Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

I think that anyone with at least "good" artistic skill, and a willingness to work hard, can find enough art job opportunities to stay busy and bring in some money. (However, there is a lot of competition, here on DA, AND out in the real world, so you have to be ready to put some effort into it.) This particular discussion deals with commissions (finding clients who need art and providing that art... as opposed to creating a body of work and then trying to sell it.)

The time, effort, and thought that you put into art makes it valuable to you. For art to have value to anyone else, it has to make someone think or feel something, or someone has to believe that it will benefit them in some way, or satisfy a need.

If you are going to be a successful artist you just have to produce art that will be valued as much (or more) by a client as it is valued by you, and then successfully sell it. This process requires a lot of art skill, a lot of marketing skill, connections, luck, or some combination of those elements.

I earn my living as a freelance artist. Finding freelance work involves hours of work producing art, but also hours of work finding new jobs and corresponding with clients each week. It requires a certain amount of artistic skill, confidence, patience, organization, motivation, and perseverance. Some clients have a very clear vision for their project and can describe it well. Others are a bit disorganized or unmotivated requiring extra effort on my part (and some clients should just be avoided completely). Even if you are just doing about 1 commission per week, you gradually learn to identify good clients and bad clients. The ability to recognize the difference will make your work easier, and make you more successful.

After you make the decision to start freelancing (or just doing a few commissions), it can take a while to get the ball rolling, so if you happen to be living with your parents, in school, or working elsewhere part-time, that can be a good arrangement because you probably won't have the pressure of living solely off of your freelancing. The basic principles of freelancing are pretty simple, but it seems like there's always more to learn. If you are thinking about doing any kind of freelance art work, or you have been trying unsuccessfully to get a few commissions, these tips may help you get started.

Here's a basic checklist. In order to sell art, you generally need:
1) a reasonable level of artistic skill (keep practicing and improving!)
2) a good product idea (something you do well, that you think will sell)
3) a clear and simple pricing plan
4) clients somewhere in the world who want what you are selling and can pay for it
5) the ability to track down and interact with the clients (forums, websites, email, phone, messaging, face to face etc)
6) a way to convince the clients to buy from you and not someone else (a portfolio, good communication skills...)
7) an agreement or contract to exchange their money for your product
8) the ability to deliver the product as agreed
9) the ability to receive payment
10) the ability to keep track of all projects and payments
(and the ability to pay taxes if applicable)

You don't have to be great at all 10 of these items right away! Start with your current level of skill and work a little bit on each item over time in order to make yourself more attractive to customers so you will be selected for more jobs at higher prices. If you find you are struggling with number 6 then you might need to really focus more effort on step 1 or 2.

1)Your Skill level: Learning how to "DO" art is just like learning to speak a language, or play a musical instrument. You can learn a little bit with a little effort or you can really excel at it with focused study, observation, practice, feedback, analysis, access to tools and resources, interaction with more advanced artists and plain old hard work. Be obsessed with learning. Never stop striving to improve. A person whose skill level is only "good" can probably freelance reasonably well by properly addressing the other items in the list. You may or may not get work immediately, but address each list item and eventually you'll get going.

2)Your product: In my opinion , a good product has some combination of the following elements:
-People want it. (If no one wants it then none of the other elements matter.)
-The people who want it can afford to buy it. (we'll deal with pricing later.)
-You can sell it for more than your cost (time, effort, supplies) to make it.
-You enjoy making it (that enjoyment will help keep you motivated.)
-You can produce it consistently with good quality. (happy customers can lead to more business.)
-It is marketable. (More about this in sections 5 and 6.)
-It is better than the competing products. (If you are providing a product that other people provide, then you need to be more skilled than most of your competitors. If you can do something that few other people can do, you will have less competition and may be able to charge more.) Don't be afraid to consider new product ideas that might open up a new paying market for you.

3)Your price:
The subject of pricing can lead to heated debates. This guide is directed at artists with little or no freelance experience, no specific skill level, and no established client pool, so I will not be recommending the same pricing used by established professional freelancers (although the general advice probably applies, with a higher hourly rate). Personally, I have an hourly rate in mind, and for each job I estimate how much time the work will take and I provide the client with a fixed price quote. Whatever you choose as a starting rate, your goal will be to increase it gradually over time as you address each of the 10 items listed at the start of this article. Your base price is an hourly rate that YOU choose multiplied by the number of hours it takes to make the product, plus the cost of any materials used and shipping cost if applicable. If you have no idea what rate to choose, then I recommend at least minimum wage as a starting point for your hourly rate. (If there is no minimum wage where you live, try to figure out the hourly pay rate for an entry level job.) If you know you can charge more than that, then charge more.

If you are able to bring in more work than you can handle, you can probably increase your price. If you are well known, you may be able to increase your price. If you have very little competition, you may be able to increase your price. If you are more skilled than your competition you may be able to increase your price. If your client wants a rush job you may be able to increase your price. If you are already fully booked or you know a particular client is difficult you may want to quote a higher price for that particular client instead of just declining the job.

If you are just starting out, it may take more than a few adjustments to find the right balance price/volume of work. If you are quoting each job individually, test out a higher price on a handful of jobs and gauge the response. This is best done with new clients who will not be expecting the old price. Maybe you'll only be awarded 5 jobs this week instead of 8, but if the price increase allows you to make the same amount of money with fewer jobs and the clients are still happy, then you've made progress.

4)Your clients: The ideal client wants your product, communicates clearly, is willing and able to pay your price for your product, engages in an honest agreeable transaction, and leaves satisfied. Here are some tips about avoiding bad clients and recognizing good ones based on their job descriptions and other factors: Treat your clients well for repeat business and good feedback.

5)Your job leads: As a freelancer, you have to seek out job opportunities. That may mean searching for websites with job ads, and finding freelancing websites. Check out my big list of art sites, online stores, freelance sites and other resources: and make a list of your own too! If only 2 or 4 of them seem to provide good leads, visit those 2 or 4 more often. Sometimes the first qualified person to bid on a job gets it. If you prefer to work locally, you can look for local businesses that need a steady flow of freelance work. Sign companies, printing companies, tee shirt companies and ad agencies in your area may be in need of freelance help. Maybe you could offer custom bridal shower invitation designs to a local wedding planner. Maybe you could advertise pet portraits or sculptures through your local doggie daycare or veterinarian. If you work digitally, you may be able to find and deliver all of your work online.

6)Marketing yourself: Keep your profiles professional. Your avatar should be an example of your work. Using the same username on multiple website can help you establish a web presence. Avoid offensive usernames, avatars, and profile information that may deter prospective clients. Avoid making posts that might be considered trolling harassing, or insulting, as these types of posts will make you seem unprofessional. Don't apologize for your pricing. Be humbly confident and polite in your correspondence. If some clients accept your price and then suddenly one client says the price is too high, you can reply with something like "I understand. If the budget for your project increases, please feel free to contact me." (However, if you set your starting prices and the first 30 clients say they are too high then you may need to look somewhere else for clients or consider that your prices really are too high.)

Put together a portfolio or several portfolios if you do several types of work. Linking to an online gallery is a quick easy way to show a potential client what you can do. When responding to a job advertisement, link directly to relevant pieces so the client doesn't have to wade through pages of unrelated work. Update your portfolio as your work improves. Remove or improve the worst pieces. If you are looking for work with local companies, you could print up postcard sized art prints with your contact info on one side and some of your art on the reverse, then give them to local ad agencies, art galleries, or whatever business might be appropriate for your type of art.

If you have a blog or a personal website, it can add to your credibility. Being a long-time member of a forum makes you seem a bit more established and also more credible (if you have been behaving yourself). Avoid trolling, rants, online arguments, and disparaging remarks. Some clients may do their research before hiring.

When you apply for a job, read the description carefully and make your proposal brief, polite, professional and to the point. (There may be some cases where you need to be more casual depending on the specific needs of the client). Be clear about what you can provide, your price and your estimated delivery time. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. If a client contacts you, respond promptly. If the work is delayed, let the client know as soon as possible.

7) Your contract: Before you start working on a job, Make sure you and the client have the same understanding of the project description, the estimated delivery date(s), and the payment schedule. All of that should be in written correspondence that you both can refer to at a later time. You may not necessarily need to have a signed document for small freelance jobs, but have a written (email, notes etc) record. If you have chosen your client well and marketed yourself effectively (that usually means you have a portfolio and a long standing forum profile or an established web presence), there is a good chance that you can get a percentage of the payment for the job in advance. Clients who are willing to make a down payment are more likely to be good clients and less likely to try to scam you for free art or endless revisions. If a client asks for a revision that is within the scope of the project description, I provide it as part of the agreed price. If a revision request is clearly contrary to the original agreement or conflicts with a previously approved milestone of the work, I may or may not discuss an additional fee.

8) Your work ethic: Setting deadlines and meeting them requires organization, time management and dedication. If you are willing to do the work necessary to fulfill the requirements of the job and deliver the work on or before the deadline then you are more likely to get repeat business. If the work will be delayed, notify the client and provide a new expected delivery date. Sometimes clients will delay the work. It's a good idea to send a polite and friendly reminder that you need their input before you can proceed.

9)Your pay: Be sure that you and the client agree on the payment method before starting work on a project. Paypal is generally considered to be a reliable and safe payment method. Familiarize yourself with their payment fees and the methods by which you can withdraw or spend the money you earn. I would not recommend giving out any personal banking information for a bank transfer. Western union and cashiers checks can be prone to forgery. If the client has some reason why payment will be delayed, you should probably delay the start of the work too. If a client doesn't want to make any payment until the final work is delivered, then they may or may not actually plan on paying. Personally, I only work with clients who are willing to make a downpayment. However, if you don't have a strong portfolio and an established web presence you may need to be a little flexible about payment. For example you might request partial payment after the first rough sketch, and the remaining payment upon delivery of a low-res copy of the final art before delivering the higher resolution version.

10)Your record keeping: Keep an organized list of all jobs for the year. Include the Job name, a brief description, the client name, contact information, job status (started, in progress, finished, paid etc), due date/date of completion, price, payment date and any other notes such as "would you like to work with this client again?"

When you start earning enough money to pay taxes, you will need that kind of information.

See also: "Finding freelancing work, pricing and self-doubt"
Add a Comment:
RawlingsArtwork Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is pretty helpful! As an artist myself I'm often not really sure about how my artwork looks... I tend to get jealous of other artists quite a lot as well :(  

I've also opened commissions in the past for my artwork several times on my other account but no-one seems to be interested... I feel as though that's what is making me have a lack of confidence.  
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2016  Professional Digital Artist

When you opened commissions before, what did you do to attract clients and what do you think you could do better to attract more clients and convince them to buy something from you?
RawlingsArtwork Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I mainly draw a lot of cartoonised work in my spare time and I offered to draw people's characters as a sketch/lineart or lineart + colour and shading.

Personally I think I should perhaps make a variety of style for my artwork? I feel as though it may help :)
CoolKHgirl Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2015  Hobbyist Filmographer
hope this help me lol.
think of doing comissions for spare money but has idea how to do it
flying-paper-planes Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is pretty helpful! Thank you for writing it! <3
starryeyed-nz Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You give nice, clear advice on useful topics. Thank you!
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Glad to help! =)
alehq Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2015
Really great information, thanks for sharing!
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Hope it helps! Thanks for your feedback.
Amuropam Featured By Owner Jun 10, 2015  Student Digital Artist
thank you
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Hope it helps! Thanks for your feedback.
V3raD Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
How can I download this to my CPU? I don't see a download button.
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Depending on what internet browser you are using to view this page, you can probably either bookmark it (by clicking "bookmark" at the top of the browser window and then clicking "bookmark this page") or you can save the page if you  click "file" in the upper left corner and then click "save page as..." to save the web page to your computer as an HTML file.
sigma-status Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2013  Student Digital Artist
awesome! i love this! been a week since i touch my wacom, and this inspired me to get back to work!
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Great! I've found you don't have to become an expert overnight, you just start with the basics and keep trying and you'll get the hang of it!
ArtOfDew Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013   Digital Artist
This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing!
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for visiting! I hope it helps you achieve your goals.
LordFreeza Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
This is awesome, it's info like this that I hope teaches some to be smarter when doing business online and off.
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks. I hope it helps some people!
Brownez-Koekoez Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Hiya, thank you for the advices.
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks =)
meronfeisu Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2012  Student Digital Artist
this was a great read too :)
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! I need to get back to work on it after the daily chores are done :)
Keko-Illustrations Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is a great artcle. Thanks so much for writing it!!!
FriendlyHand Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! I'll be adding more to it soon!
Add a Comment:

:iconfriendlyhand: More from FriendlyHand

Featured in Collections

Journals by Akimiri

Commission Stuff by CliffeArts

Writing by V3raD

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
November 10, 2012


14,588 (1 today)
187 (who?)