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Commissioning Character Art for the Average Joe

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Kai
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Anyone can get good art of their characters. Lemme say that again. Anyone can get good art of their characters. I know you’re going to voice a bunch of different reasons why you can’t, but I am here to explain that its not impossible, even if you are the pickiest person on earth or have to scrounge for change for ramen for dinner.

Before you look at your bank account or drool on any nice friendly artists, there are some first steps.

Step 1!

“You must learn patience, Ed Grubermann”
“Yeah yeah patience, how long will that take?”

Unless you are independently wealthy, you need to learn to wait. Impulse buying can be fun, and we’ll get to that, but unless you want to eat mac n cheese for the next 6 years because you spent your life savings on art, you have to know the answers to your Very Important Questions (that’s Step 3) and wait until the conditions are satisfied.

Step 2
aka The Bane of Artists and How to Avoid It

Before you ever start thinking about who to commission and what you want done, and how much and all that, you need references for your character. Start with screenshots! Its easy and a good basis. A good front, close up of head, back, and side set of shots is the bare minimum. Do you have a real life person who you picture as your character? Get that too!

After that comes the character notes. What doesn’t match the screenshots you have. Are their eyes a different color? Is that scar not exactly like the picture, but angled more? Art doesn’t have to match up exactly with what’s in game, but if its important to you, write down custom details, or better yet, find an example of what you mean. Things like weapons, jewelry, clothing, etc, if you have a visual for what you are after, its a great thing.

We’re going to take a character of mine, Radiance/Fiona Grey as an example. I combined all these things into a single large image, a reference sheet.

http://eris-kai.deviantart.com/art/Ref-Sheet-Radiance-149155962?q=gallery%3Aeris-kai%2F24097141&qo=1

There are full turnarounds (front, side, back, angle) for a handful of outfits of hers. There is a bust screenshot, and two action screenshots. There is a photomanipulated image of her based on Charlize Theron, for a real life reference. There are also references for her arm bands, her collar, and her gun because these things are not what they look like from the game screenshots. There is also a small paragraph describing things such as height, her mismatched eyes, age, etc that might be helpful to an artist. Theme songs and character quotes can be good too

Why do you need this you might ask? Refer to Step 1. You are waiting for an opportunity to fit your constraints for art, if you find it, and have all these things on hand, all you have to do is take the opportunity and email a few pictures or provide a few links as opposed to rushing around, trying to get everything together, only to have a commission queue close on you. And! Artists will love you. You know your characters inside and out, but to them, they are one of a hundred they have seen. Having concrete references will make their job easier.

Step 3 - VIQs

So, VIQs. Three questions!

WHY do you want this art?

WHO do you want to make this art?

WHAT is your budget?

The Why. Why do you want this art? There is no wrong answer. Do you want something in the realm of physical fine art to show off in frames? Do you want to see your character in scenes not possible in game or outfits you imagine them in? Do you want silly sketches to show friends or have drawings of your character by known published artists?

These things are very different, and affect what sort of artist you are looking for, what sort of timeframe it will take to get art, how to find and artist, and what sort of price you pay. If you are looking for pastels and oils on canvas, or Marvel artists drawing your character, you have to take that into account when budgeting and deciding what to get. For instance, shipping canvas or paying for name recognition will cost you. If you just have a silly image stuck in your brain, maybe you pass on getting it drawn if its not still funny in a week.

The Who. Do you want famous names? Do you only want amateurs? Do you want realism, or manga style, or comic style, how about color, or black and white? Marker or digital color? This isn’t a question of who, specifically, but more what do you appreciate? Personally I like the manga style, and so an artist may be a really great realism person, but, I am not interested in commissioning them. Remember that the value of any art piece is how well it satisfies your Why. If your Why is to collect excellent technical art for instance you might pay for a post-Impressionist piece that someone else would look at and say ‘you spent money on that on purpose?’ Remember Step 1 again, if you know the kind of art you want, you can keep an eye out for artists that you might want to commission someday, even if its not now.

The What. This is the part where you bemoan you are broke college student/single parent/underpaid situation and I call shenanigans. I have great art that cost me $5. Its all about Step 1 :). What you do need to decide is two effective limits.

The first is your Soft Cap limit. This is the most you would pay for art of a single character excepting unusual circumstances. The easiest way to determine this is think about the items you buy most for entertainment, DVDs, Pay Per Views, Concert tickets, books, movies, etc. If you had to pick between getting a piece of art and buying that thing, how much would it take to make you say ‘I’d rather have the thing? For me, my Soft Cap is $50. I rarely actually spend that much, but that is the point at which I don’t feel that the art is worth losing a pair of tickets to an event, or a Limited Edition of an anime series. Your Soft Cap may be $10, or $20, or $200, its entirely up to your feelings. Its a Soft Cap because there will be a time when a rare chance presents itself and you are willing to go the extra bit, but if you know your Soft Cap, then you can debate is getting that piece from the favorite webcomic artist that never does commission worth going over for or not, because it will be a sacrifice.

The other limit is your Impulse Limit. Its the amount you can not regret spending the next day :) Often artists open commission queues, fill them up fast, and shut them down again for a time and much like eBay, people suddenly find themselves having gotten caught up in the excitement and signed up for art that is over their comfortable limit. Knowing your Impulse Limit means you can jump on that 5 slots only queue and not wonder if mayo and bread will get you through the week. This one is a bit easier to judge. How much do you spend a week eating out for yourself? Half of that is usually a good Impulse Limit. If you eat out every work day at an average of $8/lunch, your Impulse limit is $20. You won’t miss that much, and if you are on a tight budget, well, you can bring leftovers for two days and skip the chips one and not feel guilty.

Step 4
aka ‘What, there’s more?!’

Now you have some answers, a budget, references....now how do you find artists?

First and foremost, the Fan forums for the game are a great resource. Most generally have a Fan Creations area, and you can see art posted there by collectors and artists that are in the same vein as your characters. If the artists isn’t there directly, most collectors will offer how to find the artist if you ask politely. Be careful about money, however, some places have a policy to not discuss prices. When in doubt, private message.

Second, deviantArt. There is a Wildstar group for instance and many art collectors and artists. You can also search for 'Wildstar', 'aurin', 'cassian', etc as the tag and run across various things people have drawn or bought, or just start looking around at styles, Daily Deviations, or anything at all.

Third, check out any friends of yours or community members who commission art, see if you like what they like and go check out the artists they have already commissioned from, or ask them if they know of anyone that better suits the style you are looking for.

Fourth, convention Artist Alleys. If you can print out a ref sheet, hang around, check out people, see if its something you are interested in, some do same day turn around on art.

In any of these cases, remember Step 1! Watch deviantArtists, follow Fan artist threads, observe artist tables at cons, and save up your money. If they aren’t within your budget right now, be patient! A sale may come along, or they may take part in a giveaway, they may give a shoutout to a friend whose style you like who is more in line with your budget. Just give it good measured thought if you are saving and going over your Soft Cap, make sure what you are getting is worth what you are paying, that for instance you would rather have it than two pieces from someone else.

Step 5
In which we don’t talk about money and other things

I know you expected something insightful here about how the money thing goes, but, this part of things is all different. Some artists want payment first, some want half up front, half on completion. Some want Paypal only, some are cash at artist table. Some want the refs and don’t want money until you approve a preliminary sketch. Some want money and one day, bam, there’s your art. Some have a standard timeline, some say its done when its done.

Each artist is different, and each does business slightly differently. Ask if its not immediately obvious how they like to handle things. Look at their galleries or forum threads for past history if you are leery about paying up front. Artists are friendly, nice people trying not to get screwed out of time and money just like you for the most part. They know they live or die based on reputation. That’s not saying there aren’t flakes out there, but, work out the terms to your satisfaction ahead of time and remember that the other end of the conversation is generally just as interested as you are in making sure things go well.

Step 6
Appreciation

Appreciate your artist! Give them credit if you repost your art. Give links to their thread/gallery/website. Most of the people willing to take on character art are not professionals, its not their full time job and they put more time into your piece than you paid if they had been working for minimum wage. They know this, and chose it, but a simple thanks and passing their name on to a friend looking to commission goes a long way.


Step 7
Remember Step 1!


Seriously. If you stray out of your limits, you’ll only end up upset, broke, and feeling guilty. Just be patient and you’ll be able to get art that will make you happy for what you can afford :)
Posted Apr 23, 13 · OP
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Ender a
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Very nice thread, though I read it was eating dinner, so I'm afraid it got all sticky ;-)

There's some super nice advice here!
While I've never done commissions myself, I have done a few requests, with varying success. If I can add one thing, it's about requesting art from friends or fellow community members:

A) Make sure you like their style before requesting/commissioning. I've been asked to do everything from realism to pixel art to weapon studies. My style is fairly cartoony and I pretty much exclusively do characters, so pretty much all of those requests quite baffled me. Realize that "doing art" doesn't mean "can/will do anything". Most artists have a specific style or things they are comfortable with. If that's not what you're looking for, find someone who does exactly what it is you want! Even if your friend is an artist, sometimes, it's better to ask someone else if you're searching for something specific :)

B) This sort of ties into your point about appreciation. Realize that doing art for other people take quite a bit of time. It can be a lot of fun, definitely, but I've seen several forums with threads like "You can draw my character if you want." Commissions is not a favor you do to the artist, and gift art is rather the opposite. It doesn't mean you have to be bowing and scraping for them, but don't treat them like you're doing them some huge favor for allowing them to draw your character. Appreciate what they do :)
Posted Apr 23, 13
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Kai
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Oh yes, very good point. Please respect your artist friends. If they ask for characters to draw, offer yourself, sure, but don't beg them for free art or say you'd love some art from them, but can't pay and imply they should do it for free, that's like saying 'oh you cook, well how about you make me dinner for free?' :)
Posted Apr 23, 13 · OP
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also you want to look at pricing realistically - not all artists are equal, and not all will charge the same. Its not just relative, its practical.

For example, there's artists on Deviant art that will do full color busts, figures and posed art for at little as ten to 15 dollars - and good stuff, too. They can knock it out quick and clean, and likely do several in a day. Often they are very talented, doing commissions on the side or as a hobby, or are students supplementing income. You can get some great deals here. But they are also relatively unknown, named artists ( ones with reps and presences in the industry can be much pricier) although you'd be surprised at how good many of them are.

Others, like myself, seldom touch anything for less than 50.00 to start, and go from there. I've been in the business 30 years and the days long past that I'll do even a knock off for less than 25-30 dollars - my experience and skill are are a premium, and I'm not charging the same rate per hour as the minimum wage burger builder at McDonalds. Most pros with my experience would likely regard it the same way, and for pretty much the same reason.

So always look hard, and be sure what you're getting up front. Its easier on all concerned.

Avoid poor mouthing - the number of times artists hear the " I'm a poor college student, I only have 15 dollars, but I want a full color figure and beasts of burden with firey sword fighting orcs, wouldn't that be fun? " ( yes, i really did hear that from a customer, i kid thee not ) doesn't buy you much credibility and might annoy the artists - we were students too, yanno, and we also have bills to pay. If an artist is knocking out work like that for peanuts and you're getting what you're happy with, smile when you pay, cause trust me, its a gift!

One reason most pros do so little con sketches or character sketches is they just don't have time anymore, and at a con I typically charge 25-thirty for a quick pen and ink or pencil. Remember your artists work isn't just pictures and paper, its his living too.

an for GAWDS sake, please don't get that con sketch and then turn around and ebay for a quick profit. Most artists (especially pros) doing art alley bits are doing it because it can be fun, and its something they can do for the fans and often do it cheaper than otherwise because they genuinely like interfacing with the fans... Taking the art they banged out for a rate they'd never otherwise entertain and ebaying it for a quick hundred bucks is very poor form indeed, and pisses us off to no end.

two centavos!
Posted Apr 25, 13 · Last edited Apr 25, 13
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