How to find a good client for commissions

Written by Ron Saikowski, January 3rd, 2018

I know, it might seem odd giving advice to an artist on how to find a good client. But believe me, it's worth knowing what to look for when to comes to doing commission work for others. Get the wrong client and you'll have nothing but problems on your hands. The right clients eventually turn into friends and you'll love every project you get to do for them.

I'm excited my first post covering how to find a good artist generated such a huge response. To know folks are able to use the information is rewarding. This post is to help the artists out there and maybe show some folks what it's like on the other side of the coin. As an artist, we don't want to end up looking like the poor soul above when it comes to dealing with clients.

So, what makes a good client then?
There are a number of things that make someone a "good" client. And it's not that they let you do whatever you want to do either.

The biggest thing that an artist can look for in a client is someone who is informed and knows what they want done. A client who knows what they want makes an artist's job so much easier. A client doesn't have to know exactly how to paint or draw what they want, but they have to know what the end result is that they're hoping to get.

Why does any of this matter anyway?
As an artist, we're constantly trying to figure out how much work it's going to take to get something done. Get a client that monopolizes your time and suddenly you'll find yourself swamped trying to deal with that one person and the rest of your work may begin to suffer.

What should an artist look for?
Let's look at some of the problems an artist might face with a client and some of the things they should pay attention to when dealing with new clients. These aren't red flags necessarily or a reason to decline a project, but they are things to keep an eye out for since they may be indicators of potential time issues.


The "problems" listed below equal lost time if you're an artist. Time that could have been spent working on other projects instead of talking about them. We're going to assume that you as an artist have done all that you can to let your clients know how your commission process works and your commission site is easy to navigate with all the essential information easy to find. This way we can focus on the client aspect.

There is no set way to deal with clients and all their issues. Each one comes to an artist with different expectations, information and ideas. As an artist, it's your job to figure out what those are so you can do the best job you can for the client.

1. The zero information project request
Even if you have an email form or you clearly lay out what needs to be submitted when a client contacts you with a project request, you will still get the one line net speak email that reads, "how much4 altr?"
In this case, you may have someone who doesn't understand the commission process overall or someone who is just shopping around for quick comparison prices. A short reply asking for more (and detailed) information from the potential client will generally help determine which one you're dealing with.

2. The client really doesn't know what they want
They kinda have a general idea of what they want, but nothing for sure. This can be problematic as you may spend a huge amount of time trying to price out a project that continually changes. Send them some clear, project specific questions and build on those answers until you have some solid information to work from.

3. They don't understand why it costs so much
Not everyone understands the costs associated with commission work. When asked, you need to be clear about what things cost and where their money is going. Price your work appropriately and do not be ashamed of what you charge. In some cases, you may decide to work with a client on the price due to the nature of the work or the opportunity it offers you to build your portfolio.

4. Award winning quality for rock bottom prices
This too may be someone who doesn't understand why commission work costs so much or it may be someone who is on a very limited budget. Once you determine the reason, you can try to work through it with them if possible. Like before, you have to make a decision. You may decide to work with them on the price or pass on the project.

5. They want or like to change things in the middle of the project
This can cause huge issues depending on how severe the changes may be. You should already have a process in place for pricing these changes. This will help as most clients do not have an unlimited budget and can't keep changing things in the middle of the job when each alteration adds more money to the project.
The idea is not to break anyone financially, but to make sure you are compensated for having to do things over and over again due to changes that are made in the middle of work already underway.
Make sure to keep the project deadline updated too as you rework aspects of the project. Be honest about the time it will take so a client will understand what happens when things are changed at the last minute.

6. They need minute by minute updates on their project
Some clients want to know what is going on with their project every single minute and others don't worry about it at all. You'd do well with these information starved folks to set a consistent schedule for updates so you're not constantly sending emails saying, "Painted his left hand today," when you should be painting.

7. They want something done that was not originally agreed to
You may find yourself with a client that is expecting you to do something that was not laid out in your original agreement. This is where your record keeping will come into play. I used to save all of my email communication so I'd have something to reference in this case. Documentation will help you here.
Either you forgot to do something or the client wants something new added. You should be able to reference the original or previous emails about that particular aspect and if need be, figure out the price change for the alteration.

And last but not least...
The last one is your intuition. If something just doesn't seem right about the whole thing and you think you should pass on the whole project all together... do it! Believe me, more will come along if you're pricing your work correctly, have a good product to offer and are treating folks right.

I know there are more things to a list like this, but so many of them can be prevented by a good contract or project outline (in writing) from the beginning BEFORE any money or cards exchange hands. It pays to make sure you and your client are on the same page with all the details of their project.

Remember, lots of our clients don't have the experience or understanding of the whole process that we as artists already do. They are the reason you are doing commission work. It's in your best interest to treat them well and help them through the process.

Go back and Read Part 1: How to find a good artist for commission work.
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: WotC. Amnesia, Illustration by Mark Poole.
KEYWORDS: Old School Magic, commission, artist, client, alter