Monday, 23 August 2010

Thoughts on commissioning artwork - an artist's perspective

I read a short snippet today on a game development blog, and the long and short of it was that they believed hiring 2D artists was difficult. I read this once. Then reread it. I read some of the comments. There were comments about freebie artists and people that worked for royalties, so I've got a feeling that this blog was by either amateurs or people with naive view points on the worth of an artist. Of course I could be completely wrong and they had just dealt with a few difficult artists. Shock, horror! Me suggesting artists can be fickle!? But it's true, we're human - some are better than others with dealing with the business sides of the art world. You get fantastic artists who work to deadline with contracts, email on time, are always professional ... and then you have others who are not so great, or even great 80% of the time.

I read this, and I thought to myself why would they be having such a difficult time? So from an artist's point of view, here's a few things I look for when considering a commission:
  • Simple courtesies such as addressing the email to me, the artist. If I get an email with just 'Hi' or 'to the artist', my first question is whether this person is trolling for quotes and is doing a copy and paste. I always like to give the benefit of the doubt - maybe they are intimidated, maybe they want to appear formal, I don't know... I just prefer requests to come with simple politeness :)
  • Tell me who you are. If you are doing work for an online site and it's up, tell me about it - give me a link - I will go and look
  • Be specific as to what you want. Have a clear list of the kind of work you want, what rights you are expecting, sizes, deadlines, styles and budget. Think of it like buying a house or a car. If you came up to me and said, "I want to buy a house, what's it going to cost?"... and that's all you said, I couldn't give you an accurate cost. I'd say something like "Prices start from X, and go up to Y. What's your budget or what do you have in mind?"

    I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm trying to work out whether I can do you a deal, whether I can fit you in, whether I've got what you need. If you can't tell me what you want, there's probably going to be a lot of vague figures, or larger figures so the client doesn't try to use my quote for a one bedroom flat next to a railway line for an 8 bedroom mansion.
  • If you have a deadline - say it up front. Many artists have secondary jobs/ commitments. It's like putting a rush job on something that's already been scheduled. An artist may have to delay someone else's work, forgo something in their social life or work insane hours to get stuff done.
  • Consider the prices of things on the artist's website. Look at similar artists and their prices. If they say their going rate is X and you ask for a discount, expect the artist to ignore you or reply with a 'thanks, but no thanks'. Remember, for many artists, commissions are their bread and butter. If someone said to you 'I know you earn X an hour, but I expect you to work for me for free or %50 off' what would you say?
  • Size doesn't always matter. 50 artworks at 200 x 200 pixes is just as much effort, if not more than a single painting which is 1000 pixels by 800 pixels. Think of it like cupcakes. 50 cupcakes as compared to 1 cake - both take effort, both have different challenges. And painting individual pieces means you quite often have to work at 2-3 times the intended size.
  • Consider the artwork in the artist's gallery. If you want a Michael Whelan painting, and they draw like Picasso, chances are both the artist and the commissioner will walk away with something they don't like
  • Expect to sign a contract. Even for small pieces an artist will probably write something up which tells both parties what the expectations are.
  • Graphics are great ways to communicate. Talking in pictures often makes working out quotes that much easier. However that being said, understand that pictures have usage rights too and an artist won't be allowed to copy something exactly if the copyright belongs to someone else.
I'm sure there is more that I can add, but that looks like enough of a start. Anyone got other things to add?