This is infact, the commission process that I sometimes use, and I thought I'd share it and maybe help some artists out there who are having problems with the process (And I'm not talking about the art, I'm talking about the -deal- with the other person).
Whenever I do a commission for someone I'm not sure about, or I don't really know, I will sometimes force them to work with my contract. I don't have a copy of it with me since it's been so long since I Took a commission. This *should* be used for everyone, regardless of that person's relationship with the artist (Friends can turn into enemies very quickly, especially where money comes into play). This is the same process we use when doing freelance web design, and (if I had my copy), it is legal in the state of NC (Lawyer checked through it). - Of course don't quote me on that since I'm summarizing here. It would be in the best interests of anyone that's doing art seriously to have a lawyer look over their contract to make sure it's legal and binding.
In any case, I do my commissions on a Four Stage Process. I'm sharing with you this process now:
In any case, I do my commissions on a Four Stage Process. I'm sharing with you this process now:
1. Consultation and discussion
2. Layout, Setup, and Framework
3. Creation of Work
4. Finish - Contract Over.
1. Consultation and Discussion - This is where the artist and the commissioner plan everything out, every detail. You get it now or you get it never. You work out the payment, details of the image, and -your personal working process- with the commissioner. This step is very important as if you get it written down in your contract, that they agree to, they cannot throw in anything later without paying for it. They also cannot use the infamous "I told you I wanted this..." line, that so many artists dread. If you have it down in the contract and they agree to it, the details *they* forget then become *their* problem. You continue to work this step out until both parties are satisfied.
- Payment schedule - It as at this point that I will either ask for the payment in full, or half down. I will not start any commission until I have at least half of the payment. Why? Because frankly, the artist has more to lose than the commissioner. The artist will be working their hands to the bone on the image and the commissioner is merely 'promising' payment. You also need to figure out how much you're going to charge for the effort of work. I often calculate how long I think an image will take for completion (actually working on it, not time between start and finish) and give myself about $10 an hour on average).
- In case commissioner does not pay in timely manner - Make a note stating that you have the full rights to the image until payment is given in full by the expected time. If they have delay, they need to inform you. If they never make payment to your satisfaction per the contract, implicitly note - You will sell it at cons or at the auction. There's no point wasting your time and materials because a commissioner is a deadbeat.
- In case artist does not get image done in time - Now, this is very important for both commissioner and artist because it sets up the schedule for you, and gives them a bit of faith. I -never- give my commissioners a due date. I will give them the option of requesting their money back if I don't get it done in a timely manner. I still have commissions I owe from 2002, and I'm slogging through them slowly. But I will pay them back if they feel this is too long. It's up to you to pace yourself as the artist and do what's right for you. If you're like me and can't draw when you're stressed, make sure your commissioner knows and understands this. Give them a -general- timeframe based on your experience. And give them the option for their money back (less what work you've put into it) in case something goes wrong. This also means - don't spend their down payment until you're done with the work.
- Discussion of image. Most important part of the initial client contact. It is here that they tell you what they want. It is here that you tell them what to expect. There are certain parts of the commission process that you, the artist, need to be aware of. #1. A lot of commissioners expect perfection. #2. Some commissioners will actually expect you to go above and beyond your normal work. #3. Some commissioners are insanely obsessive. You need to deal with these problems -here- before you go any further.
-Example of some problems: I know everyone's seen my picture of Morning Trek, which is one of my best paintings. I've had some commissioners expect that level of work on their images because this is the 'above and beyond normal work' that they expect from me. Morning Trek is not something I could paint under the pressure of a commission. Thus I inform commissioners not to expect this level of detail. In addition, this image took me 3 months, every day painting on it. I cannot guarantee that kind of time working on a commission as well. And, if I ever *did* take a commission for an image of this calibur, I certainly would not take a paultry amount for it.
-The Perfect Commission: Another problem that I've seen from others (But I've never had a problem with) is the 'perfect commission' that some people are expecting out of artists. The commissioner needs to understand your level of expertise. Sure you can draw nice, but are you a professional, and can you often repeat your great works? Some artists can't, and also, you must take into consideration the payment. If someone is giving me $20 for a line drawing, don't expect perfection - expect two hours worth of work. You must lay it down thick sometimes that the art is -your- interpretation of what they want, NOT their interpretation. Artists are not mindreaders, if they were, I'm sure they'd charge extra for that process as well.
-The Insanely Obsessive: We also call this Death by Nitpicking. I personally cannot stand this, and I've had this happen often. Sometimes people will harp on small details, and if you're halfway through the image, this could mean you're going to start over. You need to make them understand (and this is part of the process) that they cannot demand certain details unless it's stated in the contract. If the hair is 'slightly too short' or the jeans are 'a little too long', those are negligable details that the commissioner must get over. Sure you don't want to piss them off, but there's no point in you getting pissed of as well. There's two people involved in this process and the more they know up front, the better they can judge if they want to commission you. So.. moving on...
2. Layout, Setup, and Framework- At the end of the consultation, it's your job to inform the commissioner of the next stage, which is the sketchwork. When I do this, I give them a two or three strike scenario, for all the major parts of an image. Let's say for example you're doing a picture of a female anthro wolf on a mountainside rock (A la Morning Trek). It is in this stage that I will sketch out a few images of the wolf, in some different versions of the pose they were requesting, and the rock, and of course, background options. Sometimes I'll use photos and ask "do you want something like this". Generally that should be hacked out in the first stage, but it *is* the purpose of this step to get the nitpicking details hashed out visually.
- Once I show them sketches, they then tell me more information about how they want the image to look. This is very important. Often a commissioner doesn't have a clear view of what they want when they come to you. They just know of your skills and want something of their character (for example) in your style. But a commissioner will know what they DON'T WANT - it's whatever you just showed them in a sketch. This is why you want a few different versions of it. Instead of tirelessly trying to figure out what they want, show them all the versions, and then they can say "Well I like the legs in the first one, but the position of the torso in the second one". Rarely will they like a sketch from the get go, show them options so you can figure it out quickly, instead of showing them one sketch at a time that's never perfect.
- Once I get an idea of what someone wants after they've given information on the sketchwork, I then work on the second set of sketches. This goes back to the 2 or 3 strike scenario. If you don't make this clear to the commissioner, they will continue repeating the sketch approval process for an eternity - because frankly nothing is ever going to look perfect to some people, and they will make that clear to you. But that's not your problem, you're just the artist. A 2 strike scenario means that they get two shots to get it into your head of what they want. That basically boils down to "Show them sketch. They say what they want changed. Show them other sketch. They make further changes. Period." You've given them two shots to make changes to a sketch. After the second shot, no changes will be made, and no preview image will be given. It's up to you as the artist, however, to make the changes they request. Put these changes in writing on the contract, so they, again, can't come back later and say "I told you to do this". In a 3 strike process, you're giving the commissioner an extra shot at making changes. I suggest 3 steps for large works. You should also do this per character or anything important in the image. Also charge appropriately for the steps you want to take. You should be compensated for sketches as well as the original. Afterall, it is -all- work you're doing -for- them.
- It is up to you if you want to show them the final sketch. I think it's a good idea as long as you make them understand - it's too late at this point to make changes. If they want to make changes after the final, then you should charge them extra. I can't say this enough, - you do NOT want to make changes to a sketch ONCE YOU START THE IMAGE. Make sure ALL changes are done in this stage. NO changes should be made or expected once you start on the actual commissioned image. (This especially goes for people who work with traditional media, where changes could mean starting over from scratch).
3. Creation of Work- You start this stage when you're ready to work on the image itself. This means that the commissioner has made their changes to your sketches, and you've given them the appropriate number of 'shots'. I will state again, you make sure the commissioner understands that no changes will be made on this step unless they're willing to pay for it. If it's small stuff that you haven't gotten to yet, it's up to you to figure out if you're willing to do it (such as making the hair purple when you haven't started coloring it). But if they ask for the hair to blow in the other direction after you've started working on it, tough cookies. Should have mentioned that in stage 2.
I do recommend that you show the commissioner the image you're working on from time to time. This'll make them feel better because they know you're working on it. But again, make sure they know it's too late to comment on major changes.
4. Finish - Contract Over. It is in this stage that you show them the final work. They pay for it (assuming they haven't paid already). If they have paid, then you need to ship it out asap. If they haven't paid DO NOT ship UNTIL they pay. There are TOO many sharks out there looking for something for nothing. Doesn't matter how often they yell, if they call you names, if they go apeshit, or if they start spreading shit about you. Show people the fucking contract and they've got NOTHING on you. But DO NOT give in to pressure. There are some insane people in the furry fandom and they will try to rape artists, especially if you're just starting to get a name for yourself.
As soon as they've paid, and you've shipped (Get that tracking number and give it to them so they can't say they never received the package) the contract is over. Period.
If you are planning to sell prints of the work at ANY point in time, be sure to mention that in the first stage. You may want to list "Your rights" as an artist, and what useage you're entitled to. The artwork is copyright to the artist, but the characters and images may be copyright to the commissioner. So you'll want to make sure what's clear and in the contract as far as that's concerned. You are limited in what you can do with their work, for example, if they state they do not want you selling prints of it, you can put that in the contract and that's binding. Don't be making prints of it later. Don't think you can use their characters for other things either, they're not yours just because you drew it. If you state that you want to put the image on your site, and in prints and portfolios, and they say nothing against that, then you can do it to your heart's content. Hell, I'd charge extra if they say they don't want you making prints of it.
Most importantly - Remember this is a BUSINESS transaction NOT A FAVOR. STICK TO THE CONTRACT. Treat it like a business at all times, even if you're not a professional, even if you're doing it for a friend. Keep it professional, and often times the bumps in the road will be smoothed out for you.
That's about it. Feel free to share your advice as well.