Monday, August 12, 2013

Commissions 101

Hi NuVoguers! Leilani Joy here, with your intro to Commissions! There are a few important things that you need to know before you go pro! Do keep in mind that there is a learning curve to this process and it may take you a few jobs and clients before you get the system down. Also remember that every client is a little different and people have different communication styles. As the artist you are providing your creative services and it's important that present yourself in a professional way. These tips and guidelines are just that- guidelines! You'll need to alter these terms and practices to fit your needs and the parameters of your specific project/job. So in this post I'll be covering the following: 

  Click the following links to jump to that section

Pricing and Rates

So you've got yourself a gig! Congratulations! ^__^ Getting a job is often the hardest part! So now you're wondering, "Well....What should I charge?" 

There are a lot of factors involved in art pricing. Obviously experienced artists who are in high demand can charge substantially more than an artist who is just starting out. Jasmine Beckett-Grifith's pieces often go for thousands and thousands of dollars each, but this doesn't mean you're going to start out earning the same thing. She is a good example of an artist who has made a name for herself and built up a strong demand for her work- as well as a high paying cliental. For those of us who aren't quite there yet, there are a few factors to consider. First, ask yourself the following questions:
  •  What is the current demand for my work?
  •  What is the going rate for the job your doing (what do professionals charge?)
  •  How much do I want to be paid per hour? 
  •  How many hours does it take to complete a piece?
So if you're just starting out the demand is probably low- (remember your economics class? What happens when demand increases and supply is limited? Prices go up!) But don't worry, demand will come with time and hard work! 

Next pick up a copy of this book- VERY IMPORTANT if you want to go pro: "Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines" (you can find it on amazon here: 
Buy it now!)

This book will have all the current professional going rates for a variety of creative jobs- from graphic novels, to advertisements, commissioned paintings, greeting cards, book covers, and EVERYTHING in between. This book also has fantastic info on legal matters and other important art biz! Do keep in mind that this book is just a guideline and averaged from seasoned professionals. You may be earning considerably less than the guidelines when you first start out, but it is good to be aware of the standard rates. You can also find some resourceful info here:

Finally- this is very important! Time to put your math cap on... You will need to calculate the number of hours it takes you to complete a piece. From there you want to multiply your hours by your desired hourly rate. 


If you're charging 100 dollars for a painting, and it took you 25 hours to complete, you're only earning $4.00 per hour! YIKES! That's slave labor! Make sure you're at least earning minimum wage when you're just starting out. Your hourly rate can increase with experience and demand. Remember, artists work just like everybody else does! We deserve to be paid! 

S0 at this point you have a client, and you have mutually decided on the price for your work. Next you want to draft a contract that outlines the project and also includes your terms regarding copyrights, reproduction rights, turn around time, payment, deadlines, etc. Some clients may provide you with their own contract- which you should review VERY carefully. If you have questions be sure to ask your client. If you're creating your own contract then these guidelines will apply to you! The following is a sample contract that I use for my own commissions. I've made some notes in red to explain some of the terms. I have revised my contract many times and you will you want alter it to fit your own projects.

I'm going to share with you two different types of contracts that I use. One is for a basic commission for an original painting (which is usually for a private individual client) and the other is for a more elaborate multi-illustration assignment for a freelance project, that could be for a company etc. 

Basic Original Painting Commission: 

Click to Download Text Version of this contract
Multi Illustration Assignment:

Click to download a text version of this contract

So now it's finally time to do some drawing! First you want to determine how many thumbnails to provide your client, and make sure you include that in your work agreement. I typically send the client 4 and 6 depending on how complicated the illustration is- but that doesn't mean that I don't do more. Sometimes I'll do up to 10 or so and then send my client the strongest 4. Don't be afraid to do as many thumbnails as you'd like. I also like to do my thumbnails to SCALE of the final piece. That way your compositions will match when you move to the final stage. You may have to use some math skills to create your scale thumbnails but it's worth it! 

Work fast and loose and just let the ideas flow freely! Most clients don't need thumbnails to be too acurate- focus on big basic shapes and a pleasing composition at this stage. Here's some examples of thumbnails I've done for my clients. :-)



Once my client has chosen a their favorite thumbnail I begin the next stage. From here I start looking for photo reference or shoot my own to work from. Then I begin on a more refined sketch for the final piece. Once finished with the sketch I will send it to my client for review and approval and make any requested changes. For my commissions I only provide one round of revisions to the sketch. If more changes are requested I charge an hourly rate for additional work. This may be something you should include in your contract- some clients can be "nit picky" and it's important that you be paid for your work. When clients know they have to pay more for additional changes they are more inclined to keep them to a minimum and less likely to take advantage of your time. 

So once we've agreed on the final sketch, I'll begin my color comps. I usually scan my developed sketch and work up some color palette thumbnails aka color comps. Many times the client will have input as far as what colors they would like for their piece- in that case two color comps may be sufficient. I usually do 4 color comps, just to provide them with a few different color ideas. 

If I'm feeling stumped for color inspiration- I'll often create color palettes from other artworks or photographs. Remember- there are no copyrights on color ;-)


Almost there...... Just have to actually do the painting! :-P  

 Once I begin the final piece, I provide my client with a couple of progress shots along the way. Once I near the completion I offer my client one more round of revisions if needed, but usually by this point we already have the final piece planned out and few revisions are necessary. 

***Remember to watermark your final illustration and only send a LOW-RES proof to your client- especially if they haven't paid you in full yet! You don't want your client canceling the job at the last second and printing off your digital file of the final piece to so they can hang it up in their house without paying you!!!(I only say this because it COULD happen) EEK! Always protect yourself and your artwork!

Finally, pack your painting carefully and ship it to your client! Remember to either calculate  your shipping costs and include it in your total rate- or collect it separately from your client before shipping! If you're not confident in shipping your original painting safely, best leave it to the professionals! I've had some of my more delicate pieces professionally packed and shipped to ensure they are arrive safely. I like using a company called, Box Brothers ( They have locations all over CA, and also in FL, WA, TX, and NV. You can also ship with FedEx, but unfortunately FedEx only ensures packages up to $500, so if your piece is worth more than that you may want to find another service. 

BE SURE TO PURCHASE INSURANCE before you ship!!! I know it seems annoying to pay for insurance but trust me you don't want to ship without it. If by some chance your painting is lost or damaged it would be heartbreaking to have to refund your client and be left with no painting and no money! So be sure to get full coverage on your artwork! 

Now that your done.... Rinse and repeat! You'll be a pro in no time! 

<3 L


  1. You're amazing to take the time and share your knowledge with others. What blessing for a beginning artist to stumble upon this. Cheers to you darlin'!

  2. I totally agree with Brenda , thank you for helping the rest of us aspiring artists to avoid the pitfalls and taking the time out of your busy schedule BRAVO LEILANI xxx

  3. Hi Leilani! How does payment work when you make a collaboration piece? Do you sell the piece and get 50-50? And, do you charge the person who wants to collaborate with you? Thanks! Btw... Love your art and your personality!

    1. I don't do collaborations, so I don't have the best answer for you, but I would suggest working with the other artist on a contract that you both agree on before you begin the work together. Decide who gets what and be sure to outline specifics on what you each plan to do with the art- can you make prints, license the work to companies etc. Good luck!

  4. This is a very nice read for any artist. I think in the world of art we need articles like these to help us organize our thoughts on how to tackle the business side of things.

  5. This is so nice of you to share. I love your work and ... it's wonderful how far you went to break down the details for this process. Thank you so much!


  6. Hey Leilani! Thanks so much for your input. It was very insightful and helpful. I will definitely look up writing a contract.

  7. Henry Heuer is an knowledgeable author and a ex - insurance policies maker who may have been recently registered to sell home and also casualty insurance policies and is state-certified with life and also health care insurance.trucking insurance

  8. hipping regarding goods may be a time-sensitive, crucial course of action. Whether these items usually are perishable or definitely not, organizations have to have these phones possibly be transported in the most secure manner feasible. Understanding that carriers are going to take care of goods properly in addition to cause them to become the actual destination punctually seriously isn't usually an easy task.Truckers Insurance