Commissioning an artist is an experience that can be equal parts exciting and confusing, but, as with most things in life, getting started is usually the hardest part. Depending on what you’re looking for, there are so many places in which you can find artists online, and elements like your budget, timeframe, and overall goals will affect where and how you want to look for someone to commission.
We’ve covered commissions from the Artist’s side previously, but felt it would be helpful to put together a quick guide for art buyers who are new to the scene. Whether you’re a renaissance-level patron of the digital art world or still stuck on step “how to ask an artist for a commission”, we hope that there’s something here you can learn from!
Let’s start with the very most basic question:
What Are Art Commissions?
In art terms, when you commission an artist, you’re paying them to create a unique, custom artwork to your specifications. Some artists will make you anything you have the budget for; other artists will offer only a specific type of commission that you tailor your request around, such as a custom Twitter profile image (pfp) or DnD character sheet. There are a lot of variables, but that’s the core idea of it.
No matter what kind of commission you’re looking to buy, there are a few key elements that will help the process go smoothly if you figure them out up front.
Buying Art Online: The Basics
When deciding to commission art online, there are several key factors to keep in mind that all interconnect. Establishing one will help you make decisions for the other categories, so don’t feel like you need to know these things in order! The six categories are:
- The artist you want to buy from (the who, no – not the English power pop band),
- What type of art you’re looking for (the what),
- Your timeline (the when),
- Where you want to actually purchase the artwork (the where),
- Your motivation (the why),
- And what you’re going to do with the art once you’ve purchased it (the how).
Let’s break those down a bit more.
First things first – you need to find an artist you want to buy art from! Art is something that is incredibly personal and two equally-talented artists can deliver two wildly different final pieces–so you want to pick someone whose style you like, of course, but also someone whose style suits the specific result you want to get.
One thing that first-time buyers often forget is that, just like engineers, carpenters, and chefs, artists generally specialize in one style or type of work. Asking for a portrait from a landscape artist is certainly a possibility, but you should look for artists in your niche rather than just any artist. This will allow you to find the best possible person for the job and prevent frustration on the part of an artist.
So take some time; do your research, discover new artists, and narrow down your needs. This will help you figure out the who, and also ties into our next section – what you want to buy.
Next up is what – what, exactly, are you trying to buy? Do you want a particular style of artwork (like a watercolor vs comic book illustration) or are you seeking something in a specific medium, such as Live 2D rigging?
These questions allow you to further narrow your search. If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, you already know this process. You begin with an idea and start searching; discovering artists with unique styles and twists, likely asking a few favorites to sketch out a concept so you can see what they’ll do with what you want, and then make a decision once you’re fully informed. After all, tattoos are permanent, and artwork in most genres is no different – it takes time and money to make, and neither is something you can really get back. The last thing you want is a final product you’re not happy with.
The when of things is equally important. As we said above, art takes time – that makes planning in the early stages vital to success. You likely want your commission to come by a particular time; whether that’s a matter of hours, days, or weeks doesn’t matter – what does matter is having a concrete timeline in place.
Establishing a timeframe for the art will help you with a couple of things, such as:
Narrow down who you want to hire.
Not every artist will be able to help you within your timeframe. Being up-front and honest about when you need the commission and how much wiggle room you have will make both your life and your artist’s life much easier. So if the commission is a birthday present or something else with a set date it needs to be in hand, tell your artist.
Remember that art isn’t the same as some other forms of manual, transactional labor; it takes a great deal of thought and personality to create.
As buyers, we can sometimes forget that artwork is a creative and/or personal expression for the artist–even when they’re creating something to your specifications. It takes a great deal of mental energy to create, and generally, great art comes with time. Keeping this in mind is a good way to remind yourself that you’re waiting to make sure you get the best possible final product, rather than just a product.
At the end of the day, art (digital or otherwise) isn’t instant, and knowing that will not only improve your experience but help form a better relationship with the artist. If you’re looking to get a quick turnaround, remember that it’ll take extra time and energy from the artist, so account for that with your budget (which we’ll get to shortly).
The next vital factor for commissioning art is figuring out where you want to look for an artist. There are quite a few spots where you can buy art, and each comes with its own pros and cons. Let’s break those down a bit:
Countless artists are on social media across Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, using each as a sort of free portfolio hosting service. This makes it incredibly easy to discover new talent and take a peek at a few portfolio pieces, and offers an easy avenue to reach out about potential commissions. However, scams and art theft are pretty common on social media, and it takes a bit of savviness to spot the bad apples.
- A large pool of talent
- Easy contact
- Lots of portfolio samples.
- Buyers need to be on the lookout for scams.
- You have access to minimal arbitration between the artist & buyer in the case of any issues.
DeviantArt is a pretty well-known spot to get art commissions done. It allows buyers to peruse a large collection of art, alongside groups and communities of like-minded artists. This can make it super easy to find an artist, but DeviantArt has a notorious issue with art theft. Meaning, it can be difficult to be certain that you’re buying an original from an actual artist.
- Large communities
- Near-endless collection of artists
- Lots of options
- Poor regulation of digital art/NFTs,
- Art theft makes it hard to know you’re purchasing an original.
Patreon is a favorite of content creators across the web as it allows creators to offer a place where buyers can subscribe to get regular content in exchange for a small fee. As such, you’re not able to consistently commission work – commissioned work is generally a 1-time reward, rather than a given.
- One single place where you can find a large collection of art from a specific artist.
- Access to a controlling entity that can (if needed) step in to arbitrate.
- Commissions are a reward rather than a type of work on Patreon.
- Subscriptions are more to support the artist than to get content.
You knew this was coming! CO2ign Art is a new platform with a focus on ensuring digital artists and buyers are protected, while helping to support crucial carbon reduction projects worldwide. We verify every artist personally (no bot verification, only real people), provide proof of purchase, and allow buyers to peruse a broad selection of portfolios for free.
- 50% of your purchase goes to funding carbon reduction projects,
- A digital signature confirms your ownership and provides proof of purchase,
- Access to verified artists,
- A broad range of portfolios to peruse for free.
- Once you find an artist you like, you’ll need to move off-site to contact them for a potential commission (for now! Watch this space)
Okay, we need to discuss the why behind your desire to purchase art, online or otherwise. Motivation is one of the most important factors to take into account when deciding to buy anything, and art is no different. In fact, one could argue that motivation is even more important with art, because its value is extremely subjective and will vary person-to-person.
So ask yourself the following questions when figuring out what you want and from whom:
What is my motivation for buying this art?
This can be decoration, as a gift, because you want to support the artist, or something as simple as because you like it!
How open to artistic license am I?
Specifically, do you have a singular vision for what you’re commissioning? Remember the previous tattoo example, in which we mentioned seeing how each artist does the same prompt? If you want a single thing, be specific with the artist and explain it in as exact detail as possible. If you want them to take some artistic license, tell the artist to get creative! They’ll likely appreciate the opportunity, and you get something unique.
Am I able to voice what I want?
This is the hard part – especially for those who aren’t artistically minded. Describing an artistic concept can be complicated, so find examples. In that link, you’ll find a Twitter discussion between artists, and one of their most requested things from buyers is to show what caught your eye from an artist. In other words, if words fail you – use visuals. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The last major thing to keep in mind is what the purpose of the art is – how will you use it? Is it a decorative piece for an office? Your new VTuber identity? Maybe it’s a personal gift? No matter what you want to do with your new art, it’s important to communicate its intended purpose to the artist.
Telling the artist where their art will end up allows them to envision the final product that much better and ensures that you’re happy with the final product.
Other Tips for Commissioning Artists
Now that we’ve gotten the big bits out of the way, there are a few other things to keep in mind that don’t fit quite neatly enough into the previous sections (or don’t start with w) that we could include them there. Each of the following bits is equally important, though, so don’t skip them.
Your budget is something that only you can decide. This makes it absolutely vital that you establish it before looking for an artist. There are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when establishing your budget:
As with all things in life, art’s quality generally increases with the budget provided for it.
Art takes time and investment from the artist. If your work takes ten hours to complete, you’ll get drastically better work if you pay $100 than if you paid $20-30. Think about it in terms of hourly wage – minimum wage gets you the minimum, and above-average wages get you above-average work.
Experience costs more.
On that same note, don’t expect to get a masterpiece from someone charging beginner rates. If you see two artists that make similar content, but one charges $10 per and the other charges $100 per, you can bet that the more expensive artist has more experience and can do higher-quality work. In short, the more you pay, the better quality work you get.
If you’re working on a short timeline, you’ll need to pay more.
So you forgot a birthday or anniversary; it happens. The important thing here is that if you need artwork on a quick turnaround time, you’ll need to pay your artist enough that they can reasonably justify dropping other obligations or projects to get yours done. Making art is a business. You wouldn’t ask a chef to drop everything and make a 3-star meal for $10 in two hours so why would you do that to an artist?
Keep an Eye Out
In the internet age, vigilance is key. If you’re spending money on something online, it’s absolutely vital that you look into the person from whom you’re buying. Scams in the digital art community are an unfortunate reality (coincidentally, that’s why we personally verify every artist on CO2ign Art). So what advice do real artists give to help buyers spot the originals from the fakes?
This Twitter thread offers a detailed explanation from an artist (@leidensygdom) about how to spot real art profiles from those who trace or outright steal from real artists. The long and the short of it boils down to the following points:
Talk to the artist.
Real artists are, more often than not, going to have a lot of questions for you and will happily discuss their process and rates. Scammers, on the other hand, won’t (can’t, really) do that because they didn’t make the work.
Look for a commission sheet.
Once again, real artists generally put together a list explaining their rates and what they will or won’t/can’t do. One great example is Francesca Harvie (a CO2ign Artist, by the way). Note that she has specific pricing for a number of potential needs and has it easily accessible to the public. Scammers, on the other hand, generally ask you to “DM me for more information.”
This is because they can’t explain their pricing, and don’t want that to be made clear to the public. Real artists will happily discuss pricing and generally have it listed clearly in several places.
Look for community interaction.
Real artists will do live streams, talk to friends and fans on social media, discuss personal events, and generally feel real. Scammers, on the other hand, generally use bots to find marks (people to con). This means that their replies on social media will often be very similar, grammatically disastrous, and bland.
Check their social media profiles.
Real artists generally have numerous places you can find them. They’ll list their LinkTree, personal website, other forms of social media, Patreon, Ko-Fi, etc. Scammers will use lots of keywords in their bio like “Twitch, YouTube, commissions, logo, etc.” and will pretty much focus on how they’re open to paid work and will generally only have one profile.
Use common sense.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This can mean incredibly low prices for really high-quality work, or super-fast turnarounds. There are legitimate artists who work quickly or for low rates, of course, so this isn’t an immediate red flag–just one element to consider.
Essentially, remember that artists run a business. As such, they’re going to try to emphasize that as clearly as possible in as many places as they can. Scammers, on the other hand, need to be able to lose a profile and create a new one at the drop of a pin-meaning they won’t put as much effort into creating an online presence.
At the end of the day, while purchasing art online can be tricky, it’s entirely worth the effort. You’re able to find something beautiful and unique, support artists you love, and become a part of a like-minded community. So if you’re considering commissioning a piece of art, do it! There are countless people out there that create one-of-a-kind, gorgeous work, and they deserve support.