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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:
HappyMeals69 Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you for the pointers buddy! I'll add this to my Fav just in case I need it :)
ArynChris Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015
Very welcome, and I hope it proves useful. :)
Pokemonlover2014 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student Artist
Do you know if commissions are safe or not?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
It depends on the artist.  Often, you can tell based on their history and how they want to be paid.
Pokemonlover2014 Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2015  Student Artist
Okay thanks!
angelcandy100 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2015  New member Student Artist
I really want to commission T__T but I don't have point.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2015
^_^  Well, actual money (that can be sent through PayPal) is more useful than points anyway, since most artists do not accept points as payment, so that's just as well.  Until then, how about offering art trades with people of the same skill level as you, or requesting free art?  Both will give you some experience working with fellow artists, and give you a chance to practice your skills as a commissioner ahead of time.

If you're new and don't know many people yet, the best and fastest way to request free art or offer a trade is in the forums.  To request free art, go to DrawPLZ; to offer trades, go to Projects! :)
angelcandy100 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2015  New member Student Artist
ZedYeo Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2015  New member
Hi ArynChris,

Thanks for the pointers. Very helpful!
I'd like to hear your opinion if it's okay to talk to a few artists regarding their interest for commission before deciding on one?
It's for a book I just wrote. I'd like to be polite but efficient :)

ArynChris Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2015
Absolutely.  To be frank, discussing your commission with a few different artists before choosing one is just good business sense.  Your needs are slightly higher than a non-commercial art commissioner, because you will need a contract, a guarantee of the work being done on time and of good quality, and almost certainly be paying more for the full copyright; taking extra time to ensure the commission goes well is never a bad idea or a waste of time. :)
ZedYeo Featured By Owner 5 days ago  New member
Thanks ArynChris. I took a wee bit of time to reply, cuz I'm uber new here and didn't check my inbox. Oops!
Have a great day!
First of all, thank you for this. I wish I had seen this before. 

Second of all, I have a question. How long should one wait before checking on the status of a concept sketch?

Here's my situation: A while ago I started asking around and looking for someone to design a tattoo for me. My requirements were some basic elements and then they could do what they wanted with the design. I finally found someone I liked. Their work is beautiful and they're very active. I contacted them and that day we decided on a price. They said they'd get to work on a few sketches that week. So far, no money has gone between us (and none will be going until I get a sketch that I like), and it has only been two weeks. While no specific date was set for anything, I would like to ask if they're at least working on it. I've been dropped and ignored before when it's come to commissions, and it's a horrible feeling. At the same time, I don't want to seem like a pest or anything like that. Should I wait longer or is it okay to ask?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
Very welcome.

Two weeks is reasonable, especially since they said they'd start sketching in the first week.  They should at least have something to show you right now, even if they aren't personally satisfied with it and would like more time to work on sketching. :)
I see. Thank you. ^^
ArynChris Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
Hope it helps!
LioXan Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
great work! this is exceptional helpful for any artist or commissioner out there! thank you very much.
may i put a link to this guide under my commission price list? :3
ArynChris Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2015
Absolutely. :)
RakPolaris Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hello there! I just read this "tutorial" and it helped me a lot, even if I am not a newbie here on dA, but I found it really helpful.
I was just wondering, if I could translate this text to Spanish? As I said before, I found it really helpful and it seems that many spanish speakers aren't very good with english, so its hard for them to understand how commissions works, etc. It would also help spanish deviants when they try to commission another artist who is not/ does not speak spanish, and of course, spanish artists that aren't sure what to expect when they first offer commissions here in DA.
I will give you credits for the text and all, don't worry on that part ;)
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015
Absolutely! :)
When you're done, please show me?  I do not speak or read Spanish, but I would love to post a link to it at the top of this article.
passionphoenix123 Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2015
Heya, just asking what can I do if I already paid an artist for a piece, and then they went radio silent? I tried contacting on skype and on DA, but she never replies. She seemed to be a regular and good artist that post, but she never replied and I'm afraid that I've gotten scammed. How do I know if i got scammed and how can I get my money back? Is there like a complaint I can lodge? Can artists be sued internationally for not delivering on a commission?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2015
Hm.  Suing internationally... yes and no.  Most likely, you've been scammed (whether or not that was the artist's original intention) and will never see the art or your money back.  Other than posting publicly on your or her profile(s), and submitting a report to Buyer Beware (which is independently run and has zero authority), there is probably no way to register a complaint.  This is a largely unregulated cottage industry.

If enough money was involved that you feel it's worth suing over, many attorneys work internationally and there will be someone who can help you with that.

...To be honest, if you know that she is still alive and active, just not responding to you personally, the first step may be to contact a lawyer and have that lawyer send her a notice of your intent to sue and that she can refund the full amount within X timeframe to avoid being taken to court.  Sometimes, a good scare is all it takes to get someone to stop being criminal.  Whatever you do, though, take the advice of your lawyer, and the moment it's your lawyer talking to her, don't say anything or respond to her yourself.

Depending on the amount of money and her country of citizenship or residence, you may stand a good chance of getting your money back, or none at all.  To some degree, that depends on that country's laws... but more importantly, whether those laws are enforced.  If she's in China, for example, you are in the same boat I'm in and stand no chance of getting your art or money, unless you manage to intimidate her.  Unfortunately.  If she's in Europe, the U.S., or Canada, you can probably sue successfully.  I'm not sure about other countries and regions.  A lawyer would know.
Thank you for your advice! I think 50 USD is probably not worth suing over, lawyer fees tend to be way more than that.

I really wish there were more regulations and laws on the private commission industry though. Its hard to distinguish artists that are scammers and honest ones. Especially since its all online.

Btw i think the artist is in russia, so i guess the suing point is moot anyway.

Thanks again for your help.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2015
Eek.  Yeah, good luck with Russia. :P

Np, and I hope you have better luck in the future.
Riboo Featured By Owner Edited Dec 12, 2014
This is certainly helpful from both sides of the fence. As an artist that takes commissions, I have done a lot of trail and error and adjusted how I approach commissions as a result. 

What I am curious about is your take on private commissions. While I won't get into too much detail, I did have a piece commissioned that the person wanted to keep private although there was nothing about it that would really warrant it needing to be. I mulled over it and did agree to do so, so I intend to keep it that way, but in future commissions, I'd rather not, as posting my resulting work is a way of bringing in potential clients and a way of showing what I'm capable of. 

I've had several commissions that I've posted and almost immediately after I was contacted for something similar. So my question is how do you feel about this sort of thing, should I simply offer to keep their identity hidden or tack on an extra service fee for potentially lost income if they insist? 
ArynChris Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2014
There are a lot of reasons why a commissioner might want the art kept secret-- a gift for someone who might see it online ahead of time, a character design or scene that the commissioner doesn't want anyone to copy or steal, something for an rp that they want to surprise their rp partners with, etc.  In fact, I've rarely seen someone commission art and specifically ask for their name to be omitted.  Usually, if art is posted at all, the commissioner wants their own name attached in the art or the description, so that they can publicly use it and defend it from theft.

It seems that about half the artists on dA (and I could be very wrong about this number) charge extra if they can't post the work, and half don't.  It's a similar issue to charging more for commercial commissions-- commercial artists can claim their work, but only after the commissioning company makes it public, and the artist usually still can't post it on their own website or public gallery.  Because that means a loss of potential income/customers, the artist charges more for it.  The artists who don't charge more, those I know about, have more customers than they can handle and don't feel the loss.

Just to be clear, "more customers than they can handle" doesn't mean that the artist has a lot of customers or a high income, just that they have more work than they personally can keep up in.  Two of the artists I'm thinking of have dozens of customers at a time, but most have only 2-6 at a time.  The trick is to get the number you can handle.

If you are looking to build your fan/customer base and aren't happy about leaving things out of your gallery, first ask if you'll be able to post it later on-- and if so, an exact date.  That way, if it's for a birthday gift or special event, the commissioner gets to do their surprise and you don't lose potential customers.  If they don't want their name posted, or have some other request that means you can still post it, great.  If not, regardless of their reason, I'd say charge more. :shrug:  You are losing potential income, and you could have filled your time drawing for someone who didn't want the art kept secret, so let them pay extra.
Riboo Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2014
Because I do post my commissions online and I tend to get them pretty regularly, I like to keep posting them up because they're my other form of income and I've had it occur many times that someone would pop up right after I post and ask for a commission similar to what I put up. I have no problem whatsoever delaying when I post things, which I did with a few Christmas commissions, that, of course, isn't the problem. The problem is when I can't show it as an example of my capabilities and people tend not to commission certain things if the artist doesn't have a representation of it readily available, so I do, now, ask for a compensation fee for potential revenue loss, which I think is reasonable if they wish to keep their piece private for whatever reason they might have, which you have listed clearly here. I don't mind that they have their reasons, but I have my reasons too of why I would like it put out there: I spent time on the piece and often I use my commission pieces in examples and to help me earn more clients, which I work on nearly daily. In the grand scheme, time will eventually compensate for it, but if you get a client that continuously asks you for large works to keep private and never post, you eventually start to feel it. But I can easily see the point of view you're expressing as well and it has some good points. 

I'm not yet into commercial work, and perhaps when there is a time I wouldn't feel the loss of revenue from withholding art, I would drop the charge. But for now, its important that I'm compensated for potential loss. 
Arrowshifter Featured By Owner Edited Nov 25, 2014
I've also got a question if you could offer some advice for the following situation (and I'm really sorry if this was better served to be put in a note and sent instead >.<):

I contacted an artist back at the end of July about two pieces I wanted done. The artist is in a foreign country but understands English just fine and has also done some commissioned work for some bigger gaming companies in the U.S. so the legitimacy was never really a question. They got back to me and after tossing ideas around (one of my initial concepts had to be scrapped and traded in for another one I'd had my mind on given that the artist wasn't interested in doing bigger scenery) which went fine.
Within that first week we'd come to a consensus about the price for both pieces but no set date on when they'd be finished, to be paid on completion. I wasn't in a huge hurry.

Then there was some radio silence for about a week after they let me know that the sketch was ready to be sent over to be checked out before coloring. After sending an inquiring email the artist finally replied that they were having some family issues but that they would send me the sketch that they'd mentioned before. A few days after that, they did.
That sketch was given the green light around.. the 8th of August. I didn't receive any sort of update until about the 14th letting me know that they were sorry for the delay but they had a free day the next day and they they would work all day on the art.
Next response came in at the 26th with more family troubles. At this point I started leaning back on getting anything done with any sort of speed and my response, verbatim was "I understand that life happens and that things will probably take awhile. I'll only ask if, giving a best estimate, if I should check up in a month or so? More than that? Always way easier to wait knowing when I should check up or how long in between is good for you. Not asking for art updates in that time but general ones that let me know if you're thinking about dropping the project or not, which would be fine. That sort of thing."
They told me that they were intending to finish and to check back in two weeks by using email or twitter to get their attention, I did just that.
The response for that was that they would send me updates that weekend (the time is 11th of September) or the night after. So, more waiting.
Didn't receive so much as an email until the 18th after I'd sent an inquiring email as to if the art could possibly be done by my birthday, which was the 30th, but was by no means required. They said they could do that and that both pictures would be done by the end of the month. I hadn't even gotten the line-art for the second picture.
That was the last contact I had with the artist. They've been active on their twitter so I know that they're at least seeing what I've sent them.

My question is: How long is too long to wait for commissioned art? Did I do something wrong even though I was the one who broached the topic about dropping the commission? Was asking every one to two weeks for at least a verbal update too much pestering?
The entire situation has left me just very frustrated and this is only my second time commissioning art at all. I'm just trying to make sense of what went wrong so I can at least not repeat the same mistakes in the future, if any were made on my end.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014
"Too long" is "when you are no longer willing to wait."  There is no standard, average, or general consensus on how long is polite or expected.  Situation matters... whether or not one has paid, or there was originally a deadline, or is rude...  It sounds like you're a lot like me, willing to wait as long as it takes, as long as the artist keeps in a reasonable amount of contact and is honest about it.

You did nothing wrong.  I'd say that you did everything right, at every step, based on what you've said here.

Asking that often was probably not pestering.  You were told to expect certain things at certain times, then gave the artist an extra week before contacting them, when you certainly didn't have to.  When you waited two weeks to contact, it was because the artist had explicitly told you to contact them in two weeks.  This is all very reasonable, and more courteous than you had to be.

I think no mistakes were made on your end.  In fact, you made one decision brilliantly-- you arranged to NOT pay until the art was done and in your hand.  Regardless of what is happening with the artist or why this commission is a mess now, YOU are not out any money.

...Which is good, because you might never see the art.  "Family issues" can mean anything.  I suspect that the artist knew they might have a problem coming up, and that they set up the payment that way with you in case they weren't able to complete the commission.  Sad truth is that professionals don't always have professional behavior... if the artist is clearly ignoring you, then it doesn't matter that they worked for big gaming companies in the past, they're still ignoring you.  From personal experience?  If someone hits the point of ignoring you, it's over.  You will not get that art, nor any form of contact, ever.  It's time to give up and be glad that you at least got a free sketch out of the mess, and lost no real money.

It's probably better not to name the artist here, but if you Note me with a link and the kind of art you were trying to get (and price), I may be able to hook you up with a similar-style artist.  Not promising anything, but I may know a few. :)
Sedonna Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2014  Student Digital Artist
I've been having a similar problem where I commissioned an artist to do some cover art for me. I contact them and they said they'd send me a sketch soon. Nothing. They told me something about someone not paying for an art piece they had made before and about some computer problems. I waited 3 months without asking for the art and when I finally had enough I contacted them about getting a refund because they were stretching things out for way too long and they never replied since. Very sadly, I was too naive and payed them in advance. Being an artists myself I can really understand the fear of not being payed for your work in the end, but boy do people like these make other artists look bad. Last time I'm paying the full price in advance, I can tell you that. I just feel awful for all the other artists who actually deserve to be payed in advance and finish their end of the bargain in a timely manner. It's because artists and commissioners like that alike that artists and commissioners don't trust each other. Anyways, I've seen on their deviantart journal that they've accepted commissions from other people as well, so I'm thinking of contacting them to see if they are having similar problems with the artist. I still like to hope I'll get my money back someday, though.
IronclawX Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2014
What about when you have a discussion with an artist about all the little details you want? They assure you it's fine and they don't mind working with such guidelines.

But when you get the piece, it's NOTHING like you asked for. I'm not talking about minor details such as the wrong necklace either. I've had commissions where I outline the hair colour, the colour of particular items of clothes and so on, and those come back different.

Ask for blonde hair? Orange is fine!
Blue shirt? Once had one that came out red.

I don't mind the artist taking liberties with minor details. But huge discrepancies like this are inexcusable. Then when I politely point out that it's clearly not what I asked for, I sometimes get attitude. So I end up backing down and receiving a piece I am not 100% happy with.

I should note that this happened more than once, but overall it's in the minority. The vast majority of artists are completely attentive, and will gladly change something like that, or simply don't make the mistake in the first place. But there definitely are bad eggs out there.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014
Truth.  Although, when it comes to colors... some artists have odd monitor settings, and others are legitimately colorblind, but may or may not know it.  I got orange for a brunette character once, and monitor settings turned out to be the problem, so it might be worth providing artists with the colors' hex codes, just to make sure.

There are times when it's really tough to excuse someone's liberties, though... <.<  Been there, too.  Ultimately, it's your decision how to handle that, but it does make for a more negative experience no matter what you do.
BurningMyElectronics Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2014  Student General Artist
I was recently commissioned to do a pixel avatar for someone. He keept requesting changes very rudely, and while I kept grin and bearing it, but he asked for another minor change that is unidentifiable from the normal size. A couple of my friends agree he's being a jerk and unappreciative. I also had been doing requests, and he requested one. But he gave me a list of things he didn't like, and without permission went and edited it without permission.

Now he wants me to do a very big and complicated piece. However, I do not want to go through this again on a bigger scale. How do I politely decline him?
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2014
Depends how polite you want to be.

Barely polite:  Say "no," one word, and then threaten legal action over altering the pixel avatar without permission.
(Problem: He might react in anger, and of course, you're not really suing him.)

Polite but honest:  Say "I appreciate your interest, but no," and explain that you did not enjoy working with him the last time and do not wish to work with him again.
(Problem: He might react in anger, or he might react with false contrition and insist that it'll be different this time, and of course, it won't, but he may react in anger all over again if you don't believe him.)

Polite but lying:  Say "I do not think I am the right artist for this," and say that what he wants is beyond you or that you don't have the time for big projects.
(Problem: He might insult you, or he might insist you magically know-- and tell him-- what artist would be able to do his request, or he might insist that it's not that tough or that he can tone down the request.  Of course, whether he tones it down or not, saying yes to him still means dealing with him again.)

Polite but vague:  Say "I am glad that you had a good experience with me and would work with me again, but I would like to give other people a chance at requests.  May I ask you to recommend me to others, for doing your avatar?"
(Problem: He might react in anger and insist that you heed his request anyway, for whatever reason, and if he's mean enough, make public statements defaming you.  Very unlikely, but you do have the right to defend yourself-- or just ignore him-- if he does.)

In general, I'd advise the last one.  It states that you don't want to work with him again, but makes it sound the decision had nothing to do with him.  It also turns it around if you ask for his recommendation, because that's asking him to be a positive force for you, puts him on your side and tells him that you value him-- because you value his opinion and help.  But at the end of the day, you still don't have to do anything for him, ever again.
BurningMyElectronics Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2014  Student General Artist
Thanks you so much!

 A friend of mine told me he'll do the commission if the commissioner wants. He has a higher tolerance for people like that.
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2014
Even better. ^^  Can just refer the guy to your friend.  Glad if I helped, and good luck!
kacejustice Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thank you for writing this out…for me.  As long as I've been on Deviantart…I've never read anything about commissioning work…my next question would be how can I get people to know that I will work for commission too?…
ArynChris Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2014
Me, neither, which is the whole reason I wrote it. :)  You're welcome.

I'm not the best person to answer your next question, because there are a lot of ways to get attention, and I just don't know them all, or which one would work best you. My best advice for now is to have a current journal or deviation with samples, prices, and other info, and to make sure a link to that is in your signature is you're active around the site.  Then, go be active.  Hunt down commissioners, and put your work out there.  Sometimes you get lucky, but the main way to get customers is for the customers to know you exist.
kacejustice Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
thank you very much for the information that you supplied…I will definitely try my best to push on…and I will keep in touch with you...
carterkanee Featured By Owner Edited Sep 23, 2014  Student General Artist
Hey! I have a question:

I commissioned an artist to draw something for me, and when I got the WIP back I didn't like it very much (I have looked at their portfolio work, it's amazing, that's why I commissioned them!) and I told them a few things I'd like changed and we've sent back and forth notes. (keep in mind they haven't sent me the final product,) I had to give my points back for a refund to someone else (long long story.) So, I don't have any points left to refund them for the WIPS they did. How do I tell them this politely, that I'd need to take back my commission? I don't believe there was any contract, and this is a big dillema I'm having, and I feel terrible for all the WIPS they did. Help me? :(
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2014
Hmmm... well, you do have an implied contract, which is just about the most flexible legally binding thing ever. ^_^  In this case, unless you finally said yes on one of the wips, you owe no money or points to the artist, no matter what your payment arrangement was.  If you did give the go-ahead on a wip, and you agreed to pay half or all upon approval of a wip, then you owe that much... and if you agreed to pay it all at the very end, you again owe nothing.  That's the (probable) legal situation here.

But I know what you mean.  It really sucks to go through wips with an artist, especially several changes, and have to cut out with no way to at least compensate them for their time.  First thing, especially if you're still unsatisfied by the wips, tell the artist your situation and that you need to cancel-- or if you still want the art, that you need to put it on hold until you can get up the points again.  Explain it just like you have to me.

How many points are we talking about?  Is it possible to earn/buy them back quickly, or to explain this publicly and ask for donations enough to at least pay for the wips?  If you can give half the payment, to compensate for the wips, that's a courteous and awesome gesture that (at least some) people will be happy to see and happy to help with.

If it's not possible to get the points quickly, either the whole amount or half the amount, call it a debt.  Your goal is to get up those points as soon as possible, and you will repay that artist first, before you do anything else with points.  Tell the artist your plan, stick to it, and just pay them back as soon as you can.  That's all you can do, and it should be enough.

The most polite thing you can do is be forthright and honest.
carterkanee Featured By Owner Sep 23, 2014  Student General Artist
It was 100 points, so it wouldn't be that hard to give back :/ I always could ask for donations, idk it'd be pretty easy just to buy them too. I have about 83 right now, but I'm paying someone 70 later for a commission, so that will equal 13 points. I think I'll ask for some donations to reach 50 (half of the final payement.) Thank you for your time, it really helped a bunch ^^; Situations like these are hard!
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2014
Truth.  Good luck!
Noxious-Dreams Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014
What do you do if the person does a very good job with all of their art on a regular basis. They charge a bit more than what others charge, but they do a good job and they were in trouble, so you didn't mind. But when they finish your commission, it sucks badly.

They draw the kind of thing that I gave her to draw often, but this time it just looks awful. What do I do?
I gave her full refs and even let her choose which character would be the easiest.
onedirtyheathen Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This happened to me once, with a couple of badges. I was straight-forward with the artist, and I said that I felt the quality wasn't as good as the other pieces in their gallery. The artist actually agreed (!) and apologized, apparently they had worked on my commission while suffering from jet lag /and/ on an airplane. They redrew them and we loved the final result. Happy endings for all!
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014
Nnn.  Not the most pleasant situation.  If you're really unhappy with it, and the problem is quality, be honest with her.  Compare it directly to previous, similar commissions in her gallery, stating what exactly is worse than her usual and what you want fixed.  Be kind about it, but firm; you paid money for this.
Neketti Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014  Student General Artist
A very well written advice! It acknowledge;s just about ever aspect of a commission, thank you very much for sharing this to everyone ^u^
ArynChris Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014
Welcome. ^_^
DitaDemone Featured By Owner Edited Sep 7, 2014

I am sorry to bother you with this, but I just read your post and have a question. I'm in dire need of advice. I commissioned a custom-made plush to a well-known artist on dA, so had no reason to fret (so it seemed). I sent payment via Paypal on june 2cnd, the plush was sent on the 8th of july ... and still hasn't arrived. It's been two months. I talked to the artist about that, but since she sent the plush via her local post, there isn't any tracking number for the package so neither her post office or mine can do anything to locate it. Same problem with my country's customs. I contacted Paypal to know my options but the delay for a paypal dispute was long gone. I then contacted the artist again to see if we could work out some kind of arrangement (or even if there was a chance she'd be willing to make the plush again, should I re-commission her, etc) The artist seems honest, is well-known in the plush making community and it doesn't appear like she had any similar business happening before, so I trust her (and would like to solve all this in a friendly manner, so I could continue commissionning her in the future should I wish to). Yet, she hasn't responded for two weeks. At first I thought she might not have time to reply at the moment because of life  / college / other commissions, but she read my notes, posted deviations and took time to reply to the latest comments on her page. I'm confused. o_Ô'

What do you think I should then do ? Do you by any chance, have any advice on the way to handle this situation ? 

Thank you in advance !  

P.S: let me just state that I think the responsibility for the missing plush lies with the post offices system, not with the artist. I am merely looking for an answer on the artist's part.
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