Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Handle Commission Work

I occasionally take on commissions. Lately I haven't, only because of my nasty work schedule, and two pre-existing commissions I needed to finish up first, but I have done my fair share of commissions in the past. Commissions can be a funny thing though, and can put folks in a right awkward spot depending on how comfortable you are with them, how much you want to charge, how badly you want to get your name out there as a commission painter/sculptor/etc., techniques you will or wont do, where you will and won't ship to, etcetera, so on and so forth.

Considering I'm in the middle of a table build right now as part of said commissions, I thought I'd bring up the topic, and highlight some guidelines, based on my experience, for the working side of the commission relationship.

Should I Even Take on Commissions?

Seriously ask yourself this question before actually taking on your first commission. Look at your schedule to see if you even have the time available to work on a commission. Do you work well under deadlines? If you have extreme cases of hobby ADD, you may have difficulty completing commissions on time. Is your chosen avenue of commissions, painting/sculpting/etc., something you can commit to putting out a consistent quality? Do you take criticism and direction well? Remember, the projects you'll be working on are not yours, and if your client doesn't like what you've done, they are well within their rights to ask you to redo it at no cost should it not live up to the expectations you advertise. If you take issue to anything I've mentioned so far, perhaps commission work isn't for you. If you can honestly answer affirmatively and satisfactorily to the questions I've asked, then keep reading.

What Kind of Commissions Should I Take?

If your first thought to this is, "Whatever I can make money on", then please refer yourself back to the previous section, as this is not the right answer. The correct answer would be whatever you are best at, most consistent at, and can produce in a reasonable time frame and under a deadline. I will advise though, that you should never feel that you have to take on every commission that comes your way, sometimes you just need to say no. No matter what the reason, you may be over-worked, don't have the time, won't be paid enough or you are being asked to replicate a technique you either can't, or don't want to. I've deliberately pushed work to other commission artists at times, for a number of the reasons that I've just listed. Just remember you do not have to take every single commission that may come your way, and you may be doing yourself and your potential client a favor if you don't.

What do I Charge?

Here's a humdinger of a question. There are many different philosophies, opinions and methods of determining how much to charge. Take commission miniature painting for example. Some folks charge per miniature, some charge a rate based on the box price and then multiplied from that, others by the hour, many charge by the quality of the work done, and have levels of quality to choose from, each with their own price-point, and even still more folks charge based purely on custom quoting each project individually. I've had people think my own prices are fair, and others tell me that I'm am overpriced. What you have to remember when pricing your work is that this is your time and skill you are putting a price to, and no one can tell you what that is worth but you.

How Do I Get Commission Work?

Now that you've decided that taking commission work is for you, what kinds of commissions you'll take and how much you'll charge, it's time to get your name out there so that you can get said work. Make up some cards advertising what you can do, and take them up to your local hobby stores to see if they have a bulletin board you can post to. Maybe negotiate doing a piece for said store to get it in their display cabinet with your name and email next to it. Get active on the hobby boards and advertise if they let you, and add you contact information and abilities to your signature. Start a blog and show your work, getting into the blog rolls of some popular blogs and contribute to the community. Get active on social media and in those hobby circles. Enter local and national painting competitions for further validation and recognition. No matter how you choose to do it, it's going to take work to get work.

Hopefully this has helped if you are considering taking on commissions, are struggling getting started, or even have never thought about it, but now are thinking about it.

Anyone have any other advice for burgeoning commission workers?

- Tim



  1. Great advice, Tim - I used to do commission work way back in the day and I fell afoul of many of your listed 'gotchas'. Though I like to think I'm a better painter now than I was back then, I had to stop primarily due to my hobby ADD. While starting a commission job was fun, there was something about painting stuff for other people that just wasn't as fun as painting for myself, so usually about halfway through the job it really started getting tedious and tough to stay motivated.

    I have nothing but respect for people who take on commission work, and I can say that the quality and effort you put into your minis is worth every penny you charge - keep up the great work, man!

    1. I've stopped most commission work for the hobby specifically because I haven' gotten hardly any time to work on my own stuff, but I completely understand the Hobby ADD kicking in, my friend.

      The folks who can crank out consistent and quality commission work? I'm with you and offer up my applause :)

  2. Great advice! I used to do commission work way back when I had more time on my hands. Now any hobby time I have is selfishly all horded by me for me (I love my family, but my minis are very close second) - charity painting projects do sometimes dig into that because it combines the best part of commission painting, where you generally get full creative control and people are just happy to get a nice mini. Plus you are using your talent to help others which is a win-win all the way! In fact, that is a great way to test if you are thinking of becoming a commission painter. Try contributing your time to a charity painting project (auctions, army building projects, etc)and see how you like that ;) I think Fly Molo has something going on at DFG for a local charity in his area...

    1. hah! See the reply to Mordian above ;)

      Now, I've never been a part of a charity project...I may have to see about diving into one.

  3. Having used commission services three times and done commission work once, I can say you get what you pay for. The only time I actually felt like I got what I paid for was when you built me a Kolek Suneater(I still have not painted him, no point fielding a guy who dies round 1 to cannon balls to the face). The other 2 times both painters missed their deadline by 4+ months, and I had to go as far as to contact the guys wife via facebook to get any response from them.

    The one time I did commission work, it was not fun. I had too much on my plate as I was getting ready for Adepticon also, it felt like a chore to get the work done.

    1. Well, at least you feel like you got what you paid for with me ;) That's always good to hear!

      Ouch...I didn't realize you had so many issues with the other two times you commissioned work to be done.

      Unless you're wired for it, commission painting can feel like a chore. The idea though is to survey the waters before diving in head first, which is what it sounds like oyu did, just at an inopportune time :P

    2. I was helping out a local store, they wanted the Space Marines from black reach painted for demo games. I simply volunteered for it, it was just hard for me to care about models I was not going to get to play with :)