How to find a good artist for card altering

Written by Ron Saikowski, December 27th, 2017

Finding a good commission artist can be tricky for folks not accustomed to doing it. It's not as easy as it may seem and can be fraught with pitfalls if you're not careful. This is part one of a two part series on the topic. The second post will cover the other side of the coin or how to find a good client if you're an artist.

I'll let you know now ahead of time that these two articles are substantial in length due to the sheer amount of material covered in each article.

But let's back up and look at why this kind of thing is important in the first place. When I did commission work years ago, I had a handful of folks from around the globe contact me regarding their individual disappointments and problems with the artists they hired to do work for them.

All situations that could have been avoided or at the very least solved much easier had a few things happened right from the beginning. Let's take a look at the process of finding and "hiring" someone to do work for you that you'll be happy with.

Let's say you've got a Magic card you want altered. You don't have the ability to do it yourself, so you've saved up some extra money and want someone else to do the work for you.

What you need to do before you even start looking
There are four things you really should have figured out before going hunting for an artist.

1. Figure out what you want done.
You need to be able to tell your artist what it is that you'd like for them to do. Are there any specific things you want done or not done? You should be able to explain to the artist exactly what you'd like for them to do for you.

2. Set a budget for your project and stick to it.
Commission work is priced in a variety of ways. If you have a budget, it will help you determine what kind or level of work you can afford to have done and who will be able to do it for you. Commission work can get expensive rather quickly, but that doesn't mean you have to pay a huge amount for quality work.

3. Figure out your deadline.
You may or may not have one, but if you do, you need to be able to pass it along. Getting your finely altered card back a week after the big tournament does you no good. And you need to plan ahead to account for the unforeseen issues as well. If you need it in your hands by the end of the month, your artist needs to have it done much sooner than that to account for any possible delays and shipping time.

4. Understand this is a flexible process, but you are the one in charge.
This is perhaps the biggest one of all. The whole commissioning process is a relationship between you and your artist... but you are in charge. You have hired them, you are paying them and they are your cards in the end. The artist works for you. You need to be able to express what you want done clearly and be strong enough to stand up for yourself.

If you're not comfortable with these four things, then commissioning artwork may not be for you. The artist wants to work for you, but if you can't express what you want because you don't even know yourself, how is someone else going to help you?

So how do you physically find someone to take on your project?
There are a couple of ways you can locate an artist.

1. Word of mouth.
If you're part of a local group and you've seen an alter you like in one of your gaming friend's decks, ask about it. Ask where it was done and by who. Then find that person. Sometimes if you start asking around, you can get recommendations from others as to where you should go and such. This kind of thing can save you lots of hunting online.

2. The internet and online community.
This one can be harder. Most commission places "advertise" around the web. It becomes a matter of finding one that looks like it will be able to help you and then contacting them directly. Where do you look? I'd say to try Facebook and Google. You'll get a wide variety of results that you'll have to wade through, but it will get you started in the right direction.

3. The Artists specializing in Magic Card Alters page here on Old School Ron.
Knowing how difficult it is trying to find artists, I've tracked down a number of them and listed them in one place for folks to use in their hunt for an artist. Take a look at the ones I found here.

What do I need to look for from an artist?
Now we're getting to the nuts and bolts of this whole thing. What are those things you need to iron out or at least have discussed before you chose a particular artist. There's a handful of them.

1. Can they meet your expected level of workmanship?
Check out their gallery and their stuff online. Can't find anything current online? Ask for current pictures of their style and things they've done to be sent to you. Does it look like something you want your cards to look like? If you want a particular technique, can they do it? Do they have examples available for you to see? Keep in mind... not every artist can do it all.

2. Can they meet your deadline?
This is important. If they can't do it in time, don't set yourself up for failure by continuing the process. Sure, you may want them to do your work, but now is not the time if they can't get it to you when you need it.

3. Can they meet your budget?
If you have a budget (and you need to!), can the artist do the work you want within your price range? Artists price projects by a number of different ways and you should be able to get a very close estimate if not a spot on price for your project. Get it in writing as well.

See how knowing what you want, setting a budget and timeline play into finding an artist? It's how you'll move through the sea of available artists to locate the one that will work best for you.

Now that you found one, what do you do before you hand over your cards and money?
First we want to protect ourselves from any potential problems and make sure we have a few things in place that will help resolve any issues should they arise. Once we have these things sorted, then we look at handing over our precious cardboard and our money. It may seem like a pain, but this is the best way to protect yourself.

Get your estimate and/or final price in writing.
Get a complete project description (what they are going to do for you) in writing.
Get your deadline agreement in writing.
Make sure you have in writing the process for making changes to the project.
Make sure you get to see WIPs for approval as the project progresses.
Make sure the plan is in writing if the artist cannot follow through on their end.
Make sure the payment plan (to include changes, refunds, etc.) is in writing.
Get your shipping and handling arrangements/costs in writing.

Doing any part of this by verbal agreement alone and you open yourself up to interpretation and potential misunderstanding. When that happens, only one person comes up short in the deal and it won't be the artist.
And make sure all of this is done BEFORE you hand over anything.

Artists take measures to protect themselves when it comes to this kind of thing. You should be doing the same for yourself.

Red flags, what should I be very leary of coming across?
Unfortunately, there are lots of these as well. You may not encounter a single one, or you may start to see them creep up here and there. If enough of these pop up, you may want to consider looking elsewhere to have your work done or cancelling your project all together.

Unwillingness to show you their work or samples of what they can do.
An artist not willing to put things in writing.
An artist not willing to do what you want done to your cards.
Lack of clear, concise and timely communication.
Confusing or misleading communication.
Changing anything without permission from you beforehand.
Changing anything that doesn't follow the project plan as initially outlined.
An artist asking for payment in full before providing any services.
An artist not willing to provide a clear breakdown in project costs.
An artist not willing to give you ANY project info you ask for.
An artist that does not follow through in any aspect.

What if I find myself in a situation that I no longer want to be in?
Chances are, a few of those red flags popped up and either you missed them or worse yet, you ignored them hoping it was nothing. Or maybe something else entirely has happened. Either way, you want out.

Remember, the artist works for you. You have the right to cancel your project at any time and have your cards returned to you. If you specified this process in writing beforehand (like you should have!) then there should be no problem. Simply let the artist know your intentions and they should honor them immediately. Keep in mind you'll mostly likely incur some type of fee for doing so, but that too would have been ironed out before all this started.

If you do not have this in writing, you may find yourself in a situation you do not want to be in and cannot get out of very easily. This kind of thing can lead to long, drawn out fights that drain your money, time and energy.

So what do I do if the artist won't do anything?
They won't return emails, they won't return my cards, they won't do anything. This is perhaps the most difficult position of all to be in without a doubt. In some respects, this can be prevented or limited somewhat by where you choose to have your commission work done in the very beginning. By that, I mean you may want to look at having someone nearby do it for you. Maybe in the same state or even country so that you have some degree of legal recourse should you feel like it's something you want to pursue.

By having work done in other countries, you potentially put yourself at a disadvantage if the artist turns out to be disreputable and cuts all ties with you. Don't let this scare you away from having work done overseas, it's just something you need to be aware of before starting.

The costs and particulars of taking any kind of legal action are not within the scope of this post. I would only venture to say that you might be better off if both you and the artist fall under the same laws (same state, country, etc.) when it comes to finding a legal resolution should it come to that.

One last positive note about all this.
This may seem very rigid and very structured. It might seem like overkill for something as simple as painting little collectible cards. But if you look at most commission artists sites, they're going to have it all spelled out on their site just how things work. They want to protect themselves in all of this and rightfully so. I'm advocating you do the same for yourself.

If you are fortunate, you'll find an artist you enjoy working with that can meet your expectations and you develop more of friendship that a business agreement. It is possible. Just don't stop looking out for yourself in the process.

Part 2: How to find a good client if you're an artist.
My personal thoughts on commission work.
Check out the Artist page here.

You can see all of my Magic related posts here.
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IMAGE: Mind Twist card alter by Rocky Alters
KEYWORDS: Old School Magic, commission, artist, client, alter