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Commission a Character Portrait and Get What You Actually Want! I haven’t seen much in the way of tools for art customers, so I decided to create a sort of ‘how to’ for clients – in order to help them better get what they want from character portrait commissions.

Know What You Want

Let’s start at the beginning. Are you looking for a larger than life sculpture of your character in brass, or a pencil doodle / cartoon of your character on the back of a napkin? Different strokes for different folks. Obviously this can have a major influence on the cost of the commission, but spending some time thinking about what you’re looking for can narrow the spectrum of artists  you should look through and thus save you some time.

Know Your Artist

Like with the type of commission, there’s a pretty broad range of artists out there. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to know what your artist is capable of and what their style is like. Browse their website or gallery. Know what kind of work they do and how they do it. If they create large scale oil paintings of comic book characters, and you’re looking for a small digital portrait for your character sheet, it might not be a great fit.

This may seem a bit strange, but you would be surprised how many times I’ve had folks contact me and ask for something I don’t really do. Obviously this isn’t the end of the world, but I hate to tell people no, and then they’re disappointed.

Describe Your Character

What makes your character unique? What makes them stand out from the crowd? That is what you want to get across to your artist first and foremost.

We artists can draw archetypes all day long, but if that’s all you’re looking for, then clip art is a much less expensive way to get something that will represent your character.

Need some ideas? Here’s a list of things to think about when describing your character for commission work:

  • Describe unusual or unique items they carry. While describing every item in their inventory isn’t necessary (they have a backpack or a cart, right?) describing that fancy umbrella that they’re never seen without will help make your portrait more fitting to your character.
  • Describe their personality and expression. Is she a snarky smart @$$? A dour and sober stick in the mud? These things are what help an artist nail down a lot of the mood of a commission.
  • What is their ‘default’? Unless you’re requesting a commission for some specific ‘scene’, you may find that requesting a drawing of their most common stance or pose will prove more useful to you over time. Are they constantly fidgeting with some knick-knack? Leaning on whatever is nearby?  Lounging as soon as there is something to rest their behind on? This is even more important when you’re commissioning a character portrait for use as a paper mini.

Different artists will, of course, want different things. Some want rigid guidelines by which to do their work and reduce the ‘back and forth’ between them and the client. Some want to have as close to complete freedom as they can get for selecting whatever suites their mood and inspiration. The trick is to know which kind of artist you’re dealing with. (Hint: most actually fall somewhere more in the middle of this spectrum.)

I personally have a philosophy when it comes to virtually any form of communication: it’s better to over communicate than it is to under communicate. If you give me more information about your character than I need, I can always disregard the stuff I can’t use. If, however, there’s information missing that I need, I have two options: 1. I can contact you and ask for that information (which eats up both of our time) or 2. I can make up those details (which will likely result in you getting something other than what you want, or with me taking more time to fix those details later).


Other Sources

Years ago, nambroth posted this entry to the artists beware group about the whole art commissioning process. It really is an impressive analysis of the whole thing from beginning to end and well worth the time to read – for both the artist and the art buyer.