Friday, July 6, 2012

A Primer to Commission work - Pricing (and more warmup doodles)

The number one question other artists ask of me when I tell them I do commissions is: How do I know how much to charge? The Internet has leveled the playing field for many skilled professionals, including artists, making it possible for anyone with a scanner or tablet to upload their works and easily contact an audience who might be interested in getting custom art made for them. However, skills in art don't translate to business savvy or knowing how much your work is worth.

It is sadly a common occurence that art commissioners often get great bargains commissioning art from skilled, yet uninformed, young or amateur artists who are just getting the hang of things. I would advice anyone who is just getting started with posting their artwork online to not take commissions until they have a better understanding on how to properly sell his or her work. It's too easy to get burned when you are not aware of all that a commission entails, and pricing is just the tip of the iceberg. (I will be talking about other aspects in future posts). 

Let's say you have been around for a while. You know that the rights to anything that you create have value, that design time is billable time, that the commissioner knows revisions are not infinite and so forth. So, how do you price your work?

The truth is the price of art is completely arbitrary. A great many factors are involved in determined how much someone's work is worth, and most of them have nothing to do with artistic skill. Where you offer your work, how big of a name you are, whether your style is in fashion, the types of content you're willing to create and even whether the Economy is tanking are all big factors that determine what you can reasonably charge. And even if you're used to seeing artists charge a certain amount on the online forum where they post Pokemon fan art, that doesn't mean they will be able to get the same business at a different place, like an anime convention where Pokemon is but a fraction of what people who attend are looking for.

There are no rules set in stone when it comes to pricing, but I would recommend to aim reasonably high. For example: At conventions you want to scout your neighbour artists of similar caliber (both technical and reputation) and check their prices: If everyone is charging $50 for an ink sketch and you set your price for similar work at $20, you may get some business from people on a budget, but in general people will regard your art as cheap (and rightly so), and unless you're incredibly good, they will assume you're not worth it. Art is a luxury: In this kind of environment, you're not taking people's food or rent money and you're not forcing them to commission you. Purchasing art is the subjective experience of owning a unique item and the cheaper it is, the less the owner will value it. Setting your prices at $45 would be advisable here unless you feel you're better than everyone else in the room (and let's be honest, you are not).

Another thing to consider when pricing is what you're getting out of the experience beyond the cash. It's my experience that the commissions that I enjoy producing often feel like no work at all and are a pleasure to work on, making the payment seem almost superfluous (but welcome, regardless!). The same applies for getting practice and developing your skillset in working on pieces you normally wouldn't in order to improve-- this is the reason why often people will take a job that pays less, but makes them feel fulfilled, or is a stepping stone toward landing a better paying job once your skills are up to par.

In summary, I can't tell you how much you should be charging. I vary my prices depending on commissioner response. If I'm always sold out, or people prefer a certain type of technique, I adjust the prices on the next batch to reflect this. As long as you're producing work to the best of your ability, deliver it in a reasonable time and you're easy to deal with, people will come back and recommend you to their friends, and that's what being a professional artist is all about.

Here are a couple more warmup doodles copied from Disney screencaps. Come to think of it, I probably should add captions in order to make them a proper parody and not worry about the looming spectre of Cease and Desist ; ).

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