If I set up commissions, people will give me money to make art!

Commission Money
Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

This tends to be the overwhelming thought process of new digital artists.  They get hung up on making money via commissions but have no idea how to go about setting up their commission pricing structure and strategy. I’m here to help you figure out the best method to figure out your price, set up a good structure to keep yourself organized, and how to protect yourself, so you get paid!

What Are Commissions?

Commissions are when clients come to you with a request for a piece of artwork and give you money for the completed work. This sounds like a pretty sweet deal. You get to draw, you get paid for it, and commissions roll into more requests which equal more money! Well, be careful. There are some downsides that we’ll explore further into this article.

Should You Take Commissions?

Some artists leap right into taking commissions without thinking the entire process through. They need money (which is fine), but it can lead them into trouble later on down the line when burn out occurs, or they take on too many commissions at once. So sit down and be honest with yourself. Do you have the time to work with a client and set aside hours to work on their piece to get it back to them in a reasonable time frame? Is this something you want to do, or is it something you feel you have to do? Motivation plays a significant role in whether you ultimately decide to open commissions or not.

What You Need Before Taking On Commissions

We’ll go through these in more detail, but here’s an essential list of things you should have put together before you even start saying you’re open for commissions:

  • Work displaying what you can offer
  • An info page showing what you offer and what your prices are
  • What you will and will not draw
  • Your Terms and Conditions
  • A structure for yourself for your workflow for taking commissions (from client contact to delivery)
  • Your Pricing Structure
  • How you get paid

Notice I didn’t say anywhere in that list you need to have a client base before you begin taking commissions. Yes, you’ll want to have some following, but it’s not as important as having the list above sorted out first. 

A Display of Work

Having a portfolio, or even just a page where people can view your art (Deviantart, Art Station) will attract people to your work and give them examples of what you’re capable of producing. You can use pieces from this to display in your Info Page.

An Info Page

An example infographic for commissions
An example infographic for commissions

An info page is either a static web page, a google doc, or an infographic that displays the type of work you offer, the prices for it and how to contact you. List the kinds of work you will do, such as “Sketches, Portraits, Half Body” along with examples and the prices listed. This info page can be very detailed, or if it’s just an infographic, small. I suggest having a full info page rather than only relying on an infographic so that you can give clients access to your Terms and what you will and will not draw with more accessibility.

What Are Your Limits?

Are you uncomfortable drawing blood and gore? Then make sure your clients have a place to find that information easily. Listing out your limits avoids awkward situations down the line where a client may ask you to draw something you are absolutely against drawing, and you are forced to turn a client down.

Terms and Conditions

Your Terms and Conditions will state what the client rights are to the artwork (such as not being able to re-sell it), your payment policy, process for working with a client and your refund or cancellation policy. Having Terms and Conditions is an important document to have, and a few artists out there don’t mind if you borrow theirs.  

Structure Yourself

Post It Notes
Perhaps post-it notes are your method of keeping track, though I wouldn’t recommend it.
Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

Get organized. Have an email box set up, or a flag in your email that puts those emails in a different folder. Figure out your process. Are you going to update the client with works in progress every day or every few days, or only at specific stages in the artwork? Research an excellent method to keep track of your clients and your commission list.

And most importantly, find the best method for you to have clients contact you. Maybe you should have a form they fill out, or perhaps you find it easier to work through direct messages on twitter. The important thing is to figure this out as much as possible beforehand.

Know Your Prices

We’ll get into more about how to figure out what your prices should be later, but make sure you have your pricing structure set in stone before you even consider taking on commissions. Your pricing includes things like taxes and fees for PayPal! Yes, you can adjust your prices later, but don’t change them while you are open for commissions. Price fluctuations can cause customer complaints.

How You Get Paid

Decide how you want to get paid. Not just the delivery mechanism such as PayPal, but also the cadence. Do you want it all upfront? Are you comfortable asking for half upfront? These are things you want to have listed on your info page and in your Terms and Conditions.

Value Yourself and Your Work

No, I’m not talking about the price of your work, but how much confidence you have in your work. If you are new, this is hard to build. I completely understand. But if you don’t think you’re fantastic, it will reflect on your commissions. You will have fewer commissions and get paid less for them because you priced yourself too low thinking that your work wasn’t worth it.

Stick Figure Art By Rhiow
Which artist would you choose?

Undervaluing doesn’t just hurt you. It hurts the community as a whole. There are artists out there that only charge ten dollars for a complex piece of art because they think it isn’t any good. Another artist with a similar style is charging ten times your price because they value their work. Undervaluing can start bidding wars and gives clients the confidence that they can try to bully you into lowering your prices. Which, by the way, never lower your price for a client due to pressure from them. That client is not worth it.

Be kind to yourself, and in turn, you support the entire community. Look up other artists of similar styles and see how much they’re charging. Love your work. Love yourself. You are not an aspiring artist. You are an artist. Your work may need improvement, but there is someone out there that will love it. Make sure you’re charging a fair price.

How To Price Your Commissions

Here we go. The meat and potatoes of why you’re here, I know. Alright, I’ll give in and give you the information. Here is how to set up a reasonable pricing structure for your commissions. But first, an essential note that is near and dear to me as I see far too many friends struggle with this:

Don’t be a starving artist.

A piggy bank
The piggy bank won’t cut it.
Photo by Sabine Peters on Unsplash

This may have been all the rage years ago, to live solely off your artwork and your commissions dreaming of making it big with that client that wants you to come work for them full time, but it is not feasible and as a digital artist can hurt your business. You need an internet connection to advertise. That drawing tablet requires electricity. That’s not factoring in necessary expenses such as food, shelter, healthcare and more. Do not jump into taking commissions as your sole income, especially as a new artist unless you have a substantial savings account. You could end up in some big trouble.

Okay, now I’ll get to the meat and potatoes.

Your commission prices should be what is a comfortable wage per hour for you, including taxes if needed. That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well, there are some caveats.

Time Your Work

An egg timer
Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

How long does it take you to finish a fully rendered piece of a full-body character including clothing? If that’s one of your offerings to your clients, you need to know how long it usually takes you not just to give them an estimate but also so you can price it. Because now your comfortable hourly wage becomes hourly wage times how many hours spent on a piece. So the next time you work on a piece, find yourself a timer, and record how long it takes you. Then give yourself a little padding to your estimate. If it does take you longer, you won’t be shortchanging yourself.

The Why

Return to the “should you take commissions” portion of this article. Remember how I asked you to think about why you’re taking commissions? That will factor into your pricing. If this is your sole income, then you’re going to want to charge more so you can afford to live. If this is a hobby, you can afford to charge less because you’re not dependant upon the income.  

Research Other Artists

Poke around other artists of a similar style to yours to see what they’re charging. You don’t have to copy their prices (and if they’re charging far too low for your needs and value, you shouldn’t) but it’s an excellent basis to see what clients might pay for your work.

Prices Can Go Up!

As you gain more experience and more followers, you can raise your prices! It’s best to do this slowly rather than a massive price hike, or you may scare off potential clients. I wouldn’t recommend more than a ten-dollar price hike at any one time.

Art and Taxes

If you are earning money off your art, there is a good chance you need to report that for income taxes. Reporting income is a big step a lot of artists just starting do not realize, and it can get you into a lot of trouble for unreported income. Check the income laws for your area and make sure you keep track of how much you’ve earned. Taxes do not come automatically out of this money! Don’t have the IRS (or whatever other tax collection group you deal with) come knocking on your door demanding payment for unreported income.

Wrap Up

To properly set up commissions, it is advisable to go through all of these steps or at least have them in mind before you even start declaring yourself open for work. Make sure you have a good body of work to display, calculate your pricing structure, set up your info page, and have yourself organized! This way, when you do land that first client, you will be more than prepared to hit the ground running.

Related Video

I found the video below by Nadiaxel incredibly helpful when doing my personal research for when I want to set up commissions.

Video by Nadiaxel

If this article was helpful to you and you know other artists that might be lost on how to set up commissions, hit the share button below!