Commissions: What if I told you the truth about everything?

“UH…You mean you haven’t been telling us the truth up until now?”


Nah, I haven’t lied to you. I’ve omitted stuff to  project an image of success. As I said earlier though, I’m almost 40 now and I don’t care anymore. So let’s get down and dirty about COMMISSIONS.

What is a commission?

When I talk about commissions, I mean when a person pays you to draw a piece of personal art for them. They’re not supposed to make merchandise out of it and sell 1000 copies. They can maybe make one shirt, or one book cover out of it, or print it up for their wall. The main point is, this isn’t a piece of art they’re going to turn around and make money off of. It is for their enjoyment or to be given as a gift to someone else for their enjoyment.

Look just don’t try to profit off it, okay?

How do I get commissions?

Heck I don’t know. I really don’t. They usually fall onto me out of the clear blue sky, like an anvil.

You see, my usual method when I want commissions is to painstakingly make a “commission card.” My idea here is that if all the information is on the card, even if the card is the only thing that gets shared or swapped around, the recipient still has all the information they need to hire me. I then share this card to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, my website here, Patreon, and LinkedIN. Sometimes I would also share these cards to deviantART.

Then, I would periodically share the card again, at different times of day and on different days. Friends will sometimes share it, giving me a signal boost.

There have been plenty of times when this has gotten me 0 commissions. Zilch. Nada.

About the only thing that consistently works for me is shoving all my art out into the world on the off chance someone will walk by that gallery or that coffee shop or stumble on that post from 6 years ago.

All my actual attempts to get commissions have generally been pretty iffy.

SUPER iffy.

What, pray tell, are you doing incorrectly?

I have no idea, or I would be getting more commissions. So here are my wild guesses:

  1. The prices are too low
  2. I didn’t limit the commissions enough
  3. I didn’t do the tip jar trick
  4. People don’t want the damn things
  5. The art sucks
  6. Facebook, Instagram etc are crushing my reach in hopes of getting me to buy ads
  7. Mistakes in the construction of the post

Let’s go through those one at a time in a painfully honest and unflattering manner.

The prices are too low

Why would a price be too low?

Well, I came to this conclusion after happening to notice some commission campaigns being concurrently run by a couple of my contemporaries. Long story short, when I was asking for $5 or $10, they were asking for $40 or $80. And having notably more success from what I can tell.

Now many things could account for this, but I’ve heard of the phenomenon before. When you significantly devalue your work, other folks follow your lead and figure it’s worthless. When you’re an artist, non-artists follow your example far more than you probably realize. At a table show, they often don’t feel right about leafing through your prints until you verbally invite them to do so, regardless of how many signs are around and how many other booths they just came from where they leafed through everything. They also don’t have any idea what a piece of art is “worth.” So when you tell them your art is worth less, they gravitate toward higher priced art (within reason). They also want to feel like they bought a quality gift for themselves or for someone they love.

So it would probably be smart to see what other people are asking for commissions and then be somewhere close to that range. I didn’t know I was $30-70 lower than everyone else and it could be hurting my chances.


There aren’t enough limitations

Here’s another seemingly paradoxical one. Why would you limit the customer’s choices?

Well, let me take you back to my table shows. When someone has 4 or 5 items out, people can make a choice, buy the one they like and move on. When you have a veritable Ali Baba’s Cave of Wonders, however, many people get so paralyzed by indecision that they will not even pause at your booth.

In terms of crafting a commission post, it would probably be a good idea to give people limits too. But don’t just limit the price range and the types of commission available (sketch, black and white, color, bust, full figure, whatever). Consider limiting the amount of commissions you will do at a time (10 slots, etc) or the time range, ie “Flash Sale! Thru January 1!”

Giving people limitations also gives them a greater sense of urgency, since they need to contact you in order to reserve a limited slot or to make it in under the deadline. There’s a reason deadlines exist. I myself am far more likely to complete a task (of any sort) if I have a deadline. If there’s no deadline, I feel like the person doesn’t care as much and as a result, I don’t care as much. The work may never even get done.

The tip jar trick

This is when you encourage other people to put some money in your tip jar by first placing one of your own dollars in the bottom of the tip jar where they can see it.

The reason it’s important to do this is because again, people are following our lead. Your potential buyers have plenty of reasons to fear commissioning you. Unless they are a friend, or a person who has commissioned you before, they don’t know you won’t draw bad art for them or maybe take the money and run, or send them suggestive pictures of your earlobes. You have to reassure them somehow.

How would this translate into your commission post? By claiming slots.

For example, you decide you will offer 10 slots. If you want to send people a signal that it’s really okay to commission you, and the sky won’t fall in, you might say that 2 of the slots have been taken and you have 8 left.

Seems pretty dishonest, right? I think so too. “Fake it ’til you make it” is a common piece of business advice, but it still relies on the word FAKE.

Besides, customers have more of a choice with the restaurant tip jar. They could wait until after they ascertained the pizza was good to drop their hard-earned change in there. Not so with deciding whether or not to risk commissioning an unfamiliar artist!

With that being said. Ways to fill your first couple of slots, from the least soul-eroding to the most, may include:

  1. Seeing if a close friend is interested in getting a commission. (I think this is what most people do.)
  2. See if a former client is interested in a commission.
  3. Commissioning yourself, ie using the slot to make a present for a friend, or using a slot to draw something cool and then donate the price to charity
  4. Saying you have two slots full and then saying “YEAH! WHAT! WHAT.” And crossing your arms, daring anyone to claim otherwise.

I have done 1, 2 and 3.

Approaches 1 and 2 got me commissions, since I had to ask other humans if they wanted one and a couple evidently did.

Approach 3 never got me a commission. I made a few presents for friends, which was nice. But through omission I made it seem like someone had also independently paid me to do them. The universe accordingly refused to reward me for my treachery, and I did not ever get any “real” commissions from my trick.

However, I do think #3 would be fine if you were completely open with the fact that you were commissioning yourself. Would it make you look “weak” and “pathetic” to wary clients? I have no idea. But I’m thinking of trying it!

Not caring what people think of you anymore feels good.

Bastion of mental stability right here.

People don’t need the commission at the moment

This stuff is market driven, so it’s always possible that no one needs a commission that day. Here’s a few ways you could address such a problem:

  1. Offer ’em again later. This might just not be “the time.”
  2. See about offering a couple more types of commissions
  3. Use different examples in case people don’t see the ones you chose as relevant
  4. See if there are any particular interest groups or tags you could throw your commission post into

People dislike the art shown

For this one (whether my egotism is warranted or not) I believe in my art absolutely and I think it’s “pretty darn good, thanks!” And I think you should feel the same way about your art. But, there’s still a couple of things you can do to fix this problem too.

  1. See if what you’re offering is comparable to other people’s commissions at your price point
  2. Use different examples in case your current ones are turning people off for whatever reason
  3. See if there’s any specific piece(s) you did that people responded to particularly well and have those be your guide
The Unfortunate who have not embraced my art.

Facebook and Instagram want us to buy ads

I have no idea if this is a huge problem or not, but many artists swear it is. And many more artists just factor in having to buy ads now and then for the projects they truly want to promote.

This is probably a huge reason artists like to have a large fanbase besides all the warm feelings of support and affirmation. They want to save on advertising! And having a huge reach probably helps you not have to buy ads as much. People organically share all of your cool posts and it leads to commissions. (I assume.)

As for me, having an advertising budget is on my wish list. I’ll write more on this subject once I finally give it a try.

The post was not constructed well

There are several things I think you should have in your commission post.

  1. What are you offering (picture examples AND text description)
  2. What is the price/range
  3. How do they contact you? I suggest email instead of trying to keep track of your direct messages on 20 platforms.
  4. What do you need from them (reference pictures, a certain type of payment)
  5. How do they pay you? I included a link on its own, but people might not even know what that is with no context.
  6. How long do they have to get a commission/when does the sale end?
  7. You would like them to share your post
  8. ALL of the above information is not only in the post (including all links) but is also on the commission card image

I didn’t do half of this stuff properly on pretty much any campaign I ever ran. It might have something to do with the fact that I always seem to get done with it and send it out at 3am or so.

So I’m about to go fix all of the problems in my last, unsuccessful commission campaign.

Got my smile on.

Will it work? Heck, I don’t know. I’m walking the fine line between trying to do an effective job, and wanting to actually enjoy my children growing up. And compared to being present in my life, properly constructing a commission campaign is not terribly exciting.

But hey, maybe my suggestions mean that one of you people out there get to start out where I left off. Maybe it’ll save you some time with your kids! Or your cooking project, or your giant rabbit, or whatever.

Let me know in the comments below

I want to hear if any of these suggestions were helpful, or if you have additional mistakes to share. Even a “failure” is an asset if you manage to learn from it, so let’s learn!



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