drawn what you want and you can screen the results to find artists whose style you like.
Utilize keywords related to the subject/topic of your commission and screen the results. Your keyword search will pull up dozens of possible matches of what you'd like drawn. Browse through the different results and select pictures that you like. Examine these pictures and determine if the drawing style of that artist matches your preference. If you like the artist, look at their journal posts for information and see if they take art commissions. Also, browse through the gallery of artist you’re examining and judge the quality of their other pictures. This will help establish your opinion of the artist and whether you like their style or other work they’ve done.
Another way to find an artist offering commissions on dA is searching through the Job Services Forum, forum.deviantart.com/jobs/serv…. This forum is for artists on dA who advertise their availability for commissions. Read their post and browse through their gallery to see if you like their style.
A third way to find the right artist for you is Favorite’s Gallery hopping. First, you find a random artist by looking up the subject matter you want drawn. Then, go into their Favorite’s Gallery: the gallery that lists pictures they like. Chances are favorable that pictures they put in their Favorite's Gallery will be similar to the pictures that they draw or post in their own gallery. Now, you have a wide selection of different and random artists who draw the subject matter that you are interested in. You will discover that lots of people share the same interests that you have and their favorite pictures selections will match pictures you like.
You can also search for artists through online auction websites. Artists sell their services on eBay, www.ebay.com, and a keyword search of “art commissions” will pull up auction listings. Also there is a private auction service at the Comic Art Community webpage comicartcommissions.com/ . I have never used this service and I cannot vouch for it. Please use it at your own discretion
I have intermittently used eBay to purchase an art commission. Each time that I did, it turned out the artist also had ties to the dA community. The commissions went well, but there are a few more hurdles involved if you use eBay. If there are any issues or conflicts, eBay is the arbiter of the dispute.
Patreon and Picarto are some of the newest places to find artists who do commission work. Patreon is a crowdfunding website that allows individual users to sponsor an artist through monthly payments. Picarto is a livestreaming website and artists can broadcast their work live. Artists use these websites to generate income for themselves and they’re good resources to find an artist.
Tip #2: Switch Phase 1 and Phase 2
Following the phases chronologically is optional. I’m writing these phases as a list of recommendations, not as a series of mandates. I’ve looked for artists with an idea in mind or looked up artists with no ideas on my mind.
Tip #3: Create a Favorite Artists List
There are lots of artists you will encounter whose style you’ll like. They won't always be available for commissions though. Create a list of your favorite artists and save them into a Favorite Links Folder and keep a list of potential artists you’d like to commission from. Make one list for artists who are actively taking commissions and a separate one for those who are on hiatus/vacation. That way, you’ll always have or know an artist who is available for art commissions.
Phase 3: Learn about the Artist’s Commission Availability, Rules, Rates, and other Pertinent InformationAfter you’ve found an artist you like, determine if they are available for commissions. In general, the artist will post a link/thumbnail/image marked COMMISSIONS in their journal, although not always in capital letters. Search through an artist’s journal carefully and find the information or link leading to the information you’ll need. Also, check their Shoutboard, Shoutbox, and if it’s posted, their website to check for their commission status/prices/rules/rates/availability, etc. If it’s not on their latest journal page, go through Previous Journal Entries and see if they have commission information posted in older journal entries. Many times, I’ve found commission information about an artist in older journal entries.
In the Commission section, the artist will state their rules & limitations: what they will draw and what they will not draw. It is important to read the information in this section carefully because it will answer most of your questions. Artists may also list preferences on what they will draw and won't draw, so be aware of that. Be respectful of the artist’s rules and limitations. If they’re not drawing what your theme or preference is, don’t badger them or try to convince them to take your commission. Their rules and preferences exist for a reason. Move on and search for another artist.
Look for the rate the artist charges for commissions. I have seen two types of commission rates: the flat rate and the hourly rate. The flat rate is a set price the artist has for a specific type of drawing. For example, an artist may charge $15 for a single character pencil sketch, $25 for a single character CG inked line art, and $35 for a single CG character color. They may also charge a separate fee for a background. The hourly rate is how much the artist will charge per hour of work, and the length of work will depend on the type of picture you want commissioned (sketch/line art/color/CG/background/etc).
Prices will always vary from artist to artist, country to country, and skill level. Every artist has the right to set their price rate. Don’t be rude and try to haggle with them and expect prices to be nonnegotiable. deviantART is an international community and it has artists who take commissions on an amateur basis and those who do it for a living. It is up to you to decide whether you want to pay for the commission.
Phase 4: Communicating with the Artist
If you ever have any questions, look through the artist’s FAQ or Commission Information first, prior to contacting them. Most likely, they've been asked your question before and they posted a FAQ to answer your question. If you cannot find the answer you’re looking for, then send a note or e-mail to the artist.
Please be polite and courteous whenever you contact an artist. First contact with an artist is the first impression you make on them. Etiquette will help establish a good relationship between you and the artist. It helps make a good first impression if you send them an e-mail or a dA note with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. (I understand English is not the first language of many residents on dA and this request is aimed for residents of the US and/or other English speaking countries.) Also in relation to the previous sentence, please understand the artist you contact may not speak or write English well either. Please be flexible and patient when it comes to communication. In most situations, the artist will understand what you want, but have difficulty communicating that information to you.
After you send an e-mail or a note to the artist, please patiently wait for a response. Instant replies are not a reality and patience is a virtue. An artist’s inbox get full and it takes time to catch up. I once made the mistake of sending a follow up e-mail to an artist, two days after I sent the first one. In reality, they had gotten my request for a commission, but they had a limited amount of time on their hands and could not respond immediately. Please learn from my mistake: patience is the key to good communication. An artist who is interested in taking your commission will answer it as soon as they possibly can.
Phase 5: Developing a Commission Write Up/Description with References
You have the subject/topic, the artist, and now it’s time to explain what it is you want drawn. There are lots of details to fill in and it’s important to list them clearly and in an organized fashion so the artist understands what you want. The better the presentation of the details, the easier a time the artist will have in drawing your commission.
Here is a sample list of details you may need to submit to an artist:
Number of characters
Glasses or not
Footwear or not
Accessories including jewelry, hair pieces, bracelets, watches, etc
Mood of the character
Mood/atmosphere of the picture
Background or not
Size of the picture (head, bust, waist, full body)
Drawing style (anime, manga, real life, CG, cel, traditional, comic, paint, Copic markers, colored pencil, etc)
Final price of the commission
Tip #5: Use Complete Sentences
Here is an example of how to take that list and turn it into legible paragraph.
Hello, my name is DW and I'm interested in a two character commission. I would like a full color commission done in Vector. Both of the characters are women and their names are Sandra and Becky. Sandra has long brown hair, down to her shoulders, with brown eyes and glasses. Becky has short red hair and she has green eyes. Sandra is Caucasian with tan skin and Becky is also Caucasian, but her skin is pale white with freckles. Neither of them are wearing makeup and they are going on a shopping trip. They’re wearing designer wear jeans, shoes, and blouses of different colors/styles.
They are standing up and holding shopping bags in each hand. Sandra is talking and Becky is listening. I would like a simple background.
I read your price rules and I believe I will be paying $55 dollars for the commission. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Tip #6: Go from Top to Bottom
After writing so many commission write ups/descriptions, I developed a useful writing strategy. First, I outline the details of the character's face and then I begin to describe what they look like from the neck down. From head to toe, I fill in details about what each section of their body looks like. You can use this idea or reverse it, by starting at the feet and working upwards. Whatever works for you is what's best.
Tip #7: Find Good Reference Pictures
Your commission write up/description should also mention/contain references pictures for the artist. A picture is worth a thousand words. Reference pictures serve as better cues for the artist than a phrase or a giant paragraph of words.
Search for reference pictures on dA, on Google images, and other image search engines. Select pictures that clearly show what you want to the artist. The better the picture you select as a reference, the more likely the artist will incorporate the idea/concept you want into the commission.
Sample Commission Write Up:
Here is an example of a commission write up I submitted to an artist, [Arcanux] arcanux.deviantart.com/, for a commission he completed in December 2007. I developed the write up first and then I wrote a short story for the commission.
Subjects of the picture – Rachel Grey and Polaris (Marvel X-Men)
Story – Heroines Rachel Greyand Polaris were selected and assimilated by the Phalanx to become enemy agents. Rachel was the first victim and she infected Polaris shortly thereafter. Polaris awakens in her room under the control of the Phalanx with Rachel also inside, awaiting further orders from their controllers.
Physical Description – Landscape layout, darkened background/hushed lighting
Rachel is casually posing on the right side of the picture with Polaris on the left side of the picture. This is a close up of the two characters. Polaris is sitting at the edge of her bed and her hands are resting on the bed. Rachel is two feet away, standing, and facing forward.
Rachel is dressed in her green and yellow Marvel Girl costume. The top is like a baby doll spandex t-shirt and she has on that green and yellow miniskirt with matching yellow gloves and yellow boots, no sunglasses. Rachel’s hairstyle is short and is cut a little above her shoulders. She has a slight smile on her face.
Rachel Grey references:
Polaris is wearing a sheer green nightgown that goes down to above her knees. She has her hair down and appears relaxed, but under the rigid control of the Phalanx. Her mouth is slightly ajar as the Phalanx are still reworking her mind.
Rachel is telekinetically floating a grayish cloud of Phalanx nanites in her left hand. Around the grayish cloud is a blue aura, which represents her psionic powers.
Both women have their eyes covered in the Phalanx mesh.
Phalanx eye reference:
Here is the final product with the short story: dwwrider.deviantart.com/art/Ey…
I had a specific request for Polaris’ nightgown because I found one on the Google Images. I added that reference to my write up, Arcanux read it, and he drew it in the commission. The final product turned out very well and I was pleased with it.
I have dozens of commission write ups saved on my computer. If you’re interested in any commissions I’ve posted, you can contact me with a note and I’ll see if I can accommodate any requests for examples.
Phase 6: Payment
This is an important concept to understand. There are no uniform rules governing art commissions on deviantArt. The commission system is entirely based on trust. Artists will post their payment instructions in their commission rules section. The rules are different for each artist and they’re designed to protect them and you from fraud. There are artists on dA who've completed a commission and never got paid, or vice versa, someone paid, but never got their picture. Artists dictate the terms of payment. There are no ands, ifs, buts, or arguments about that. Abide and follow their rules and practically everyone will prosper.
You should expect to pay at least half of the commission up front. Some artists require the entire payment prior to starting. These are basic rules of engagement. Payment or partial payment guarantees the artist is compensated for their time and time is money.
Here are some payment options that can be used: PayPal, United States Postal Money Order, Western Union wire transfer/money order, and Xoom. These are very good services to use because there are receipts proving payment was sent and receivership of payment. Each of these payment options have distinct advantages and disadvantages, which I will break down.
PayPal, www.paypal.com, is an online payment service that requires a credit card and/or bank account and a valid e-mail account. This is the payment option that I prefer the most because the transaction is instant and there is a digital trail of information that proves payment was sent and received. PayPal is also free to use (for the commission buyer that is). However, a downside is not all users on dA have access to a PayPal account. Thus, it is important to know alternative forms of payment. Also, artists who receive payment will pay PayPal a set fee to receive their payments.
United States Postal money orders, including international money orders, are purchased at the U.S. Post Office and are valid tender in the U.S. and in other countries. Postal money orders look similar to a bank check and function the same way. The sender will write the name of the recipient on the money order and the recipient will cash in the money order at the Post Office. Postal money orders are purchased with cash, cost a small fee, and can only be cashed at a U.S. Post Office with valid identification.
The cost of international money orders varies from country to country and are a different color. Postal money orders are an older, but highly reliable method of payment that does not risk using your credit card or bank account through the Internet. The downside to a Postal money order is that they cost extra to purchase and they must be mailed in a secure envelope to the artist.
Western Union wire transfer/money order is a financial service that can send money domestically (United States) or internationally. To find an available shop that offers these services, use their website: www.westernunion.com/info/sele…. This service is an alternative for international payment as Western Union has offices in many different countries. However, there is a fee that Western Union charges to use their service. The fee varies from country to country. Western Union can send money online via a valid credit card and e-mail account or through carbon copy receipts that you fill out at a registered Western Union wire transfer service store. The carbon copy receipts will contain the financial transaction number and will be useful if anything wrong occurs.
Xoom, www.xoom.com/, is an online money transfer service. It was bought out by Paypal and they do the same service as Paypal. You register with a bank account and it allow you to wire money directly into the bank accounts of select countries. There is a transfer fee for any transaction and the fee varies on the amount of money sent and to which country it is sent too. One advantage to Xoom is that it's a cheaper alternative to Western Union and it provides access to countries that Paypal does not. The downside is the transaction fee you have to front for any and all transactions.
Very Important Tip #1: NEVER EVER SEND PAYMENT IN CASH
It is too unreliable to use the Post Office to send cash domestically or overseas. There is a high risk the payment will get lost or intercepted and never reach its destination. There is no way to prove that you sent the payment or that the artist received the payment. Since there is no paper trail, receipt, or proof that payment was ever sent, you or the artist are left stranded if the payment gets lost. The burden of proper payment is upon you: the art commissioner. You must find a way to send payment and ultimately, prove that it was received, in case there is ever a dispute between you and the artist.
Follow up Question #1: What if the Artist Says They Never Received the Payment?
This is an important hypothetical question to ask because it can happen. I made the foolish mistake of sending money through the mail and the artist never received it. I knew better, but I was hasty and too eager to get the commission started. I mailed the payment overseas and it never arrived. In a situation like this, there is no recourse. There is no way to prove that I sent the money. No way to prove that the artist received it. Nor is there any way to prove the payment was lost in the mail. There is nothing that can be done and that is why you do not send money through the mail. However, there are things that can be done if you use the safer methods of payment.
If you suspect fraud, do a follow up with the service that you used to pay them (either PayPal, Postal Money Order, Western Union, or Xoom). PayPal and Xoom keeps digital records of when the payment was sent and when it was received. Contact their support services if you have any problems. Postal money orders will give you a transaction slip with its identifying numbers on it. Keep it and go to the Post Office and speak to a manager if the payment was reported lost or stolen. The same applies with Western Union. Call their toll-free help line and read from your Western Union receipt if the payment was lost or stolen.
deviantART has no policy on disputes between an artist and the people who commissions them. After several consultations with the administrators, I have been told they will not intervene in a dispute because art commissions are a private transaction between two people. However, they will intervene if there is a public flame war on the forums or in the galleries. The administrators will not tolerate name calling, libel, or harassment.
If there is ever any dispute about payment, be civil about it. The moment insults and angry words exchange, the less likely the situation will be resolved calmly or to anyone’s benefit.
Very Important Tip #2: Keep a Record of All Communication
Create a folder in your Inbox and keep a record of all communication between you and the artist. This will serve as a personal record of when you contacted them and when they responded to it. This also includes keeping a financial record of all payment transactions. Know when you paid the artist, how much, and by which payment system. That way if questions arise, you can present information clearly and correctly.
Phase 7: Give Feedback to the Artist
In most situations, the artist will send a work in progress image of your commission and it’s imperative you respond politely and appropriately. Study the picture and find things you like and things you would like changed.
When you respond to the artist, compliment them on their work and list the things you liked in the picture. Your compliments validate the artist’s work and builds a dialogue. Honesty is the best policy. Find actual details or things you liked and pass that on to the artist. There might be some things you would like changed, so be concise and explain clearly what it is you would like changed. The artist cannot read your mind and draw the image exactly like it is in your head. If you want something changed, be polite on how you ask it.
The artist may also have questions regarding the picture, like specific details or instructions. Answer those questions to the best of your ability and be flexible. No one’s perfect and the artist is doing their best to meet your request.
To organize your Work In Progress pictures (WIPs) or rough drafts, create a folder in the appropriate directory and reference back to these drafts whenever you need. From time to time, go back and look at them to watch the evolution of your picture from a sketch to the final draft.
Phase 8: What to Do with a Completed Commission
Congratulations, it’s a commission.
You own the picture, but you do not own the copyright for the picture. This means you may post the picture in your deviantART gallery, on your website, in an image gallery, your preferred social media account, etc, but you cannot make a profit off of the picture. You cannot start selling prints of the commission because the original work belongs to the artist. You cannot Photoshop or edit the picture and then declare it yours either. Ultimately, the copyright belongs to the artist who drew it or to the company the original image belongs to. If the commission is an original character, you have to take the extra step of purchasing the copyright from the artist if you want to profit off of the picture. That is done by negotiating with the artist, paying substantially more than the original commission price, and obtaining written permission from the artist granting you the copyright.
deviantART’s policy on commissions is not very clear and it took a tangle with the administrators to clarify to me where I can post them.
If you did not draw the picture yourself, then you cannot post it in your normal gallery. You may post the picture in the Scraps section of your deviantART gallery only. The category you submit it is as is “no category”. This adheres to deviantART policy on posting artwork that is not created by your hand. Yes, you did pay for it and yes you do own the picture, but you did not draw the picture and therefore, it cannot go in your gallery. Your gallery is reserved for artwork that you drew or collaborated on by actually drawing or coloring it.
Go to deviantART's help policy to search for specific answers.
If you have unresolved questions about dA policies, visit the Help chat room and discuss your questions with an administrator chat.deviantart.com/
Additional Tips & Pointers:
1. Support an artist in need, but be wary if they’re in a lot of distress. This sounds like conflicting advice, but an explanation will follow. An artist in need will say so very clearly they need help. You can provide that help, but you do so at your own risk. That artist is juggling multiple problems. While you may be tempted to commission them, you also run the risk of getting nothing in return. Treat charity cases with care and don’t get too emotionally invested if you commission these artists and they let you down.
2. Read the journal of the artist that you’re interested in. This will help you gauge their personality, their likes, dislikes, temperament, and commission availability. Also, it will help inform you if they are an artist in need.
3. Watch artists whose art style you like and stay updated on their status. They may not be open for commissions now, but in the future they may be. You’ll only know when they are available, if you allow yourself to be kept informed.
4. Don’t ever haggle over the price of a commission. This is not a swap meet. The artist set their prices that way for many reasons and they should not be expected to change them because you, singular you, have an issue with it. Commissions on dA do not pay as well as a real job. This is a pursuit of passion for the artist and it is their time and effort you are paying for.
5. As a corollary to haggling, look for commission sales. Looking for an art commission in your price range is the same as looking for a good deal. Sometimes an artist will have a special sale or sales price, it’s random. I’ve experienced this with several artists, who sell quality commissions for a spur of the moment low price. It’s to your advantage to be on the lookout for a good sale.
Purchasing commissions in bulk is similar to the sales price approach, but it’s a little different. I consider purchasing in “bulk” to mean paying for three or more commissions at the same time and at a sales price. I’ve done this once and I paid for about six pictures for $150 dollars. That comes out to be $25 a picture and that’s a good price for quality work. The main difference between bulk commissions and sales prices is that you pay a large sum of money upfront to the artist and it takes several months to complete the entire set of commissions. Whereas when you buy at sales prices, you’re purchasing commissions one at time, usually, for a limited time only deal.
On a related note, sometimes an artist commits to a sales price out of immediate financial need. Please don’t be predatory and only commission artists who advertise themselves at sales prices. If you truly want to support an artist, commission them in their good times and in their bad times.
6. Please don’t tell an artist you’d love a commission, but you’re broke. You’re coming across as someone who’s wishy-washy and there are better ways of complimenting an artist. Send them a real compliment and leave out the part where you're broke. If you’re short on cash, get a job and then commission the artist after you’ve got money in the bank.
7. This is a tip for artists who are interested in doing commissions for money. Don’t expect to make great money or to make a real job out of this. The pay is sporadic and seasonal by nature. Art commissions occur by the human whim, and humans are pretty damn whimsical. Do art commissions as a hobby or as a project on the side, and have a real full time job. Art commissions should help pay for things on the side, not for major items like rent, food, and loan payments.
8. Nothing is for free. Don't commission anyone offering "free commissions". You wind up paying money and sometimes, you'll get nothing in return. The best expectation you should have is to get what you pay for.
9. Don't commission a friend. If things go sour, it will be awkward to pressure your friend to pay you back or finish the commission.
10. If you’re a commissioner, be prepared to face the worst case scenario: your artist will never finish your commission and you’re not getting your money back. It’s sad, but true that you’re going to get ripped off eventually. There’s definitely some does and don’ts. Don’t proceed to rant on that artist’s gallery. You’re going to come across as the bad guy to the public. Don’t make threats to them by e-mail, note, or other communication because it’s illegal for starters and to repeat myself, it makes you look like the bad guy.
What you can do is make one public post on your gallery indicating the chain of events and then let it stand. There’s no realistic way you can pursue the artist and recover your losses. If you believe that the artist you ripped you off is going to prey on others, send a polite warning to interested persons, but don’t be too pushy about it. One warning will suffice.
You can also turn your loss into someone else’s gain by finding an artist with a proven history/background of finishing commissions. That’ll help restore your faith in the artist community.
11. Be kind to your artist, cover the Paypal fee. What fee am I talking about? If you submit payment to an artist and list it as payment for goods or services, Paypal will skim a small amount of money off your payment from the artist. For example, if I send forty dollars to an artist for a picture, they’re not actually getting forty dollars. They’re getting thirty eight dollars and fifty four cents (as of October 2013). This is how Paypal makes its money: there is a transaction fee each time money changes hands and your artist is getting nickeled and dimed. Be kind to your artist. Find a Paypal fee calculator and send an adjusted payment so that they get their full payment without getting nickeled and dimed by Paypal. Commissions are a vanity project and if you can afford to pay for one, you can afford to cover the extra dollar or two for your artist.
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