Tips for Commissioning Artists for Writers

The relationship between an artist and a writer can be a beautiful thing.

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Writers write, and artists come up with amazing fan art, or can be commissioned for stunning book covers. We work hand in hand with one another more than we realize, and in return, many of us can get well known through the others’ work. In fact I didn’t start reading Sarah J. Maas’ work until I saw the beautiful character art put out by Coralie Jubénot.

But sometimes, like all relationships, things can get a little hairy.

Maybe this shouldn’t be directed just at writers, but since I’ve noticed quite a few writers doing this type of stuff, I’m singling us out. If you’re not a writer, and you want to commission an artist, you should probably remember these things too.

What not to do when commissioning an artist

  • Ask for free work.
    • And I mean ANY free work, including the “pay you later” type of work. If you can’t pay them when they ask for payment, you’re asking them for free art. None of this “Oh well, I can pay you after I make it big” or “I’ll give you money when my crowd funding campaign is over”. They’re still working for free. Some artists might say they don’t have a problem with this, but don’t just assume that an artist is going to be fine with waiting over a week for payment.
  • Ask to pay them in publicity.
    • This is still free. Can you pay your bills if someone asks you to write for them for free, but don’t worry they’ll tell a friend about you? No.
  • Tell them the last artist you hired did it for cheaper.
    • Artists charge different amounts based off many things. Skill level, time taken to produce the artwork, and personal value of their work all come into play. Someone who’s only been producing art for a couple years might charge less than someone who takes commissions on a regular basis for the past seven years. If you want cheap artwork, hire the other person, don’t try and haggle to get them to lower their prices to someone else’s standards.
  • Tell them you shouldn’t have to pay extra for digital art because there are less materials used.
    • This is one that I’ve heard a few digital artists over the years talk about. Keep in mind here, some digital artists have amazing technology to help produce their work, and sometimes that tech breaks down. Tablets break, tablet pen nubs need to be replaced, computers crash, and sometimes some software requires yearly updates that cost money, as well. Just because they’re not using a physical canvas doesn’t mean their work is worth less.
  • Think that because writing a book takes longer than drawing a picture, their work isn’t worth as much. 
    • This is something I’ve only heard from one writer, but it still completely confused me. Writing and art are two completely different mediums, that require different mind sets. One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different. By saying you took longer therefore your work is worth more, you’re taking away the years of practice it took for that artist to get where they are today. Sure it only took an artist a week to complete their commission, but they’ve been perfecting that craft since grade school.

What do you do when you find that artist you want to commission?

  • First off, check and see if they’re open for commissions.
    • Most artists will have a disclaimer somewhere if they’re open or closed, or at the very least, a way to contact them to ask them. By not assuming they’re just going to jump into working for you, you’re already establishing respect with your artist.
  • Find out what they’re comfortable drawing.
    • As someone who has some NSFW situations in my novels and short stories, I always check the artist’s “will/will not draw” page. Many artists have no problem drawing violence, artistic nudity, or sexual situations, however there are a few prefer not to do this sort of thing. Some might be willing, but would prefer not to due to their skill level with the subject. If the artist doesn’t have a list of things they’re okay and not okay with drawing, and you know what you’re looking for is questionable, don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel about certain subject matter.
  • If you KNOW you’re a picky person, give details.
    • I’m a little different when it comes to my commissions, in that I like to give the artist a little bit of creative control. I’ll tell them what the scene is, or what the characters look like, but after that, I tell them to interpret the information however they see fit. This doesn’t work for everyone. If you have very specific ways you want a picture to be done, tell them up front. Don’t be THAT difficult to work with, but still fill them in you have a specific vision for the project, so they’re not blindsided later when you’re angry with how it turned out.
  • Establish what you want the art for in the beginning. 
    • So you found the artist, they finished the commission, and you’re ecstatic to have some beautiful art to accompany your novel. You start using it as a book cover, posting it everywhere on websites and social media, and then suddenly you get an email from the artist asking for more money, or saying you went against their copyright. Some artists don’t allow for commercial use of their commissions, if it wasn’t established when the commission was first placed. Others might not want their work posted up online without giving credit to them as the original artist. If you know you’re going to use the artwork for bigger things, disclose this from the get go, and it’ll save both parties some pain and heartache.

This may seem like a lot, but if all else fails, remember one thing.

Hiring an artist is a business transaction.

If you think of it as two people exchanging goods, instead of two creative people coming together, you’ll leave the experience a lot happier. Of course, there will still be a creative exchange, just due to the nature of this situation, but don’t expect there to be no business talk. Treat each other with respect, and respect will be given.

I’ve hired artists, from base line beginners, to well established in online communities, and I have to say I’ve always had a great experience. If you want to get involved with artists, but don’t know where to start, please let me know! I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

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