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I've been commissioning artists for a little over two years now, starting with site money on GaiaOnline and moving to dA from there.  One thing that's hard for me to ignore is the number of artists who are concerned about being scammed, either because they've gone through that experience before or because the stories and warnings of it happening all the time proliferate.  Commissioners have their own concerns about being scammed by artists.  The simple fact of the matter is that it happens.

However, I think a good portion of the problem is that many people who want to commission an artist have no experience doing so, and it's not as easy to find instructions on it as, say, how to draw anime eyes.  That's why I'm making this guide.

It should be noted that while I mention commissioning through other websites now and then, this is meant as to general guide, and all of the examples are from  Also, this does not contain information on how to host a contest, which is a much more different proposition than one might presume.  For the sake of having real-life examples, various artists on dA are mentioned by name.

Step One:  Picking the Artist

This could be the most important step for you.  If you pick the wrong artist, your experience commissioning them could be downright horrible and the final art unsatisfying.  These are the questions you need to ask yourself:

1.  Do I like the art that they're offering to do?

Say you love painted realism and you love anime CG, but the artist is only offering pencil sketches in a cartoony style.  Do you really want to commission this artist?  Some artists will do more if you contact them directly, especially if you offer them more money, but most won't.  Even if you do convince them to do work they aren't offering, the end result may not be all you were hoping for--most artists who do commissions regularly know to only offer what they want to do, and it's not reasonable to expect something else to come out as well.  Always remember:  art is a creative work, not a systematic one.  You're relying on not just the artist's skills, but on their inspiration, and inspiration is not as simple and regular as tax season.

Remember, too:  Even if the artist is not offering what you want right now, they'll probably offer it in the future.  Stick around, wait, and don't try to pressure them into doing something they aren't prepared for.  Some artists will deliberately vary what they offer so they can get practice with different techniques, take a break from the usual ones, and simply not let their work get stagnant.  This is a good thing the same way crop rotation on farms is a good thing, and you shouldn't protest--what you want will be back in the future.  As an example, I've commissioned anikakinka for two CG works in the past, but recently she offered only flat sketches in the style she uses for her clothing designs.  I'm not interested in what she was offering, but I know I may want to commission her for CGs again in the future, so I keep an eye out for her offer to change back.

2.  Do I have something I want done in this style?
Just because you love an artist doesn't mean you have something to commission them for.  I personally like Christmas-chan's work, but I have never come up with something to have her draw; I simply don't have characters like that.  Just because you see an artist you like, don't jump the gun and contact them about it if you don't have anything in mind.  Don't force yourself to come up with anything, either--it's worth bookmarking them, subscribing to their blog/shop thread, or putting them on your watch list until you do have something.

If you're dead set on commissioning an artist, period, and you don't care who it is as long as you're setting up a commission ((don't laugh, this is my personal stress-reliever and sometimes that's just how it is)), go back to Step One and pick a different artist.

3. Is the artist able (and WILLING) to do what I want?
This is a big one as well.  You have to put your enthusiasm on the shelf and look at the artist critically.  Is their skill high enough to draw what you want?  Do you think it is, but they explicitly say they're not willing to do it?  If you want gore, and the undead are on their "Don't/Won't/Can't Do" list, don't even ask, even if the character seems right up their alley.  The only character I have that would look good in Saimain's style is a god of flora in a fantasy world, and even she admits that it would be fun to do, but pagan gods are on her "won't" list, so it will never happen.

The hardest part is figuring out if an artist has the skill to do what you want.  I have one character with a complicated set of tattoos, and I'm very particular about those tattoos being accurate whenever she's drawn.  I wanted her in anime style, so I went to Blizz-Mii.  Well, Blizz thought that was out of her league and refused.  I would still love to see Blizz draw her, but I have to trust that she knows her skill a whole lot better than I do and let that go.  Next I went to hizuki24, who said yes... but that there was no way she could pull off the tattoos.  At the time, I was more concerned with having decent art of the basic design, and clothing and hair were more important than the tattoos, so we went ahead with the commission.  I was able to specify a few that would stay the same, but the rest was up to her own discretion and look nothing like my design.  Armed with this art and my original drawings, I then went to sakimichan.  Sakimichan says outright in her commission journal that she must have artistic license.  If you aren't okay with that, and an artist requires it, don't argue--it usually means they've had bad experiences with commissioners who expect too much or want a lot of very specific detail but don't provide any references.  I told her that was fine, but that I wanted her to do her best to follow my design.  The tattoos, hair, and face came out perfect; the clothing, not so much.  

However, Hizuki's art is a clothing reference, Sakimi's art is a body reference, and that's enough for now.  Sometimes what you want is so difficult that the only way to get good art is to go step by step this way, collecting works that aren't perfect but have one or two aspects correct.  Eventually, you will find an artist who can do what you want, and you'll already have the references.

4. Does the artist speak my language?
Most of the time, this will not be an issue.  Most deviants speak English, and most of the sites you visit will be in a language you know well--and that everyone there knows pretty well.  Sometimes, though, you get an artist you like who doesn't speak the same language and has a friend translate everything for them.  And maybe the friend isn't so great at it, either.  Or the artist may know the language enough to get by, but their grammar sucks, their vocabulary is straight out of Babelfish, and they don't seem to get the point when you're talking to them.  This includes chatspeakers... or if YOU are a chatspeaker, people who refuse to try and figure out what you're saying.

If this really bothers you, sigh and move on.  You cannot count on their linguistic skills to improve, and you cannot teach them your language if they don't know it already.  Commissioning Teruchan is not going to be fun and easy unless you speak Japanese.

If you REALLY want to commission this artist, and you're willing to do whatever it takes to communicate, more power to you.  If you've never worked with foreigners before, here are a few tips:

a) K.I.S.S.
Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Dumb down your grammar and vocabulary to whatever the artist him/herself is using.  You're not trying to give them language practice, you're trying to commission them--it's more important that you understand each other than that you use proper English (or whatever language you're using).  If this situation is the reverse, and YOU are the one with the language problem, still keep things as simple as possible--and don't feel bad if you have to ask them to do the same.

b) Give picture references as much as possible.
Folks, pictures are universal.  A picture is worth a thousand words in any language, not just yours, and it's going to be a lot easier on you both if the artist from Vietnam doesn't have to do research on what in the world a "spiked mace" is, or which color is mauve.

c) Be patient.
No, really.  Any time there's a language barrier, there are going to be problems and difficulties you didn't expect--and shouldn't expect--from an artist who doesn't need a translator.  You want the art, you want it from this artist, so you have to be willing to slow down and deal with all the little extras along the way.

Would I get along with this artist?
If there's one good way to make everyone miserable, it's by commissioning an artist you know you won't get along with.  Are you hardcore about your commissions and want every little detail exacting and correct before you pay?  If so, don't commission someone you want to stay friends with.  Do you want your commission done by a certain date, and the artist has a habit of saying "So sorry this was late!" in their comments?  Don't do it.  Do you flame and troll this artist all the time, and for some strange reason want to commission them anyway?  Seriously.  Don't do it.  There's a certain point where common sense comes into play, and this is it.  Do NOT commission someone when you can stand back, think about it objectively, and realize that it's going to be a miserable experience.  The art isn't worth it.

And for heaven's sake--if you're about to commission reiq and either don't want it on his website or don't want hentai, period, DON'T commission him just to get some art!  If you won't enjoy looking at it, or you will but knowing others are too will spoil it, don't do that to yourself.  Again, the art isn't worth the grief it will cause you.  Make sure you understand what you're getting into before you put the money down.

Step Two:  Your Budget

If you can't afford the artist's prices, don't commission.  Write up a budget of what money you have, what income you have coming in, what bills you have going out, the range of your variable expenses--the works.  If you can't afford it, don't commission.

What happens when you can't afford it:

1. You get stuck paying for art and realize you'd much rather have had the money to go to a concert, go out to eat, take someone out on a date, buy a decent Christmas/birthday gift for someone, or replace the spark plugs in your car.  Sucks, but you should have thought of that ahead of time.

2. You come up short and don't pay the artist.  Either you don't get the art and get a bad reputation for ditching out on commissions, or you get the art but have to deal with the fact that you just scammed someone.  It may not have been intentional, but you have a legal contract to pay for services rendered.  Depending on the artist and amount of money, lawyers may be sent after you.  On a website where the payment is not real money, that contract is enforced by the site mods or admin... and if they can't make you pay for it, you get banned.  Even if you don't, that stigma is still attached to your name.  It's this scenario that makes artists paranoid about being paid upfront.

3. You waffle and pay the artist late, or start paying in installments when that wasn't the deal.  Remember that if you're using PayPal, there's a fee charged for every transaction, not every penny, and the fee is taken out on the artist's end.  If you owe someone $100 and are paying in chunks of $20, and they lose $2 every time you send $20, they only get $90 at the end of that, and it's over time when maybe they needed it all right away to pay a bill.  It's better to pay late than not pay at all, but this is still not okay.

4. Depending just how badly you can't afford it, you could end up on the street.  If it's ebas or alexiuss you want to commission, I STRONGLY suggest saving up.  STRONGLY.

Step Three:  Contacting the Artist

Generally, this is the easy part.  Courtesy is key.

1. The title

Don't title your Note/PM/e-mail "You WANT to work for me!"  It's obnoxious, it's rude, and there's a good chance the artist won't even open it.  Even if you're friends with the artist, don't do anything like this.  Don't make them guess what's in it, either, or wonder if the links lead to viruses.  If you have a question about commissions (such as whether they would be willing to do a certain type of art, what their prices are, or whether they take commissions at all if there's nothing in their journal), title it something very simple, like "Question," "Curious," "Wondering about your commissions," or "Do you do commissions?"  Some artists get a lot of mail, and simple titles that state exactly what you want help them sort their inbox at a glance.  These are all titles I've used, and they work.  "Question" has been especially good, because one-word titles are generally not used in spam or virused mail.

If the artist states that notes about commissions should be titled a certain way, follow their instructions.  Anything the artist says trumps everything I say, because this article contains only general guidelines--every artist handles commissions a little differently.

2. Courtesy
Read over your message several times.  Have a friend read it over, if you're not sure.  Remember while you're writing it that you're requesting something, not expecting something.  You're asking nicely.  This may seem backwards, because the artist is the one who wants the money, but that doesn't mean they have to take your commission.  They're offering to give art, you're offering to give them something for it, but the artist can refuse you for any reason.  Just as you shouldn't commission if you can't afford it or don't want to deal with the artist, the artist shouldn't take a commission if they can't do it or don't want to deal with the commissioner.  The less courteous you are, the more likely they are to decide that your money isn't worth having to deal with you.

And always remember:  Nothing comes across as well in text as it does in real life.  Kill your sense of humor, especially if the artist isn't friends with you.  Get rid of "like" and "um"--make it as short and easy to understand as possible without treating the artist like an imbecile.

3. Cheerfulness
No artist will take offense if you are enthusiastic about their work.  They may be taken aback and deflect it, perhaps saying it isn't THAT great, or that they appreciate that you want to commission them but might be over-estimating their skills (though if they say that, you might want to double-check that their art IS as good as you think it is), but they aren't going to decline your commission for being cheerful.  Therefore, it doesn't hurt.

In one case, I was actually told that the artist had been having a terrible day full of depressing drama, and my note had cheered them up.  Don't be wacky, but remember that artists are people, too, and everyone's happier to read a happy note than an unhappy one--or even a neutral one.

:roll: And if you want to be cynical and manipulative about it, people who associate you with sincere interest and happiness tend to like working for/with you and will put more work into your commission.  But if you're manipulative enough to do it for that reason, skip it--chances are that people will see right through you and your fake@$$ "cheer" and just get annoyed.

I don't think I can iterate enough the fact that the artist does not have to accept your commission.

4. Do you provide details and refs, or not?
Unless the artist has posted publicly that you should have all refs and details and have their form filled out in the first note your send them, so they can decide immediately whether to take it or not and give you a slot (or not) right away... don't.  Don't expect them to take your commission.  Politely ask if they would be interested in your commission, and provide basics such as fullbody/halfbody/headshot, the medium (CG, paint, sketch), whether you want it mailed to you or have a print available (if that even applies to your artist), and the type of character or scene you're looking for.

If they want the form filled out right away, give them everything.  If they don't, or you're not sure if they have commissions open at all, be basic and general.

5. Don't pester the artist
Do not expect a response right away, even if the artist is online when you message them.  Sometimes you'll get a reply in minutes, sometimes hours or days, sometimes weeks, and sometimes never.  If you're on deviantart (or any site that lets you see this), make sure that the artist has actually READ your message before you get annoyed at the wait.  Keep an eye on their recent journals and art--If they mention that they have a glitch that won't let them read mail, send mail, or that completely deleted all their mail and they'd like people to re-send whatever it was, there's your answer.  Sometimes your message will just be ignored, of course...

More often than not, a slow response just means the artist is thinking it over, and you have to be patient.  Sending more messages about it, whether asking the same thing or pestering them to read your messages and reply, is not a good idea.  Either they'll take your commission or they won't, and sending repeat messages will only sour the artist towards you and make them more likely to refuse you and possibly block you from contacting them.

If you never get a response, and there appears to be no reason, ask in their journal, on their page, or in their shop thread (if there is one).  Once.  If you still get no response, move on.  Just like girlfriends, there are more fish in the sea.

6. What's different when it's a professional?
For the most part, commissioning a professional artist is no different from commissioning an amateur artist.  What's the difference?  Well, a professional works for companies, producing regular work.  liiga does art for a trading card company, ToolKitten is a colorist in the comic book industry, and alohalilo is one of the guys who did Lilo and Stitch.  An amateur is any artist who does not and has never made their living off art alone.  That includes art students.

Sometimes, commissioning a professional has exactly the same feel as commissioning everyone else.  Other times, it has the detached feel of a business transaction--and in the latter case, you want to match that.  If the artist replies to you very professionally, you should tone down the enthusiasm and talk to the artist the same way they're talking to you.  It's good because it puts everyone on the same level and helps the artist feel more comfortable working with you.  If you can't be as professional as they are, they may take that as a signal that you're too immature to trust when it comes to payment.  Make no mistake, even corporations have fallen into the pit of not paying artists and have been taken to court on that, but it's more likely for immature individuals to do it, because they don't have the experience to know what they can really afford and presence of mind to pay everything on time.

This is the same principle as commissioning an artist who doesn't speak your language.  In the foreign language case, dumb it down without being insulting.  In the case of professionalism, raise your level to be just as professional, or at least as professional as you can be (don't feel dumb asking for someone to read it over, either).  Whatever the artist does, the best way to communicate is to match it.

...Unless what the artist is doing is cussing you out or saying something else that makes you particularly uncomfortable.  Remember, you don't have to work with this artist if you don't want to.  There are always more fish in the sea.

Step Four: Payment

What's simple, what's safe, what's practical... and what's none of the above.

1. What's simple?

The simplest way to pay is all at once.  All upfront, all after the sketch and before the finished piece, all right before the coloring, all when it's finished and in your hands... It doesn't matter.  The simplest way to pay is to do it all at once.

2. What's safe?
This depends what side of the commission you're on.  Safe for the commissioner means paying only once you have the art finished to your satisfaction and are in possession of the file.  When it comes to custom commissions (something the artist couldn't use anywhere else), this could also be when the art is completely finished but has a watermark on it--such as a deviantart watermark, with distorts the image but can still be seen through enough to tell if you're getting what you want.  As long as there's nothing else it can be used for, there's no reason for the artist NOT to take the watermark off and hand you the final piece as soon as you pay them.

For the artist, though, the safest thing is to be paid upfront.  This way all the time they spend on your piece isn't wasted, even if you fall off the face of the earth and never receive it.

This is the dilemma.

3. What's practical?
Typically, the best compromise between safe and simple, and the one that brings equal safety to the artist and commissioner, is half and half.  This could be paying the artist half up front and half upon completion, half up front and half at one of the WIPs (Works In Progress) in the middle, or half in the middle and half upon completion.  Often the artist will have a preference on which kind of half and half to use.  This is considered safest because if the artist ditches, you haven't lost all your money--and if the commissioner ditches, the artist hasn't done all that work for nothing.

The half and half style of payment is currently to most practical way not to get scammed.  The idea actually comes from the turn of the century, where "half now, half later" literally meant taking a dollar bill ($1, $2, $5, $100, whatever the amount was) and ripping it in half.  The bill was useless to anyone when ripped in half, but it was a promise that the person being paid wouldn't take the money and run, and it was understood that the commissioner wouldn't just throw their money away.  Whoever had both pieces of the bill at the end could take it to the bank and have it exchanged for an unripped bill.  It's not so easy, these days, when cash is not the main form of payment anymore.

If the artist doesn't have a preference listed, chances are that you'll have to negotiate.  It's simpler than you think!  You shouldn't be negotiating prices (or if you are, I have no advice for you).  This is about when you pay how much.  This is how it should go:

Artist:  How do you want to pay?
Commissioner:  Half when the sketch is done, half when it's all done.
Artist: Okay
Artist:  How about half upfront, then half at the first sketch?  I don't think you're going to scam me, but I want to make sure I get paid for my work.

This is where you decide how much you trust this artist.  If you don't know them very well, ask people who've commissioned them before.  If they haven't been commissioned before, it's a judgment call.

Commissioner:  Okay
Commissioner:  I'm not really comfortable with that.  How about half upfront, then half when it's all done?
Commissioner:  I'm really not comfortable with that.  I don't think you're going to scam me, either, but I've never commissioned you before and want to be sure.

This would be in your own words, of course, but the simpler, probably the better.  Be polite about it, but don't get into a deal you're not comfortable with.  If the artist takes the opportunity to go off on a tirade about how they don't want to deal with you--ditch them.  You don't want to work with someone who's already ticked at you.  If they go off on a tirade, but it's about how they've been screwed in the past, it's up to you how to deal with it.  If you still want to commission them, do what you can to sooth their feelings and take whatever payment deal makes them happy.  Up to you.

4. Not simple, safe, or practical!
There are a few common scenarios where you won't be paying half and half.  Here are a few:

a) Not simple: You're commissioning a large number of pieces and the total is more than you can pay at once.  I recommend NOT doing this with an artist you've never commissioned before.  I did this recently with saintpepsi, and the easiest solution for me worked fine for him--every paycheck, I sent him a significant percentage of the total price, until it was completely paid.  Throughout, he worked on the various pieces at his normal pace, which happened to fit with the timing of the payments.  Worked out just fine, and I'm happy with the commission.  Again, though, I do NOT recommend commissioning multiple pieces from an artist you've never worked with before, for more reasons than I care to list here.

b) Not safe: The artist needs cash in a hurry, to pay bills or buy Christmas presents or something.  They just moved and don't have the down payment for an apartment (Nadiaenis), they're about to lose their internet AND be evicted (TerrorEffect), they have unexpected vet bills (pixelinkdust), they have this tendency to break their tablet pen and have other crisis (DarkVanessaLusT)...  No matter what the reason, the artist is offering commissions in a hurry, and they want everyone's money up front.  It's up to you if you want to go for these artists--even when the artist has a history of good commissions and being a good person in general, their situation may mean that they can't do the commission when they say they can, or can't do it at all.  This can work out, but there's a high risk that it won't.

Also not safe: Putting a check in the mail.  Yeah...

c) Not practical:  The artist wants to do something that's way, way too complicated.  Even if they're telling you it's really simple and easy, YOU are the one paying.  If it doesn't make sense to you, you won't be able to follow it, so just say no to this.  Do what YOU understand.

Step Five: WIPs

What is a WIP, and do you want them?

1. Definition of the term

What is a WIP?  The acronym stands for Work In Progress, and it's the same thing as a draft in writing; it's a sketch, lineart, flat (flat colors without highlights or shading), or partially-colored work that isn't finished yet but is often provided before the piece is done.

2. Why do you want to see the WIPs?
WIPs are optional--some artists provide them, some don't, and some provide them some of the time but not all of the time.  In my own experience, most artists do, or at least have no problem providing them if you ask.

a) Proof of progress
There are two big reasons to receive WIPs, and this is the first:  Proof that the artist is not sitting on their hands while your commissioned art collects dust.  Actually, it's also proof that the artist has even started on your commission, which can be a big concern if your name is at the top of their list and nothing's happening.  Especially if you commissioned in one of those "unsafe" scenarios [see above], it's important to have WIPs so you know where the artist stands.  If they lead a busy life and have very sporadic free time to work on your art, a WIP now and then tell you that they haven't forgotten about you completely... though you should keep in mind that your commission is probably not their biggest priority in life unless they say it is, so bugging someone for WIPs when you know they haven't had a chance to work on it is not that nice [see Don't Pester The Artist, above].

b) Feedback
This is the second big reason.  Many artists provide WIPs specifically so they can ask you if they're doing it right or if you want something changed.  Some artists, like DarkVanessaLusT, will provide a WIP at every possible stage, mainly to check and make sure that everything is to your satisfaction.  Others may provide only the initial sketch or lineart and nothing more until the finished piece.  In the case of saintpepsi, I usually receive a lineart or sketch to show that he's started and to ask if I like the pose.  He doesn't send me one every time, but if I see it and note that I'd like something changed, he then sends me a new WIP with the changes to make sure that's what I meant.  In the case of Ninjatic, however, I received one sketch, noted a few corrections, and then saw nothing more until the finished piece.  None of these methods are a bad thing, but each commissioner has different preferences; you may prefer tons of WIPs, especially if you want precision, you may like to check the initial sketch or colors and then let the artist do their work without you, or you may even prefer to see no WIPs at all and just let the artist run with it.  If you have a preference or would like to know what an artist normally does with WIPs, don't feel bad asking them--the worst they can do is tell you that they have some reason not to send you any.

c) Because it's fun to watch them work!
I don't know about you, but I enjoy looking over people's shoulders.  The advantage of the internet, of course, is that you can do this without irritating the artist!  Instead of literally standing near someone and peering at their paper or canvas, blocking their light, interrupting with remarks, and/or giving them the creeps and making them feel that much more self-conscious, we get to see clips from their progress and watch the art evolve on our computer screens.  For this, the only thing better than WIPs is livestream.  Actually, ToolKitten has gotten into livestreaming her coloring and announcing times in her journal, so I highly recommend her if you like to watch artists at work.

3. When you WON'T see WIPs:
There are some artists that don't provide WIPs.  You can ask to see some, certainly, and many artists will reply with one, but sometimes your request will be denied.  This does NOT necessarily mean that the artist is ignoring you or you're being scammed:

a) If the art is in a sketchy style
If the WIP looks like unintelligible scribbles, chances are that the artist is not going to show it to you.  It really is that simple.

b) If the artist is self-conscious
Remember what I said about making someone uncomfortable when you look over their shoulder?  Yes, the internet is a great thing, allowing us to do that without blocking light, interrupting a brush strokes, or giving off that creepy stalker vibe.  However, many artists are still self-conscious and uncomfortable with being watched, which is one reason more artists do not livestream even if their computer is capable of it and they would have an audience.  Not much you can do about this, and arguing about it or suggesting they "get over it" by sending you WIPs anyway... even if you really are just trying to help... usually just makes it worse.  You can always cancel the commission if not having WIPs bothers you (I wouldn't recommend that unless you already don't trust the artist, but it's your choice), but you can't force the artist to send you some if they really don't want to.  If being self-conscious is the issue, either they'll eventually choose to "get over it" on their own, or they won't, and that's just something you'll have to accept.

c) The artist does not want your feedback
There are some artists out there who are easily stung.  They REQUIRE artistic license, explicitly or implicitly, and they expect that if you like their work enough to commission them, you will trust their inspiration and their skill enough to not "teach your grandmother to suck eggs."  They may or may not provide WIPs anyway, just to show you that they're working on it or to provide you the pleasure of watching it evolve (IF they know commissioners like that, and they see that you'll be one of them), but they won't give you the opportunity to ask for changes and they will ignore you or be ticked off if you hand them some anyway.  As a general rule, read their Note or PM carefully if you are sent a WIP, and make sure the artist wants your feedback before you reply--and if they do want your feedback, make sure it's corrections they want (not just enthusiasm) before you tell them that that's a little too dark a shade of mauve.

d) The art will all be done in one sitting
There may not BE any WIPs.  If the artist sketches, inks, flats, and does the shading and polishing all in one sitting (or whatever they're doing to get your commission done, whether it be sewing a plushie or welding jewelry), there ARE no WIPs.  There may not even be a concept sketch, and you're unlikely to see it first even if there is.  Many artists work this way, so don't be too surprised if "all of sudden" your art is done and in your mailbox.

e) You're on the waiting list
...Folks, if you're on the waiting list, whether that be because you haven't paid yet or because the artist is busy with the people ahead of you and likes to draw commissions relatively in order, don't expect any WIPs.  He or she hasn't even started on your art yet, and asking for WIPs at this point is genuinely stupid.  Don't do it.

4. What's the difference between a WIP and a concept sketch?
Sometimes an artist will provide several concept sketches before beginning the piece.  These are not WIPs.  A concept sketch is an idea only, and sending these to you could be one of two things:  Either the artist wants you to know that they're thinking about your commission and planning, even though they haven't started it yet, or they're looking for feedback from you on which idea to go with.  In the case of Nadiaenis [in one of the "unsafe" commission types mentioned above], I was provided one concept sketch shortly after sending her the payment and another, completely different concept sketch several months later, when her life calmed down a little and she had the free time to work on it again.  It was the second one that she turned into the finished art, but she could easily have gone through several more ideas before finding one she was inspired to work with.  In the case of liiga [one of the professionals listed above, who treats commissions the same way she treats pro work], I was provided three concept sketches and asked to choose which one I preferred, and the one I chose was the one she turned into finished work.

A concept sketch does NOT mean that your finished commission will look anything like that.  All it means is that the artist is brainstorming on what they might do.

Step Six: Legal Rights

This is a fun one.  Some artists are very touchy and concerned about who has what legal rights, and they have a right to be concerned.  Other artists are not concerned and honestly couldn't care less.

1. What's the big deal?

Heh heh... Lordy, is the answer to this a long one.  Google it, check dA News and the journals of pro and/or big-name artists, wiki "copyright," ask a lawyer.  The short answer is that artists make money off their work and want to continue making money off their work, and they don't want you destroying it by cropping, warping, color-shifting, or otherwise altering the art they've made for you--or the art they've made for someone else.  There are many long, heated, and very legitimate and factual articles on this all over the internet, but I can't find one that deals with it directly from a private commissioner's point of view, so I'm afraid you'll have to look on your own if you're interested.  Because of the mass ton of information on this subject, Step Six here is going to be the sketchiest part of the whole guide, even though it is still quite long.  Sorry about that.

2. Do you need a contract?
If you're commissioning privately, meaning you have absolutely no intention of using the art for commercial purposes, you do not need a special contract and shouldn't expect the artist to want one.  Your Notes, PMs, or e-mails are not confidential according to the law, and whatever arrangement you make is legally binding.  If the art is for your personal use only, and you only ever use it that way, it's rare for an artist to try and sue you for it.  IF, however, the art is intended for commercial use (trading cards, tarot cards, book covers, advertisements, even website logos--anything that helps you make money), or if you originally commissioned it for personal use and decide to use it commercially later on, then you need a contract.  Your e-mail may be legally binding, and it will hold up in court, but those are usually ambiguous and contracts more clearly state everyone's legal rights.  If you're doing anything commercially, trust me, you want those rights.  My dad is an attorney specializing in this stuff.  TRUST ME. @_@

:shrug: On the other hand, I'm not a lawyer myself and I haven't yet commissioned work for commercial use.  I have no idea how to set up a contract and cannot give you advice if you need one.

3. The usual deal:
First of all, there is no usual.  Most artists, amateur and pro alike, will not outline who has what legal rights when you commission them.  Each artist has a different idea if what you are and are not allowed to do with their work; it's normal to assume that you can do whatever you jolly well please, since you paid for it and therefore it's yours--except it's not.  That's the fun part.  Yes, you paid for them to create art, and you more specifically paid for them to create your art.  However, it is their art.  They made money off the creation of it, and they give you certain legal rights to use it, but most of those rights actually belong to the artist, because creative work is funky like that.  The law doesn't make a whole lot of sense if you're just looking at it as a commissioner, but that's how it is.

From the artist's point of view, the law makes a lot more sense.  An artist, first off, is not a construction worker.  A construction worker makes money by doing the same basics tasks over and over again, and doing them well.  A construction worker does not require inspiration, and his job does not depend on reputation--if you walk on the job site and can hammer a nail straight, the boss probably doesn't give a care if you've been doing it one year or twenty years, nor does he care which houses you've worked on.  An artist, however, does require inspiration to produce better work, and they do depend on their reputation to get a job in the first place.  They are more likely to have a "dry spell" where their work is simply not as good because their homelife sucks, they have a thesis to write or an exam to study for, they're going through a divorce, etc.  They rely not just on original commissions but on royalties, whether that be print sales or contract-specified royalties that come from book or trading card sales.  If you spread their art around and make money off it without giving a reasonable percentage to the artist, you're denying some of their legal right to income.  If you alter their work by removing their mark (usually their name or username), you're denying them potential customers who might otherwise see the work and go looking for the artist who made it.  If you alter their work by cropping, warping, covering with text, etc., you are damaging their reputation by displaying art that isn't actually what they made for you, and again are causing them to lose potential customers.

As a commissioner, this sucks.  It sucks even more that you almost always have to ask special just to find out what the artist is really giving you.  In the case of thegryph (another professional), she specified upfront and explicitly that the art was to be credited to her and that we would need to have a contract if I wanted to use it commercially later, but that I could use it privately as a character reference any time I wanted.  With her permission, I have her art posted on a separate dA account designed to organize written rough drafts and character references for a novel-in-progress: Baroness-byArynChris.  In the case of vaniamarita, I found out some time after the art was finished and paid for that she honestly didn't care what I did with it; as far as she was concerned, it was totally mine the moment she had the money.  Generally, it's thegryph's approach that an artist will take, if they even think about it in the first place, but that doesn't mean they'll tell you if you don't ask.

4. So how can I use the art?
As a general rule of thumb, it's always a good idea to credit the artist and link to either their webpage, dA main page, or shop thread if at all possible.  Not every artist requires that, and it's sometimes unfeasible to do so, but it's unlikely to bother them if you do; again, artists make money off their reputation.

If you want to turn their art into a banner or post it on webpage, especially if it's possible for a viewer to get confused about who did the art or whether the art originally included words (or if they may think that the art sucks because the font doesn't suit it), contact the artist first.  In some cases, I have been told that sure, I can use the art for a banner, but the artist would prefer to make it for me his- or herself, to prevent distortion of the original work.  Sometimes I have been told outright that it is no problem, do whatever (vaniamarita)... and sometimes I have been told that I absolutely do not have that right.  You will never know unless you contact the artist, and they can get you in a lot of hot water with the law or site admins if you do what you want without talking to them first.

If you only use the commissioned art for rp character references or your desktop background, and never try to give someone else permission to use it, you will never have a problem.  Likewise, posting it as a character reference for a contest or giving it out as a reference for yet another commission will never get you into trouble.  Everything else gets tricky and weird, though, and depends on the artist.

5. How can the artist use the art?
Any way they darn well please, unless they tell you that YOU have a certain right--in which case, they no longer have that right themselves.  You should expect that any original characters will be credited back to you, and that the artist will display your commission as a sample of their work (unless you have a commercial contract that states that they can't until it is first published commercially).  Other than that, the artist can sell posters, calenders, the original hardcopy (if there is one), art books, and even submit it as a contest entry for someone you've never met.  That last is in seriously bad taste and usually goes hand-in-hand with fraud, but it's not always illegal.  If you see the artist doing this later and didn't bother to make everyone's rights clear before, don't be too surprised.  Feel free to demand that they stop making prints available, take it out of their calender, etc., but realize that the artist has no idea how you feel about any of it until and unless you say something.

If you believe that the artist is overstepping their rights, ask around and show your correspondence to someone whose judgment you trust.  If they agree, or you decide on your own that there really is a problem, the first thing to do is send a calm, polite e-mail/note/PM to the person requesting that they stop.  If you get no response and/or the artist continues to use the art illegally, the next step depends on what precisely they're doing... contact a mod or admin, contact the contest host with an explanation of this situation so they can decide whether or not to disqualify the artist, or call a lawyer.  If the artist is making a profit off something in a way you both agreed they would not, or is claiming your character(s)/idea to be their own (that's stealing YOUR copyright!), you have every right to take them to court on it.  Whether you do or not is up to you--but you do have the right.

In Summary:

1. Pick the artist you actually want to work with.
2. Make sure you can actually afford it first.
3. Be nice, courteous, and respectful.
3 1/2. Match the artist's level of communication.
4. Don't get scammed.
5. Figure out if you care about WIPs.
6. Know your rights.
Add a Comment:
kwf1990 Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2016
Do you have any tips for keeping track of artists commission status? There are a lot of talented artists, but it seems like they're constantly busy, and trying to keep track/checking up on their openings can feel like a huge chore. I know some are more specific with their times or open slots, but some just simply say "Commissions closed" with no info. Kinda kills the drive to attempt to get a piece commissioned.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2016
That can be a problem, yes! =P  If you have a particular set of artists you really want to commission (no substitutes are acceptable), keeping a list helps a little.  If they state that they won't be open until August, then you know not to check back until August.  If they say "next year," then you know not to look to them until 2017.  But that only helps in general terms... not only because, as you say, artists usually don't give an estimate of their next opening, but because artists frequently don't know exactly what their schedule will be.  They might get through their current work sooner than expected, or drop a client who's causing problems (or be dropped if a client's project goes belly-up), or need emergency funds, or have real-life problems that slow down their normal work pace... the list is endless.  The only way for would-be customers to know is to keep an eye on the artist and/or ask directly.

This probably isn't what you want to hear, but what I've actually learned over the years is not to commit to any specific artists.  Art style, yes.  Projects, certainly.  But artists themselves are just people, and freelancers at that; they're going to come and go, change their style and prices and will/won't lists over time, and frequently change what type of work they are pursuing.  An artist may decide that they prefer music to painting (I've seen that twice, from two very skilled painters).  An artist might decide they are sick of industry work and open up to private clients for a while, then eye their bank account nervously and switch back to industry work.  Artists may close commissioning forever and open a Patreon, realizing they can (or hoping they can) pursue their own creative projects and never work as a hired hand again.  Artists can also disappear, with no notice and no explanation, never to be heard from again-- or not for years, and then you find out they were active on Facebook, Artstation, Tumblr, or Instagram under a completely different name.  As frustrating as it is, what's really best is keeping an eye out for more artists.  If their commissions are not currently open, you have no idea when or if they will be again; if you know what styles you like and keep some money saved up for commissions, then you can hire someone who is open, as soon as you discover them.
kwf1990 Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2016
Cool, thanks for the info, sounds more like a witch hunt to find someone who is open more than anything lol. I guess at the end of the day, if you want it bad enough, you'll spend the time to try and find someone. Perhaps I can give it a go and se how long/what my success rate is, and if it's terrible, then maybe trying to be a "Commissioner" isn't something I'll devote my time to.

Thanks again.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2016
Welcome, and I hope the searches go well for you. ^^
astro-911 Featured By Owner May 21, 2016  Student Writer
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! I'm currently looking for an artist to do some work for me and reading this really opened my eyes to possible issues that may arise. Thanks again!
ArynChris Featured By Owner May 21, 2016
Very welcome!  :D  I hope it is of help to you.
Sweet-n-Fluffy Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2016  Student Writer
I'm going to have to be careful who I commission from now on. Everyone I commission seems to get my characters wrong, and I hope I don't sound ungrateful, but it's irritating me. In fact, this is turning me away from commissioning artists now. I give as many descriptions and references I can, but something almost always goes wrong. There was this one person I commissioned who missed major details. :stare: A lot of other people I commissioned before say "Sorry this isn't what you asked for...but...blah, blah, blah". When I commission someone, I expect them to do my commission the way I want. It's common sense, considering I'm paying for it. What do you do in a situation like that?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2016
I find a fellow commissioner and ask who they recommend, usually.  Although sometimes the real answer is to post my character's references/description in the forums and ask people if it's really that hard to draw.  Forum people have no reason to lie to you-- in fact, they're usually very blunt, because they don't care what you think of them-- so while they may not give useful information about exactly what the problem is, they can at least say whether it's good or bad in general.  As much as we hate to hear it, being in love with a character design doesn't mean it's a good design, and bad designs are actively tougher to draw.

But if someone says, "I know this isn't what you asked for, but I ignored your directions on purpose"?  If it's a freebie/request, then whatever, you don't have a right to complain... but if it's a commission, you are paying them to do what you ask of them, and if they aren't willing to do that, then they aren't earning the payment.  Don't pay.  If you prepaid, actively demand a redo, until you get what you paid for.
FairlyNew Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2015
I am very lost on how to commission a piece although the above helps but I dont understand how to physically go about it as this site is confusing.  I basically want a fantasy piece of my as a fairy or butterfly with my kids but I want it in a physical piece i.e. a drawing with colored pencils or watercolor (i'm not sure which is easiest).  Can someone help?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2015
Colored pencils and watercolor aren't inherently easier or more difficult, they're just different mediums-- different tools, and some artists are more skilled with one than the other.  Some artists also use marker, pens, or various types of paint.  If you don't care what tool they use, as long as you get a physical piece of art in the end, that makes it easier to find yourself an artist.  Another option you might want to consider is hiring a digital artist, then getting a poster or "fine art print" of it.  The advantage of digital art is that if something happens to your physical copy, you can easily print a new one.

There may be another website which would be easier for you to use, but I'm not sure what websites you're familiar with.  On deviantart, since you have a very specific idea of what you want and just need the artist, I suggest posting in Forums--> Job Offers.  Just post this information:

1. What you want (fantasy art of you with your kids)
2. Specific details (how many people total, how many are fairies/butterflies, whether you want a background/environment or literally just the people, whether the mood should be happy or amusing or whatever, any other details you have)
3. That you want traditional art, and the original mailed to you
(or if you would be happy with a poster/print, say that you want either traditional art with the original mailed to you, or a poster/print with a full-sized digital copy)
4. Your price range (including shipping costs)
5. Your home country (so the artist can estimate shipping costs before contacting you)
6. Your deadline

Since you want a physical piece, I suggest choosing your artist at least 2 months in advance, to give them time to get it done (traditional art can take more time, and a digital artist still needs extra time to make a poster/print) and get it mailed to you.  If you don't have a deadline, I suggest inventing one-- not someone's birthday or a family event, but say, 4-6 months.  Many artists work better with a deadline, and you should definitely not give more than 6 months for a small project like this.  Of course, deadline is entirely up to you... if you don't want to wait too long, then figure out how long IS too long, and give a deadline that's sooner.  You'll be much happier if you don't have to wait for your piece.

Hope that helps.  Anything that's unclear or that you're still wondering about, feel free to ask!
rsebug Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2015
I am in need of someone to do a picture...this is gonna sound funny, but......i need a drawing of a peanut wearing sunglasses (a cool looking one lol) kind of leaned back like hes standing holding a game controller. Strange i know lol. My reason is, my 7 year old son has a youtube channel, his gamer tag is coolpeanut08. I wanted to have a shirt printed with a picture (of what i described)  and his gamer name on it and give it to him for christmas. Any suggestions? i came here because i didnt know where else to go lol
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2015
Not that strange, trust me. xD  A lot of people get their gamertag drawn as a kind of personal logo or choose their tag based on a logo idea.  And that's an awesome Christmas present!

The customized shirt is the quick and easy part-- a quick google search will bring up lots of online companies that make "custom" shirts (T-shirts, polo, long or short sleeved, child-sized, etc.), and many of them can get it to you by Christmas.  Depending where you live, there may also be a custom shirt printer in your local mall or strip mall.  All you have to do is give them the image and tell them what size and style of shirt.  It's usually about $20-$35 for an adult shirt, and I'm guessing a children's shirt would be cheaper.  It's a good idea to look for the shirt printer first, in case they have special requirements about image size, file format, or the number of colors you can use.  To make things easier for everyone, I recommend a graphic T-shirt instead of anything with embroidery.

For the art itself, you'll need to commission an artist.  Normally, I only give general advice on how to find, choose, and contact one, but you're on a tight deadline, so I'm going to give you the name of an artist whom I know to be open for commissions and able to work with your deadline:  FionaCreates  (who also has a tumblr or can be contacted by email)  Fiona would charge about $30 for what you're describing.

There is one catch, and it's something that a lot of artists would mention in this situation:  If you or your son wanted to use the art commercially-- say, as a logo for his YouTube channel, Twitch channel, or anything else that could generate income (even if he never gets enough followers to generate income)-- that's different, and the artist would charge you more for the art.  As long as the art is only used privately-- for a shirt, a screensaver, things like that-- you never have to worry about it.  And if you and your son use it privately at first and then decide later that you want to use it for his YouTube channel or something, you can always go back to the artist and re-negotiate that.

I hope that answers all of your questions.  If not, keep asking me!  I'm here all year. :D
rsebug Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2015
thank you so much for the info! were not looking to use it commercially lol, just a christmas present....maybe when he get a few years older he can look into it (if he gets "popular")...i did message Fionacreates, im still waiting on a response...hopefully i get one :)
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2015
She's online almost every day, so I'm sure she'll get back to you soon. ^_^
CRUMVIII Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Usually how long is too long when waiting for a commission to be sent to you? I'm kinda waiting on one, it's been about 3 weeks give or take. I asked out of curioisty but got no reply.

Still not too sure about the idea of knowing that the artist can make money on art drawn for you of your character tho...True it's their art but it's your character. As the owner of the character and the one that thought them up, I think you should have some rights or say in this matter...
ArynChris Featured By Owner Edited Sep 16, 2015
There is no "usual" when it comes to waiting for art.  Some artists work very quickly, some work very slow, and some work quickly but have little free time to work on it.  The only way to know how long it should take is if you and the artist agree on a deadline, or if the artist gives you an estimate on how long it will take.  3 weeks is not a long wait, unless the artist said it would be done sooner.  If the artist gave no time estimate and there is no deadline, I usually wait 4 weeks before I ask for an update. :)

HOWEVER... you already asked, and the artist has not replied.  That could be a bad sign.  Has the artist logged in since you sent the Note?  Have they read the Note yet? (you can tell if they read it by going to your Sent Notes folder-- if it's in bold text, the person you sent it to has not read it yet)

As for the artist making money off art of other people's OCs, I agree wholeheartedly.  I have seen only a few artists who say (usually in their commission information) that they reserve the right to do that, and I don't hire them.  My reasons are based on personal experience:

1. Buyers are lazy and will assume-- even if the commissioner is listed in the description-- that it's the artist's OC
2. Artists who see this as "their" work alone will not bother to list the commissioner anyway, so even conscientious buyers will assume it's the artist's OC
3. Some artists will deliberately use a commissioner's OC-- if not the commissioned art, then in "personal" art-- and claim it's their own (this happened to me, and since the artist is VERY popular and makes a LOT of money off art, I keep an eye on the situation to make sure she's not making money off it-- because if she does, I'm going to hire a lawyer and sue for copyright infringement)
4. The difference between a private and commercial commission is that in a commercial commission, the client is using that art to make more money-- so the artist has a right to expect more money, either royalties or some share of what the client reasonably expects to get from using the art.  If the artist is going to use the art commercially, then they ought to do the commission at a discount, free, or pay the client a fair share of the earnings, just like a commercial client would have to pay them.  That's how fairness works.  The art is joint intellectual property, and neither one of you makes money off it unless the both of you do.

This is a thing I mostly see with photographers, to be honest.  Models rarely own their own likeness or have any rights to their own photographs, even if they are paying the photographer.  Those photos can end up anywhere, on any website or in any coffee table book, in galleries, sold as prints, and the models get nothing.  Even if it's a photoshoot for a pornographic site, the photographer release form is treated as more important than the release form for the person getting naked for the world.  The photographer automatically owns all photos, period.  And on the one hand, I do understand the photographer's position, but on the other, nobody sees the photographer.  His (because it seems that most photographers are men) name may not be as well known, it may be tougher for him to establish a reputation and public identity, but he also faces none of the repercussions and takes none of the risks.  The people being photographed, however-- whether it's a nude model, pornographic model, clothed model, child, teenager, or bride and groom-- are risking that their bodies and faces are going to be plastered on billboards, posters, and internet advertisements of all kinds, sold as "stock photos" that they have no control over.  The fact that a gay man may have his face used for a homophobic ad (and not know until his friends in that part of the world tell him on Facebook) and married couples have to have a license to use their own wedding photos is absolutely ridiculous.  So I don't hire photographers anymore, either.

Now, photography policies may be extreme... but I do wonder if that's where the idea of "I own the art, no matter what the subject matter or who already paid me" comes from.  PHOTOshop didn't start as painting software, after all. =P
CRUMVIII Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow. Such a long detailed reply. Thx. XD

It seems the artist was just super busy so I was worried about nothing as I finally received a reply.

As for the money off OCs thing, sorry to hear about what happened listed at 3. I'll make sure to be really careful with who draws my OCs from here on. And I agree wholeheartedly with 4. Always seems like the commissioner gets the short  end of the stick.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2015
There are a lot of short ends of the stick, and sometimes it's the artist who gets it.  Or both parties.  I really shouldn't have gone on like that, actually... it's a hot-button issue for me, but you didn't ask for a rant-- or even a calm discussion-- about the issue.  I'm sorry. :(

I'm glad that you don't have a case of the run-away artist!  Hopefully, the whole commission works out to your satisfaction. :)
Debochira Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This article helped me greatly. I have not been in situations as unfortunate as the people below, and the ones I have been in were from my own lack of research on the artist's other works.

However, I do have a question regarding artists that do not show WIPs: How do you usually go about asking for a change due to a detail they either left out or changed despite it being part of the original request and not something I asked for at the last minute? I always feel ungrateful that I'm not satisfied with the hard work this artist put into the picture, so I often just let it go. What do you recommend?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2015
It's tough, to be honest.  I have the same problem, and, like you, usually just let it go.  How to handle it-- or if-- depends on the artist you're working with and what they messed up.  Mostly the latter.

If the artist mentioned having "artistic license" or "taking liberties" or "being creative" before you agreed to the commission:
In this case, they have a long history of changing things to satisfy their own ideas and whims, and they are already aware that commissioners get upset about it, which is why they warned you in advance.  If they simply forgot a detail, they may be willing to put it in afterwards... but if they warped it or left it out deliberately, or warped it so strongly that you didn't even recognize it was there, they probably won't want to change the art.  If the detail is completely gone, jump down to the next paragraph.  When something has been badly warped, I've said things like, "This detail came out very differently from what I asked for, and to be honest, I'm not happy with it.  I respect that you get creative with your art, but I was really looking forward to seeing this the way I specified.  Is it possible to change this part of the art?"  Be prepared for the artist to say no, and if they get upset, make an effort to end on a courteous note.  Staying professional even when you're disappointed and/or the artist is emotional is good for your reputation and keeps everyone from feeling even worse about it.

If a detail was left out completely:
It was probably left out on accident.  The more details a character has, or the more detailed the request, the more likely this is to happen.  It's also possible-- especially if the art has extreme lighting, a detailed background, or is in a sketchy or unusual style-- that the detail is there, but not easy to see or notice.  I try to give the benefit of the doubt and say, "I can't find this detail in the image.  Was it forgotten, or am I just blind? ^^ ;"  If it was forgotten, the artist will probably apologize and offer to add it in for free; if it's there but not as obvious as they thought it was, they'll tell you where to look.  On rare occasions, they may tell you it was no accident... and no matter what their reason, you have every right to insist that it be added, because they didn't give you what they agreed to.

If a detail was changed, but is mostly the same:
This could be a matter of the lighting, a matter of the artist thinking it looks better or more realistic (or more cohesive with the rest of the design) this way, or simply a misinterpretation of the reference images and description.  I had an artist last week turn a white lab coat into a pink lab coat... the overall lighting was pinkish, but that was way too much, and what I said was, "I'd like the lab coat to be a brighter, starker white, with less of the pink hues and shadows, if it's not too late to change that."

When the change is to make something look better or more cohesive, the artist may have been struggling to match your design to their style or make your design match itself (such as making everything more angular, or softer, or pastel, or giving a triangle-eyed character triangle polkadots on his clothes instead of circular dots).  That's a matter of quality control... if they want to get more commissions, they have to make sure what's in their gallery is consistent and overall good quality.  Commissioners are notoriously bad at creating good designs, and it's up to you whether sticking to your original is important or not; it makes sense to insist on something like a curvy patterns on an angular character if the clothes are stolen or borrowed from a curvy character, but if that's not explicit in the story, it just makes the design look bad when you insist on it.  I've never met an artist who refused to change it back if you insist, but they might not keep it in their gallery afterward.

Making something more realistic runs into misinterpretation, because the artist starts using outside references based on what they think you're showing them.  Most misinterpretation is when the reference or description is vague, or when the artist and commissioner have different cultural knowledge.  For example, does a scythe have a straight handle and a triangular blade, or a wavy handle and a crescent blade?  Is embarrassment shown with sweat drops, blushing, laughter, hunched shoulders, or red ears?  An American character with a basic Grim Reaper weapon these days usually holds a straight shaft with a triangular blade and expresses embarrassment with sweat drops or blushing, but the same character 50 years ago would hold a wavy shaft and blush with red ears, and the same character in Japan would express embarrassment by laughing.  Not everyone knows where and when these differences came from, so an artist might make the scythe "realistic" by turning it into a wavy European scythe, because those are most of the photos on Google... or if you say the character is blushing with embarrassment, an artist who is heavy into Japanese culture might think you mean sexual embarrassment.  This is nobody's fault.  What's worked best for me in this case is to clarify with an apology: "I'm sorry for being unclear.  The object in the image is actually a version of [link] and [link], and the details should be more like [link] and [link].  Also, I think I was unclear about the mood, I meant the character is feeling [mood] because he [emotion he is feeling in this scene]."  Links would be to photo references and any images you have that show the object more clearly or close up, if you have any references you didn't show before.  I haven't had any artist refuse to change a misinterpretation, but I had one artist charge me extra, and some of them were unhappy that I didn't explain better in the first place.  It's a learning experience-- and again, it's nobody's fault, even if people are upset.  Clearer references do help, though.

If a detail is drastically different, but you can still tell immediately that that's it:
They did it on purpose, guaranteed.  Usually for one of the same reasons as above, but it's extreme-- like if that white lab coat wasn't just shaded pale pink, but hot pink with neon green stripes.  My opinion is that the artist really, REALLY should have asked you first, because this is drastically different from what you agreed on.  Unless the artist did ask you and it just didn't come out well, in which case it's just a failed experiment and can be shrugged off.  If you don't think the change is the greatest thing since sliced bread, definitely insist on a correction.  I have some trouble staying calm when this happens, so I tend to write and revise my message for a few days before I send it (to strip the I'm-really-upset vibe out).  The most recent message I sent over this kind of problem was, "I'm sorry, but I can't accept the art as it is.  There are specific details we agreed on, which need to be corrected:  1. The [detail] should be [what I specified], not [what he did]  2. The [detail]..." etc.  There may be some amount of misinterpretation or details being obscured by the style, so if the artist defends their changes that way, give them the benefit of the doubt... but when changes are extreme, the artist should have known you'd be unhappy with it, and you don't have to accept any excuses when they have already veered drastically away from your agreement.

If a detail was changed so much that you didn't recognize it:
If you don't recognize it, that's because it's not there.  They took it out and put something else in, or they deliberately changed or "hid" it in the picture because they didn't want to do it.  If they point it out and you still don't see it, or the picture would be pretty much identical if it was completely gone, then they aren't fulfilling their end of the agreement.  My advice is to call them on it and insist that it be more obvious/prominent, because you wouldn't have told them that detail at all if you didn't want to see it in the art-- and they knew that when they agreed to the commission.  If they really thought it was better without that detail, or completely changed, they should have asked you permission first.  I haven't had that happen in a long time, but if it happened again these days, I'd probably say the same thing as with Drastically Different:  "I can't accept the art as it is..." etc.

No matter what the problem is, it helps to check your original descriptions and make sure you said what you thought you said, and that the artist has a reminder of what you said.  Go back to your original Note/email where you described what you wanted, and see if there was another way to interpret it or if your desire was clear (if it was in a reference image, make sure it was clearly displayed and could not be misunderstood).  If you were very clear and specific about that detail, copy/paste that section to a new Note/email, relink or reattach the images, and politely ask about it.  If you were not clear and/or had really bad reference images, consider that the artist might not be the one who screwed up, and you might have to pay extra to redo or add what the artist misunderstood or couldn't see.

Hope that helps. ^^;
Debochira Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I didn't expect such a complete response :D That helped greatly since my latest completed commission was Scenario 2: Detail Left Out. Poor girl is having some rough times, so I don't blame her.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2015
It was a very open question, and I try to make sure I'm actually answering what the asker needs to know. :D  That's why it took two days to respond; I was thinking about it.  Glad it helps!
Freelancer521 Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015
Thanks for this useful guide. From a customer's perspective, could you offer some advice on asking about a commission in progress? I commissioned some art several months ago and I would like to to ask the artist about it in a polite and respectful way.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Edited Sep 7, 2015
Sure!  What I've found works best in that situation is a simple, lightly friendly query, just one line.  That keeps the emotion (good or bad) out of it, and I've found that artists usually respond faster than to paragraphs.  These are a few I've used myself:

"Hi, there!  I commissioned you a few months ago for a headshot of [link] my OC with rainbow hair and headphones.  You said that the wait would be only one month, so I am just checking in to see if there is a delay, or if the email with the finished art was lost.  Please let me know! :) "
(^I had worked with this artist before and knew she would deliver the art... eventually.)

"Aloha!  It's been a few months since I paid for the commission of [link] my twin OCs, and I haven't heard from you in a while.  Do you have any new WIPs for the commission, or an estimate of when it will be done? :) "
(^This artist kept delaying the work, and I had already had to ask for a redo.)

"Heya!  You estimated that a headshot commission [link] of rainbow-haired OC would take 5 days, and it's been a few weeks since then.  Just checking in to see how that's going. :) "
(^Had not worked with this artist before, and that line pretty much says it all.)

I usually include a smilie face, but that's more for my benefit than for the artists.  It reminds me to step back and reread objectively before I send it-- hours after I first write the Note/email, sometimes-- because I'm usually out of patience and very annoyed by the time I send one of these.  Letting anger or frustration show, no matter how much of a relief it feels, sours the relationship between commissioner and artist.  I let those emotions show a few times, and I never did get the art from most of those people... and the one who did finish the art did a really poor job on it.  Lesson learned.  The more professional you are, the better the commissions will go, if only because the artist has less to react to.

If that makes sense.
Freelancer521 Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2015
This makes a lot of sense, and is very helpful advice. Thank you very much for helping me broach this topic politely. Have an excellent day! :)
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2015
You, too!
crazycoolcats Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I apologize if this was run over in the article ^^ but what does it mean when commissions are on hold? I want to be sure I am aware of what I am telling my watchers, thank you for the info!~
ArynChris Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2015
On hold means that the artist normally does commissions, but is not taking new ones at this time and/or current commissions may take longer than usual to finish.  It usually implies a life event or health issue that's making art difficult to do (or do it in a timely manner).

Hope that helps. ^__^
crazycoolcats Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Ah yes that helped a lot! Thank you!
ArynChris Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2015
Very welcome.
PonyEnterprisesII Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015   Photographer
I wanna commission someone for the first time and I wanna know how.
do i do it like this?…
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015
Basically!  To use paypal, you have to make an account.  Once logged in, you can send money, receive money (which you can use to buy something online or send to someone else, or just have it send to your bank account), and track all the money you've sent and received.  But when you send money, it's important to ask the person what email to send it to-- you may be communicating with them on one email address, but their paypal account uses a different email.  It's a little complicated at first, so if you don't have a paypal account, I recommend making one and verifying your bank account or credit card before doing the commission.  Makes things a little easier.
PonyEnterprisesII Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015   Photographer
Ok thank you.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015
spacengc7293 Featured By Owner Edited Jul 23, 2015
I'm fairly new to commission art and have only been doing it for about 10 months. The only not so pleasant experience  I can think of happened earlier this year when I commissioned an artist for some art but I have yet to receive anything. It's been just over 19 weeks. I don't believe it takes over 19 weeks to ship and deliver if we live in the same state...What threw me off a bit was when a well known artist called him out for copying two of his characters into my commission and when confronted he just shrugged it off (but he said he resolved the problem with the other artist). Most of what I ask is for the artist interpretation/vision of the character. The paragraph where you say if we would get along with the artist really got to me. I don't approve of this artist calling out customer/potential customers on social media and making fun of them. He even goes to say that he enjoys it. I have emailed him about my commission...first time was 7 weeks after it was finished then 14 weeks after it was finished. The first time he told me it takes time to print since it was digital which was odd since he printed several prints the day after he was done. On the second email I have yet to receive a response so I am very hesitant to email him again since I don't want any hostile confrontation with him...From now on I will do more research before commissioning an artist and will always ask myself if we would get along...

Thank you for posting this, it has been a huge help.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2015
Ouch.  That's one of the worse stories I've heard, in that it's just so... blatant that the guy doesn't care.  I hope you do get your print in the end, at least.

You're very welcome, and I hope your commissioning goes a lot better in the future. :)
MahoHaku Featured By Owner Edited Jul 14, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I had a question about waiting time for a commission. I've commissioned an artist and they've done nothing but personal art,gift art and selling Priority commissions (Ones that jump the queue ahead of everyone else and are often done within 24 hours) for 5 months now and haven't gotten to mine. It's just a simple character design and I don't know if I should ask for a refund. They got my money 5 months ago and I paid over 200 dollars. They are currently in a financial bind so I'm afraid of asking about a refund but the art just isn't getting done. The artist was extremely upset when I asked 2 1/2 months in about my commission and I haven't asked since. What should I do?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2015
Demand a refund.  To be honest, it sounds like there is no way you can win with this one; the artist is going to get upset no matter what you say or do, but you have a right to insist that they either give you the art immediately or give you your money back.  After 5 months-- especially when they have proven that they can get something done in a single day-- this is ridiculous.  Your art should have been done a long time ago, along with everyone else's in the queue.  If they are truly in a financial bind, they should be placing priority on all paid art anyway, to encourage repeat customers, not focusing only on the people willing to pay extra to have things done more quickly.

The gift art and personal art is a separate issue; a lot of artists do "fun" art to keep a balance between work and play, to avoid burnout.  How much play vs. work the artist needs depends on them as a person and on the amount of stress in their life, so while it is frustrating to see them doing silly things when they have commissions to do, it's also difficult to argue with.

I'd say, give them two days to either do your commission-- as if it were a "Priority" commission, not because you are paying more but because she has made you wait so long-- or refund you the full $200.  It's an ultimatum.  Understand that if she refuses, you may be out $200 with no art to show for it, because unless she's in the U.S., you have no easy way to take her to Small Claims Court (of course, if she refuses and IS in the U.S., you can absolutely take her to court, and she might even learn the lesson to not do this anymore.  Small Claims Court requires no lawyer and generally has no fee).

Whether she does the art, returns the money, or refuses both, don't commission her again.  She may not change her pattern for years, if at all, and this is likely to leave a bad taste in her mouth about working with you.

If she does refuse both, or claims she'll do it and then "problems" and "delays" come up, talk to the other people in the queue and see if anyone else is having these same issues... and if not, why not.  Might give you some valuable clues or tips on how to get her to do the right thing, and it'll warn others that this is going on.
SassyDraw Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2015
I have a question......Do you actually have to send the artwork you've made to the person paying?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Edited Jul 4, 2015
If it's a physical piece?  No, not usually.  If you're selling your work online, you are competing with digital art, so you really just need a good quality scan or photo, something they can use in the same way they would use a digital piece.  Some customers will ask if they can have the physical piece shipped to them, but plenty of artists cannot provide shipping or would rather keep the original.

If you do want to ship the original to a customer, though, it's customary to make the customer pay all the shipping costs, in addition to what they paid for the digital copy.
artlover4444 Featured By Owner Edited Jun 20, 2015
I spoke with an artist about doing a painting for me. We agreed to a subject matter and size. We also agreed that I would make 3 payments: a deposit, a 2nd payment on my acceptance of the work, and a final payment on completion. The artist said he was busy and gave no time frame for completing the work. I knew I'd be in his hometown in December of this year and figured if he had it done, I'd just pick the painting up in person and make the final payment then. We didn't discuss this but with his busy schedule, I thought I'd be lucky to have something done by then.

I paid the deposit. Several weeks later and with no warning the artists sent me a photo of the finished piece. Then he left the country.

Yesterday, he sent me a note asking me if I had received the piece and if I could pay the balance. I said I had not received the painting and that I wanted to see it in person before I paid the balance.

He then remembered that he had not sent the painting. He also said that it was not our deal and that I needed to take the painting as is without seeing it in person. He is still out of the country and has not discussed any plan on how he intends to get the painting to me. 

My questions are: Can I ask to see the piece in person before accepting it? Do I have the right to refuse it if it's not what I want?

I understand that my deposit is non-refundable and am happy to walk away from that amount if I need to. While I've seen photos of his work, I've not seen his work in person.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2015
Since the commission was for a physical piece of artwork (not just a digital copy with the option of getting the original), you should absolutely insist on seeing it in person and inspect it for damage and quality before paying the rest, especially in circumstances like these.  It is entirely possible that he is pushing for payment because he's in urgent need of the money-- or thinks he is-- but the truth of the matter is that a) he may not be able to get the painting to you at all and b) it may already have been damaged in his absence.  On top of that, you never received a WIP, and your agreement required that he give you one before the 2nd payment-- you have the legal right to consider the "finished" piece a WIP and demand changes or a complete redo if it is not acceptable.  If you want to see it in person, since it's a physical painting, it is absolutely your right to insist on that.

Basically, your artist screwed up several times over on his end and is not reliable.  You have the right to insist on safety measures like these, and it would be wise to do so.
artlover4444 Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2015
Thank you for your input. I really appreciate it. I didn't think I was being rude in asking to see the final piece in person and was surprised at his response. Btw...I thought your article the most thorough and informative of the several I read. This is great advice for both artists and collectors. 
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2015
Very welcome. :)
SpongeThing Featured By Owner May 29, 2015

That's a great article, although, I need some input about a complicated situation, maybe you'll be able to help, or maybe other people will identify themselves with my situation. I have a friend artist that I've been commissioning for a while. I was very satisfied at first with her commissions, but then she started, well... doing things a way that had me feel uncomfortable and not  satisfied with the result. She's sometimes in need of money for various reasons, and I have the feeling that, when she's not in need, she shows herself picky and has attitudes, even giving unpleasant comments in a caption when she publishes the final result (something like "if it were for me I would not draw that", "not my thing") and having me understand that she's doing an immense favour and that it's demanding her a lot of efforts (why didn't she refuse my request in the first place, instead of having me feel belittled that way?). And, when she's in need of money, she offers me to commission her as many slots as possible, and pretends that she loves working for me, that she loves my ideas and such. Of course, I accept because I want to help and because I'm somewhat manipulated to accept - because I'm a friend, and because I'm too obliging and afraid to hurt. At some point I was feeling that I couldn't be her friend and her commissioner at the same time, that I had to be only one of both. But I cannot be her friend if I don't commission her. The subject will always come up because she's in need of money, and she'll always push me to commission her through various ways.

Anyway, each time I send an email with details, references and all. We set a price... and I receive a rough posture sketch. The postures mostly don't even remotely look like what I ask. When I receive the lines, which is a moment when I am supposed to say if I want to make changes, I cannot because she's pressuring me to tell her immediately if I'm satisfied or not while I need to ponder about it a bit more. So I tell her it's beautiful, and if I even dare to suggest that I'd prefer a detail done another way (without demanding it, I'm only suggesting, and it doesn't change the fact that it's beautiful), she throws a fit, says that it's going to change everything about the sketch and that she doesn't want to change everything (my request was only about a detail, remember), and that she wants to cry, that someone else said to her earlier that one of her commissions was ugly, and so on... To sum up, I'm accused of every evil on earth and compared to a very bad commissioner while I'm trying to be polite, and respectful. So I've learnt to keep silent when she sends a sketch or a WIP. I say that I'm fine with everything, even if I'm not satisfied with a detail or even if I feel that her representation of a character isn't completely right. She's as well re-using (copy-pasting), for commissions about the same character, the very same face without asking me if I bother (and yes, I do, I don't want 4 different commissions with the very same face on it, I want change, even if it's only to change slight details... sometimes I feel that she believes I'm an idiot who don't even realise she's copy-pasting the same face for different commissions). So again I've learnt to shut my mouth about that. I realise as well that she has absolutely no regard for what I ask in the first place (colours, clothes, background, details, posture...) she does whatever she wants, takes what she wants and throws away the rest; and when I ask why, she says that it's more realistic or tells me that she prefers it that way. She always has a reason, and makes me feel that my own opinion is bad taste, or irrelevant. So I say nothing even if, when I see the final result, I'm not entirely satisfied. Of course I agree wholeheartedly with everything she does because, if I don't, she either says that she won't change a thing, takes it as a personal offence or shows how depressed and desperate she is that I dared to suggest a change. Sometimes all of the above.

The commission price has as well increased. At first it was roughly 90$ for two full-colour characters. Now I pay 160$ for one single full-colour character - and she says that she's giving me a discount because I'm a faithful customer. She justifies the high price because of the details I ask, but she endeavours not to add those details in the final result because she pretends it's going to overload the drawing. So I find myself paying a lot of money for a detailed commission and don't have even half of the details I asked in the final result. Of course, I don't get a refund because she's removed half of those details.

I just feel that I'm trapped because we're supposed to be friends, but I don't know if I'm right to find the situation weird, and if I'm right to be unhappy as a customer. The truth is that I am unhappy, even if sometimes I'm pleased when I see the result, I'm never fully satisfied and even get the impression that I'm being ripped off and disrespected. Maybe I should have stopped commissioning her long ago, but I've never found the heart to do so. Maybe I should have been more honest, but I didn't want to ruin our friendship, and I am afraid that it's how things are going to be if I stop commissioning her or if I tell her to change anything in her commission.

There are a lot of articles on internet about respecting artists... but there's nothing about customers. The fact that we're not artist ourselves doesn't make us less human beings, and I think that a commission should be a respectful and adult understanding, not... what I've just described.

ArynChris Featured By Owner May 29, 2015
She's using you.  This is not a friend OR an artist worth more than $5, no matter how high the quality of her art as a whole.  You are throwing your money at an asshole.

Show me an example of what she's drawn for you, and I'll show you an artist who does equal or better, for equal price or lower, and treats clients as clients.  As for friends... she isn't.  She just knows that it's easier to get money out of people if they feel a personal connection and a sense of obligation.  To be perfectly frank, real friends don't ask for you to commission them-- they ask for your help finding someone to commission them, and never ask or expect you to hand them money.  Whether or not you offer to commission them, you should never feel a pressure to do so, for any reason.

See if you can find some genuine friends.  It's much easier to say no or stop hanging out with someone when you have other people to hang out with.
SpongeThing Featured By Owner May 30, 2015
Thank you so much for your honest reply! I've sent you a private note about it. You're very right, she isn't my friend, and she isn't someone I should commission. It just doesn't work that way, no one should feel a pressure to commission someone else, and no one should feel that way during a commission process.
Bookworm-Fangirl Featured By Owner Edited May 27, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
This was quite helpful, even if my situation is a little different. There was an art contest for my school's art club, and I won (only two people entere and so we both won) and the prize was a commission so the art teacher offered to do it. I honestly don't know what his style is like, or what I should ask for, or how specific I should be with details and refs and such. This is also my first commission. Do you have any advice?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Edited May 27, 2015
Sounds like fun!  I'd say that you should first ask to see examples of his work and ask what he enjoys drawing (or if he says he takes commissions all the time, ask what people normally commission him for).  That will give you both an idea what to expect and a starting point with what to ask for... For example, if his usual thing is drawing portraits or real people, asking him for a portrait of yourself or a family member (from photos) is a typical commission.

If he doesn't take commissions often and draws everything from Humvees to space aliens, though, you can probably ask for anything you've ever wanted and should choose based on his style.  :)  My advice then is to look at his examples and pick out something that is just cool.  Tell him that that one is your favorite (so he knows what caught your interest and what you like about it), and try to think of something similar that you'd like to have on your bedroom wall.  If it's a character and you have an OC you'd like drawn, draw some colored sketches showing the front and back of the person wearing a favorite outfit, which is all the reference you should need (or for a headshot, draw a waist-up with emphasis on the head, face, and hairstyle).  If you like a landscape, try picking your favorite time of day in a location around your school, or a time of day and less specific scenery like "a forest" or "mountains."  If it's wacky cartoons, you might ask for you and a classmate re-enacting some joke or funny event.  If the man draws awesome vehicles, maybe ask him to draw your dream car, or something that you would never drive but think looks cool (like a monster truck, an Abrams tank, or the DeLorean from Back to the Future).  Don't provide refs unless it's a real person, something you made up yourself, or he says he's not sure what it looks like.  If you need to give him refs, clear photographs or concept drawings are your best friend.

Make sure to tell him that you've never commissioned anyone before or earned this kind of prize, so you're not sure what to do or how to decide what you'd like, or how to explain once you've decided.  It is absolutely normal for a first-time commissioner to be hesitant and a bit clueless.  If he's worked with first-timers before, he might lead you around by the hand a little and push you to decide, so that it gets done in a timely manner; this is also normal, but it might feel a little overwhelming!  Most importantly, stay calm and excited about the opportunity, and try to look forward to the final art as a mystery and a happy surprise-- after all, you're getting free art!
Bookworm-Fangirl Featured By Owner May 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much! that was very helpful :)
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