Commissions were and still are an important part of my business as a freelance illustrator. They were a good way to start earning money in the early days and still are, so they might prove very useful in your art business.
In these 2 articles, I’ll walk you through the process from start to finish with a real order and real customer feedback! 🥰
From Art to Business – Artist Tips to monetize your art!
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How to get commissions?
The project I invite you to follow is Cerateran, a series of science fiction novels by Claude Peiffer. My work is to define character designs, for black and white illustrations that will be integrated into his books later on.
Initially, our collaboration started in 2015. For the record, we met at Luxcon, which was only my second convention back then. Claude approached me when I had finished setting up my booth and asked if I’d be interested in creating chara-designs for a series of novels.
We exchanged email addresses and met again later for a drink to discuss the project more in detail. We decided to work together, I sent the quotes, Claude paid a deposit, and that was it!
If you’re at the stage of meeting your first clients, here are some important pieces of advice that will make your life much easier.
- Show yourself, especially when you are starting out, it is much easier to get clients to notice you if you do make an effort to be visible. People can’t dream that you exist, whether it’s online or in real life!
- Ask your friends and family to recommend you, put your info in Facebook groups or sites like Ko-Fi to offer commissions, hand out flyers to shops who allow this, attend conventions. I still get people randomly inquiring about commissions at cons, just because they like my style and can imagine some kind of artwork for themselves or as a gift.
The opportunities can be anywhere, starting with your table neighbour!
The discovery meeting
Especially if it’s a big project, offer the client a first meeting: online if you live far away, over a drink if you’re close, but it’s important to interact live rather than by email, at least once.
- It allows you to really understand the project, to be sure that it’s something that suits you and to be able to ask questions if necessary.
- It helps you see if you have a good feeling about it. Do you feel at ease, is the client serious and respectful? Or on the contrary, does he try to negotiate to death, does he always cut you off to impose his own ideas over yours?
Remember, a commission is a collaboration where the client and the artist respect each other and are on equal terms.
Sometimes there are subtle signs, your belly gets tied up, you feel uncomfortable, and it’s better to refuse, because often these will be unhappy commissions where you won’t feel comfortable. As an example, I once refused a collab because I couldn’t smell, literally, the person in front of me. It’s not that they were stinky, it was more like, a smell that gave off “danger and dishonesty?”
As I explain in my video on the benefits of turning down clients and the warning signs, it’s better to turn down projects than to go for it if you don’t feel it.
Anyway, this first discovery meeting will be free. The aim is to see what project it is, who the client is. Seriously, a potential client is not going to pay you just for the joy of explaining a project to you, especially since it is not even sure that you will work together.
you are free to charge for future meetings or not, as this is basically work time that you dedicate to the client, and where you can’t move on to other projects.
Commissions & Money
Sooo, let’s talk about money.
Don’t give a price immediately to the client if it’s a new type of order, because you won’t know how to estimate the workload correctly yet.
often, the rate you’ll say at that moment will be totally random, based on an emotional mix of the happiness of having a new potential client, the panic of not having predetermined a rate, and potentially the fear of losing this job in case your price is too high.
As a result, you’ll probably :
- Shout out a random number
- Sometimes overestimate yourself
- Sometimes underestimate yourself
- End up unhappy and the client doesn’t understand your calculations.
For one of my very first negotiations just after I got my papers as a freelance artist, I was so emotional when the company asked me for my prices after an almost hour long first meeting, that I just blurted out: twenty-five euros! … because at the time, twenty-five was my comfort zone go-to number for anything. Back home I was devastated because I knew it was underpaid. Of those twenty-five euros, I had to pay seventeen percent VAT and twenty-four percent legal contributions as an independent worker, leaving me with a little more than half of this pricing.
wait until you get home to do your calculations in peace, otherwise you’ll regret it.
If you explain calmly that you’ll be thoroughly thinking about the collaboration and that you’ll come back to the client within the next few days after evaluating the estimated time and workload, most clients understand and respect. I think it also shows a certain professionalism, because you show that you’re really taking the time to consider their project – even if deep down you are panicking to death and it’s just an excuse to have more time to figure things out!
And if the client keeps rushing you and bitching, that’s a first sign that they will be very annoying and intrusive later, and that you might be better off without them.
Quotes & paperwork to protect you
Once you have determined that you really want to work on this project, and once you have determined your rates, you will send the client a quote.
If you’re really super professional and especially if it’s a bigger commercial order, it’s ideal to add a very square contract as well, but to be honest I didn’t do any for my first orders, and it’s only after two years of freelancing that I started to frame things better because the clients became more and more important and went from individuals to companies and then to government departments. But in our case, let’s say that you stay with individuals at the beginning.
the estimate is non-negotiable because it will have your rates written down in black and white, along with your payment terms, such as X percent down payment, to be paid within X days.
The deposit is also important, because it shows whether your client is serious about committing or not.
Generally, for smaller orders up to 150€ such as a portrait or simple OC illustration, you can ask for the full payment before starting the order. When it comes to more expensive projects, or a longer series, always ask for a deposit.
- In the case of a single illustration, for example a novel cover, I usually ask for a 30% deposit, payable before starting anything.
- In the case of a larger, long-term order, such as character designs or multiple illustrations, I take the equivalent of all the research sketches as a deposit.
before starting any order, even if you are a complete beginner, protect yourself with at least a quote which you’ll ask the client to sign, along with a deposit or the full payment.
Both should be returned BEFORE you start the order, because it shows your client’s willingness to respect you as an artist and to work together in a good relationship. Contracts are indeed important, but I think that at the beginning, most private clients who just want a portrait of their girlfriend, or even an illustration for a book, are usually quite okay and honest.
And once the deposit is paid, the quote signed – the order can begin!
Learn more about commissions
Refusing Illustration Clients – Tips for Art Commissions
Refusing Illustration Clients – Tips for Art Commissions
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