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The Ultimate Artists' Guide to Successful Art Commissions

Artists Guide to Successful Art Commissions Venn Diagram
My personal venn diagram for measuring a successful art commission

When I first started accepting art commissions, I took on anything and everything -- from pencil portraits to pet paintings, logos to packaging. I was trained in classical art, illustration and design, so I assumed I could do them all, and at really competitive prices! But as the years progressed, I got busier and busier, without realizing that I wasn't creating much for myself anymore -- and then I got really burnt out. That's when I started to set firm prices, clear boundaries and only accept commissions that aligned well with my goals, strengths and lifestyle!

As a beginner just starting out, you may be tempted to take on everything too. But don't make the same mistake as I did. If you start off your journey with fair prices, clear boundaries, and the right action plan, you'll attract more clients and better commissions from the very beginning!

Jump Ahead:

So if you're an artist looking to dive into the world of art commissions, or perhaps you've been trying and not having much luck, this comprehensive guide will help you pave the way to success. Learn how to set your pricing structure, protect your intellectual property, and get art commissions you'll LOVE doing! First, let’s dive into pricing dynamics and how to price your commissions so that it’s profitable for you and attractive for your clients.

How to Effectively Price Your Art Commissions

If you’re an aspiring artist struggling to navigate the complex world of pricing your art commissions, you're not alone. Setting fair and profitable rates can be a daunting task, especially when you're just starting out. But fear not, my fellow art nerd! In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know to confidently price your art commissions like a pro.

1. Don't Undercharge

One of the most common mistakes beginner artists make is undercharging for their work. As tempting as it may be to offer rock-bottom prices to attract clients, this approach often leads to undervaluing your skills and ultimately undercutting your own worth. Remember, your time and talent are valuable, so don't be afraid to charge accordingly.

2. Consider Your Costs

When setting your prices, it's crucial to take into account all the factors that contribute to the creation of your art. Consider the cost of materials, the time spent on each piece, your level of skill and experience, and any additional expenses such as shipping or software subscriptions. By calculating these costs upfront, you can ensure that your prices accurately reflect the value of your work.

3. Establish a Clear Pricing Structure

To avoid confusion and ensure transparency with your clients, it's essential to establish a clear pricing structure for your commissions. Whether you charge by the hour or offer flat rates for different types of work, clearly outline your pricing tiers and any additional fees for complex elements or extra services. This not only helps you communicate your value effectively but also gives clients a clear understanding of what to expect.

4. Factor in Complexity Fees

Not all art commissions are created equal, and it's essential to account for the complexity of each project when pricing your work. Whether it's detailed character designs, intricate backgrounds, or elaborate costumes, consider the time and effort required to bring each element to life. Don't be afraid to charge extra for complex features or specialized skills – after all, complexity deserves compensation.

5. Know Your Worth

Above all, remember that your art has value, and you deserve to be compensated fairly for your time and talent. While it can be tempting to undersell yourself to attract clients, it's essential to stand firm in your worth and charge prices that reflect the quality of your work. By valuing yourself and your art, you not only set a precedent for fair compensation but also establish yourself as a professional in the eyes of your clients.


💪 Take Action: Make a Pricing List for your Art

Write a plan for starting your art commissions business, and start by making your pricing list!

  • Jot down some different canvas sizes (keep in mind that standard size canvases are a lot more cost-effiicent for traditional artists) and some ideal subjects that you'd want to be commissioned for.

  • Factor in your costs, average creation time, and add complexity fees to more difficult subjects like portraiture, intricate patterns, or detailed backgrounds

  • Create your "one pager" pricing list with a base price / add ons and variables. This doesn't need to be shared publicly if you're not comfortable. It can be your own guide to start off with.

Get a better understanding of real-life case studies as illustrator Jessie Chang shares her expertise and personal pricing model for commissions in this video on how to price art commissions for beginners.

Pricing commissions as a beginner artist may seem daunting, but it's entirely achievable with the right approach. By considering your costs, establishing a clear pricing structure, and valuing your worth, you can confidently set art commission prices that reflect the true value of your art. If in doubt, seek guidance from an artist mentor with professional experience to give you actionable feedback, industry advice and support! 


Why Every Artist Should Have a Terms of Service (ToS)

Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out, one crucial aspect you simply cannot overlook is establishing a comprehensive and foolproof Terms of Service (ToS). Let’s explore the significance of a well-crafted ToS and how it can safeguard both your creative endeavors and professional integrity.

The Backbone of Commissioning: What is a ToS?

Imagine embarking on a commissioned artwork journey without a roadmap—chaotic, right? That's precisely why a Terms of Service serves as your guiding light, delineating the boundaries, expectations, and parameters of your commissioning process. It's essentially your rulebook, outlining what you will and won't draw, accepted payment methods, and revision policies that help your clients appreciate and respect your boundaries!

5 Key Elements of a Robust Terms of Service for Artists

1. Boundary Setting: 

Clearly define your artistic boundaries. What subjects are you comfortable depicting? Are there any content restrictions? Establishing these upfront can save you from uncomfortable situations down the line.

2. Payment Protocols:

Don't leave payment arrangements to chance. Decide whether you'll require upfront payment, partial payments, or deposits. Protect yourself from potential non-payment by setting clear payment milestones.

3. Communication Guidelines: 

Time is precious, and clear communication is key. Establish timelines for client responses, and if they fail to meet these deadlines, consider their commission spot forfeited.

4. Illustration Rights: 

Who owns the artwork once it's completed? Define the rights retained by both you, the artist, and the commissioner. Ensure clarity on usage rights, crediting requirements, and restrictions on alteration or repurposing.

5. Complexity Fees: 

ome projects may be more intricate or time-consuming than others. Don't shy away from charging complexity fees for additional work. It's a fair practice that ensures your efforts are duly compensated.

Embracing Payment Security

When it comes to payments, opt for secure methods like PayPal, Stripe, or Venmo. These platforms offer protection against fraudulent transactions and chargebacks, safeguarding your hard-earned income. Steer clear of risky options like checks or e-transfers, which may leave you vulnerable to scams.


💪 Take Action: Practical Tips for Crafting Your ToS

  • Tailor your terms to your needs! Customize your ToS to reflect your unique artistic style, preferences, and commissioning process. Every artist is different, so ensure that your terms support your lifestyle (for example, only taking on one commission at a time to avoid burnout!)

  • Transparency is key: Be upfront about your policies from the get-go to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts later on. Most people don't read fine print -- so a "one-pager" with good formatting, images, and bullet points are much more effective and user friendly than a wall of text.

  • Stay Flexible: While it's crucial to establish boundaries, remain open to reasonable requests and negotiations. You just never know where a great commission can lead you creatively!

In this video, illustrator Jessie Chang shares both real-life and personal examples of how to craft a terms of service.

In the sometimes chaotic world of art commissioning, a well-crafted ToS is your shield and sword, protecting your creative vision and ensuring a smooth, mutually beneficial collaboration with your clients. So, as you embark on your next artistic endeavor, arm yourself with a comprehensive ToS and watch as it transforms your commissioning process from chaotic to controlled, from uncertain to assured, and from amateur to professional!


How to Get More (and Better) Art Commissions

Instead of accepting every request that comes your way, let's go over 5 best practices -- expert tips that will help you thrive in this competitive industry. 

1. Find Your Niche for Your Competitive Advantage

One of the biggest mistakes artists make is accepting commissions outside their expertise. Instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, focus on what you're truly passionate about and excel in. Whether it's character art, background design, or creature illustrations, specializing in a particular niche will not only make you stand out but also attract clients who appreciate your unique style and skills. If you market yourself on an online marketplace or digital art commissions app, be sure to specialize in the one area you feel the most confident in and you’ll truly stand out!

2. Saying No Isn't a Bad Thing

As much as we want to please our clients, sometimes it's necessary to decline commissions that don't align with our strengths or interests. Remember, it's better to refer a potential client to another artist who can fulfill their needs rather than delivering subpar work. Saying no shows professionalism and ensures that you maintain the quality of your portfolio.

3. Start Building Your Brand

Your artistic voice is your most valuable asset. Whether it's through social media, art fairs, or conventions, make sure to showcase your work consistently and effectively. Engage with your audience, find your target market, and tailor your marketing efforts accordingly. Building a strong brand not only attracts clients but also establishes you as a reputable artist in your field.

4. Don’t Underestimate The Power of Referrals

Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools out there. Delivering exceptional work and providing a memorable experience for your clients can lead to repeat business and valuable referrals. Encourage satisfied clients to spread the word about your services, and watch as your client base grows organically.

5. Patience and Persistence Pays Off

Success in the world of art commissions doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to build a loyal client base and establish yourself as a trusted artist. Don't be discouraged by setbacks or slow progress. Stay consistent, continue honing your craft, and be open to learning from each commission experience.


💪 Take Action: Join an Online Art Marketplace (or Two)

Once you figure out what you want to create, create a customer avatar to really get to know your ideal client. Then find out where your buyers go to look for artists to commission!

  • If you're a traditional artist who crafts physical artwork that you'd send to commissioners via mail, consider joining a large online art marketplace like Etsy that sells custom collectibles.

  • If you specialize in digital illustration, concept or character art, a digital art commissions app like ArtDen helps you specialize in certain niches. It even has a built-in ToS.

  • Remember that although it's easier to join a marketplace that already has buyers than setting up and managing your own store, you'll still need to actively self-promote to bring people there.

In the final part of our video series, illustrator Jessie Chang shares her top tips and advice for taking art commissions and getting better quality work so you'll genuinely love what you do!


Closing Thoughts & Additional Resources

Mastering art commissions requires careful consideration of your strengths, effective branding, and a commitment to delivering top-notch work. By finding your niche, learning to say no when necessary, and leveraging the power of referrals, you can turn your passion for art into a thriving career! Remember to be persistent and resilient as growing a client list takes time and patience. Embrace the journey, be authentic and stay true to your artistic vision!

Ready to take your art to the next level? Here are some more resources to help you on your epic journey:

  • Join our Discord Community and unlock a world of opportunities to showcase, learn and connect. When art nerds help each other, we can redefine our craft and help each other thrive in a competitive market!

  • Get expert guidance in Art Mentorship -- weekly classes with live feedback, coaching, custom demos and industry advice from Winged Canvas instructors.

  • Become a Winged Canvas Patron for exclusive members-only chats, content and discussions with our artist creators, including myself and Jessie, who is featured in the video series.

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