Commission Artwork like a Pro

How to Commission Artwork

I have made several commercial Visual Novels. And in that time I have commissioned a lot of art work for that purpose. Something that I have come across is people asking for art work or for commissions, but coming across as complete morons / noobs. So, I'm going to give you some pointers on how I think you should go about commissioning someone for artwork.

First off, you are going be spending money, a lot of money. Don't you dare think about offering anything else in return. If you aren't ready to pony up the cash, you aren't serious about commissioning artwork. Artists don't want to hear about profit sharing in your videogame. They don't want you to ask for a cheaper price. Pay the money.

Second, know what you want to commission. Don't say you want to hire an artist to make a game. If your are making a visual novel, you're going to need an artist to make sprites, backgrounds, and CGs. Now some artists can do all 3 and some can't. Choose what you want to commission, find an artist for it, and provide details about what your project is (In less than 2-3 sentences, artists don't need back story.) I will often find several reference images on google and give them links or attachments of what I'm looking for.

I'm going to post a screenshot of a commission request I recently made, to see how I laid the groundwork. (Note, that I used Deviant Art to find my artists. Artists here will mostly expect payment through PayPal.)

You can see here, I introduce myself and refer to their commission page. Many artists will have a page where they list prices for what they do. I highly recommend hiring an artist that has one of these pages. In addition, you can look through their gallery to see if they have posted previous commissions. I highly recommend hiring someone who has some commissioned artwork in the past. (The person who requested the artwork might have made a comment below. If you are unsure of the artist you can send a PM to that person and ask how their experience was.)

The second thing in my note is very important. I'm making a commercial VN. Some artists will not work on commercial projects or will charge more for this. Make this the first thing you mention.

If you are going to have explicit scenes, you should also mention that. Note here, the person I'm requesting art from is only doing the sprites, so I will not be asking them to do this type of work, but I let them know it might be in the game. Some artists will not draw explicit scenes and some artists don't want their artwork associated with that type of material. You are really laying a foundation to protect yourself here.

Now here, I offer full payment upfront. Some artists will ask for half, give you a sketch, then ask for the other half. If this is your first time, you might want to try that. I want to save on PayPal fees and appear very professional, so I offer all the money. I also offer my artists a couple of free Steam keys because I'm a nice guy. (Here you might also want to make it clear if it's okay for the artist to repost the artwork on their profile. I personally have no issue with this. If your not okay with this, you might actually have to pay more money in some cases. I want to help the artist out, so I usually leave it up to them.)

I have some previous commercial games, I link my most recent one, so they can see what I have done in the past. This serves several purposes. It lets the artist know I have experience and am serious. It also shows the artists how you might use their artwork in a game. (The game I linked is a commercial game with adult themes, so they should be very aware of what their artwork will be used for.)

Now I get into the details, you can see how I posted links to 2 references. Google is your friend. Help the artist out by giving examples of artwork. If your bad at writing details: a picture is worth a thousand.

Then I break down the price, I'm referring to their commissions page. Here is the artists chance to correct me about the price if I got something wrong. I'm very careful to say that they should only start the commission once they receive the payment. This is another layer of protection, in case PayPal has problems or you change your mind. The transaction doesn't start until they have received payment.

The journey only starts with this initial message. There was a lot of back and forth between the artist and I about this commission. I also received sketches and other questions. The person I worked with here was very professional and communicated a lot with me. Not all artists will provide the same level of good communication. You will have a lot of different experiences if you do this for a long time. The important thing is to conduct yourself in a professional manner and know what you want.


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Good advice!
I'll echo that when you request art, being transparent about your project's nature, showing past works/collaborations and giving detailed information/references about what you want is something that artists appreciate very much.

Do you have any experience with being unsatisfied with an artist's work when you receive it? What happens if you already paid, whose fault is it, etc.
If you do, I think it might also be good to share your thoughts on that matter.
It’s your actions.. not your strength, that would lead you to victory.

I can say that the most frustrating thing I have experienced is artists that have taken way too long to complete a commission. I had one guy on Deviant Art who was getting very popular at the time. So, he ended up taking many commission requests. He had like around 30... He was also running a Patreon, so had to do art for that. In the long run, a commission that could have been completes in a couple of weeks, took months. I had another artist who fell of his bike and broke his arm. He didn't really communicate what happened to him, so it was a little annoying at the time.

I also have had a couple really profession artists. They communicate well and do work within a reasonable amount of time. The artist I had work on my backgrounds in 2 of my VNs is one of the best people I have ever worked with. And the person I'm currently working with on sprites is also very good.

Bad artwork. I think that's subjective and how you go into commissioning artwork. You can't expect the artist to design an image in your head exactly as that. You are taking on the artists style and skill when you do this. I expect the artist will have their own take of what the art should look like. You really got to be okay with that. In most circumstances I have been very pleased with the commissions I have received. It's really important that the person you hire has a large gallery. You need to look at a lot of art and decide if this is the right person for you.

In total I have hired 5 different artists (Each artist worked on at least 4 commissions or more), and I would say I would hire 2 of those artists again. What does that mean about the other 3? Well some of that comes down to some of their professional behavior, or other reasons.

I hope this was helpful.

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