How to ask for a commission well – and how not to


Oh the excitement! You finally were able to take the time to finish your story / a book  / a game / whatever concept that you have been planning for a while and you couldn’t be happier! It’s half a dream come true! You can’t believe you pulled this off, it’s your baby! The problem is, your contribution was only half of the pie, and now you need an artist or some other creative individual, to do the other side of the work that you may not have the skill to do. Maybe you need art for your game, pictures for your book, an illustration for an article or blog….

…so you search for one from the web or your friends list. Who could possibly do it for a fair price…

…or maybe even for free?

But that’s no problem, right? Because this is your dream project and it’s awesome! And it will be awesome for others too! You did it for free, why wouldn’t others! You could even possibly pay them later if the project gets viral after it’s completed. Maybe.

FAIL # 1: The idiot on Facebook

You go to an art community site, like a Facebook group, and you make a post that you think is short and quite okay! It could be something like this:

”hey I need an artist I have a story for an illustrated book can someone plz help”

NO. Don’t.

Not only will no-one take that offer as it includes no details about the project OR about a fair payment. First of all, you won’t get anyone to help you, and second of all you will be flagged as a jerk by the whole community. You will be mocked, judged and laughed at. Because this happens all the time. I personally don’t get involved with these conversations, but I see it happen over and over again. The person who looked for the artist will have to use their rest of the day answering questions why they are being so sketchy. They will learn this lesson the hard way. So don’t.

FAIL #2: The friend in need

You know your friend is an artist, so you send them a message.

”Hey I have noticed you can draw! I need this thing can you do it by xx.xx I’d really appreciate it! I can buy you a beer later if you do this and it will only take a minute!”

There’s a saying that you can make someone like you if you ask them for a favor. It doesn’t apply here. Your artist friend will like you a little bit less after this request. Your request is only worsening the problem that all artists suffer — they are expected to work for free. If you call yourself a friend you won’t only ask them to do this with a price, but pay even more because you value their craft. And if you are being this considerate, chances are your friend  will do this for you for free in the end.

FAIL #3: The free fisher

That hopeful artist you saw had a lot talent, so you think they just might take your offer for a chance on ”a portfolio material” or ”creditentials”.

You send a professional message:

Hey! I saw your portfolio and I think you would be great for this project that I have in mind! Can we meet so I will tell more about the project?

Okay, sounds so far so good…

But. This is the worst kind IF you have no intention to pay the artist. You ask them to come for a cup of coffee, then you show all the charts and ideas and what is accomplished about the project, and after two hours… you tell them you have no intention to pay. You wasted their valuable time. You won’t get an artist to work for you and you will be remembered — and not in a good way. The artist might tell you ”thanks for the opportunity, we’ll see, sounds interesting”. You shake hands and the artist goes home thinking ”this person must think I don’t value my work at all.”



So what did you do wrong?

You thought someone cares about your project. No-one cares about your personal project as much as you do. This is the reality. It may mean the world to you, but the raw truth is, if you want someone to care about it you must be willing to PAY a fair amount.

And I mean a fair amount. Of money. Not beer. Not coffee. Not a piece in portfolio.

Btw, yes, I have been offered all those things and yes I thought it was outrageous every time when I was offered a beer as a payment on my work. Would you buy beer for your plumber? Maybe. But after that you’d pay him good money.

An artist can use their own personal projects for their portfolio, and it will be great for them because they will care about the project as much as you do about yours, AND they will not have a deadline for them, so they can work it on and off, however they want, whenever they want. They can polish it for a year and it would be awesome and enjoyable.

Anything that has a time limit or even a time wish on your constraint, on your project, means you need to pay.

Still confused why? Let me open this up.

Your rush isn’t other person’s concern unless you pay.

Your rush means stress to another individual. We don’t want stress. But, we can handle that stress if you pay. The paid work is always priority one.

Also your time limit means we have to rearrange our life in order to deliver for you.

And don’t even get me started about the amount of time some people think goes to a ”small painting” or a ”quick sketch” that you’re asking and how much time actually goes to executing that.

You see a drawing, you think ”it probably took him/her five minutes, it looks so simple.” 

A good drawing doesn’t just ”happen”. No matter what the subject is it needs to go through several stages, for example: the rough, the rough 2, the rough 3, the rough 4, the tightening up and the polish. AND there could be several versions explored before even getting to the rough 1 that may be good enough for proceeding. So each drawing you see, the person could have made twenty drawings.

Also, it probably took the artist ten years to learn to draw like that. So your five-minute-favor is actually a bit longer than that.

So what is eventually the right way to ask for a comission?

1. If  money is not an issue:  It’s probably best that you send a direct message to the artist that you think would be right for the project, describe the project in the detail that you are comfortable with, and let the artist know you are willing to pay for their service. Let them know why you like their work, ask for their fee. If you offer them even more, you will get the artist to fall in love with you, care about the project, feel valued and they will do their best work for you. Maybe they’ll even do extra hours for free, because he/she thinks you are wonderful and deserve it. The artist wants to see you succeed because you showed appreciation, a thing that all people need.

2. If you have just a little bit of money: Remember that if your artist can’t pay rent and support their families with your money, it can’t be their priority number one. You get what you pay for.

You could also make a post about this commission and be clear about the amount you’re ready to pay. If someone is ready to deliver it for you for that price, you’re good.

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 13.41.19

3. I’m broke, buddy: Well, you can always see if a person is interested in the project and if they might happen to like the idea that you have. If you do, be humble and respectful, and know that you are NOT the boss of the artist. In this case the artist should feel that the project is theirs too so they would at least care about it, if they’re getting nothing on it. And you can’t really request deadlines. If you’re not paying, the artist will priorize the paid work before yours and their personal work before yours too.

Also, if you’re asking drawings for free, don’t offer artist exposure as the exchange.

And no matter if you pay a lot, a bit less or nothing at all, always be respectful and understand that the artist has put a lot of work to become good at their craft. It’s never a gift from God. Just like being a plumber isn’t. Art making is a job, just like any other.

So, with all that, good luck out there. Be good to each other! Respect each other, be fair and kind, and who knows what could follow.



ps. Want to see some real examples that artists have to deal with? Check out this Twitter account For Exposure @forexposure_txt from here below. Enjoy!


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