October 22, 2016

Behind The Scenes Of Commissions

by Corrina Thurston

It’s getting ever closer to holiday season, which also means it’s the time of year that clients are requesting more commissioned drawings. Since this year I’ve taken on more commissions than ever before, I thought I’d give you a backstage pass and show you the joy, and the frustrations, of commissions.

My first ever commissioned drawing.
My first ever commissioned drawing, a few years ago.

The Initial Contact

The first thing that happens for a commission is that a potential client will reach out to me via email, asking about my availability and pricing. Unfortunately, I can’t give a precise price quote without seeing the photo(s) the client wants drawn, knowing the size, and the medium. So I give them all the information I can and ask them for those three pieces of information to give them a price.

What may come as a surprise is that some people never get back to me.

I always get a little jolt of excitement when someone contacts me, because I’ve done some pretty fun commissions in the past, like the Jellyfish below, but I never hold my breath until they send the down-payment. I would say about 75% of people who initially contact me for a commission don’t end up following through.

This was a commission done for a photographer friend a couple years ago. Her mother commissioned me to draw one of her photos and gave it to her as a gift.
This was a commission done for a photographer friend a couple years ago. Her mother commissioned me to draw one of her photos and gave it to her as a gift.

Pricing

Pricing for a commission is tricky. If ten people brought me photos of their dog, let’s say, and they all wanted the same size drawing in the same medium, you’d think the pricing should be the same, correct? That’s what common sense would have us believe. The truth is, however, the prices will be similar, but not the same.

Each one of those drawings, despite being the same size and medium and even all of dogs, will take a drastically different amount of time for me to complete.

If one dog is a white pit bull, with relatively little background added, it won’t take me nearly as long to draw as one that is a doodle mix, or a long-haired dog, or one with lots of colors.

Beagle-Dachshund-Puppy-570

Whether you choose to have the drawing completed in colored pencil or graphite is a big influencer on price as well. Graphite takes a lot less materials, and less time, so it’s less expensive than colored pencil. That being said, I’ve done a similar number of commissions in both mediums, and the results look great no matter which medium you choose. A drawing isn’t ‘lesser’ in any way if it’s done in graphite instead of colored pencil. Just check out the commission I did below of a dog named Max.

"Max" in graphite. This was commissioned a couple years ago and was given as a Mother's Day gift!
“Max” in graphite. This was commissioned a couple years ago and was given as a Mother’s Day gift!

You can see why it’s difficult for me to give a price quote without more detailed information. The price of the commissions I’ve done so far in my career range from a small graphite drawing for $150, to a large colored pencil drawing for $1,500. It all depends on size, medium, and difficulty of the drawing!

 

The Most Nerve-wracking Drawings

Honestly, commissions scare the hell out of me. When I’m working on one of my own drawings, I’m not as nervous about getting it just right, because no one will know if the proportions are just a little off or if I changed the coloring. With a commission, that’s no longer true! If I’m drawing someone’s pet, or their children, or loved ones, they’re going to know immediately if I got something a little wrong. They’re going to spot any mistake in an instant.

This is why commissions have always made me nervous. But I try to show the client progress images along the way, to show them how it’s going. I also make sure my client signs a contract and agrees that the first half of the payment will be paid in advance to help cover my expenses, and that it’s non-refundable. I’ve heard horror stories from artist friends of mine where the client doesn’t like the finished product and demands their money back, despite the time and effort the artist put into the work. With the first half of payment non-refundable, at least I’m assured that I get paid something for my effort in case this scenario happens.

Thankfully, I have yet to have an unhappy client! And my nerves are becoming a little less with each commission I do.

 

The Process

I treat commissions similarly to how I treat all my other drawings. First, I print out the reference photo(s) that the client supplied. Then, I create an outline drawing in graphite to get the proportions down on the drawing board.

Above is a portrait commission I drew a couple years ago, from line drawing to finished drawing!
Above is a portrait commission I drew a couple years ago, from line drawing to finished drawing!

Line drawings never look good. In fact, they typically look pretty weird, but they do the trick!

As you can see above, with graphite drawings I typically work left to right, because I’m right-handed and likely to smudge the drawing if I don’t. In the drawing above, I started with the line drawing, then started in the upper left corner on the hair, which was tricky. Then I moved on to his face and shirt, and finished with the rest of his hair, which was the part I was dreading the most because it was difficult. The facial hair was my favorite part!

Above is my Cocker Spaniel colored pencil drawing, from line drawing to finished drawing!
Above is my Cocker Spaniel colored pencil drawing, from line drawing to finished drawing!

As you can see above, with colored pencil I start with the same line drawing. Then I typically move to the eyes of the subject and then start layering the face until there’s more depth and vibrance to the colors. The more layers I add, the more opaque the color becomes, and the more details I can obtain. I also use an x-acto knife on these drawings, to etch away some of the top layers and show minute details in the fur. That’s something I can’t do with graphite, although the layering process is similar.

 

Not Just Dogs And People

The majority of my commissioned drawings are of dogs and people. However, that’s not all that I can do! I also do a lot of cats, I’ve done a guinea pig, I’ve done a bird, a jellyfish, a truck, an ultrasound, etc!

If you have some rather unusual photo you want drawn, but it’s something I don’t typically draw, feel free to ask me anyway and I’ll let you know if it’s something I can do!

Above are a few commissions I've done in the past that aren't dogs or portraits.
Above are a few commissions I’ve done in the past that aren’t dogs or portraits.

 

Interested In A Commission? Here’s What To Do:

If you’re interested in having a photo of your own drawn by me in either graphite or colored pencil, reach out to me! Send me an email asking about my availability, and send me the photo(s) you want drawn. Then I’ll send you information about sizing and pricing and the difference between the two mediums.

Once we come to an agreement about size, price, and medium, I’ll send you the contract to sign. After you sign it and send it back to me, along with the first half of the payment, I begin to work on your drawing as soon as I can!

 

Have you bought a commission from me in the past? I’d love to see it now that it’s officially in your home!

Finn, approving of the drawing of him as a kitten.
Finn, approving of the drawing of him as a kitten.
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