How to find a good artist for commission work

Finding a good commission artist can be tricky for folks. 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 talking about this. The second post will cover the other side of the coin or how to find a good client if you're an artist.

I will let you know now that these two articles are substantial in length due to the sheer amount of important material covered in each one.

But let's back up and look at why this kind of thing is important in the first place. Believe it or not, I've had a handful of folks from around the globe contact me this past year 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 squad of models you want done. You don't have the time to do them yourself for whatever reason, but you've managed to save up some extra money and you'd like to have someone else get them tabletop ready 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. Is it just building, just painting or maybe both? Is there conversion work, 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 painted squad 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 models 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 commission work 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 a paintjob or conversion you like on one of your gaming friend's armies, 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 Google and a few different search terms. You'll get a variety of results that you'll have to wade through, but it will get you started in the right direction.

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 online? Ask for pictures of their style and things they've done to be emailed to you. Does it look like something you want your models to look like? If you want a particular technique, can they do it? Do they have examples of it available for you to see? 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 in particular 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 models 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 plastic men 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 alterations, refunds, etc.) is in writing.
Get your shipping and handling arrangements/costs in writing.

Doing any part of this over the phone or 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 models.
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 (WIPs, use of specific bits, etc.)

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 models 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 models, 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 toy soldiers. 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. I have people who send me models without ever asking about cost. I have people who send me full payment in advance and tell me to order whatever else I need to get the job done and let them know later. But these kind of relationships come after lots of long, hard work and building trust.
Just don't stop looking out for yourself in the process.

Here's the follow up article: How to find a good client

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Please feel free to share your good and bad experiences and lessons learned with commission work in general (not specific artists) in the comments below but make sure to keep it civilized!


  1. How to find a good artist for commission work:

    Call up Ron Saikowski. Done.


    sorry, couldn't resist ;-)
    Honestly, though, actually commissioning anybody to do anything is quite a hurdle for me, because even though I am not the greatest artist in the world by a long shot, I have this strange ambition to do it all myself, else it perhaps wouldn't feel right somehow...does that make any sense?

    That said, if I ever were to have something build and/or painted for me, I'd come to you Ron, hands down.

    Anyway, very interesting read. I am quite looking forward to the part about finding the right customer: That should offer an interesting, fresh perspective on the whole subject ;-)

  2. Zweischneid: Hopefully it will prompt folks to think of the things not often considered when getting into this kind of thing.

    KrautScientist: Very funny.
    And the ambition to do it all yourself is not a strange one. The next post on this topic will be the other side or how to look for good clients if you are offering commission work.

  3. Fantastic article, and although you have another one for the artist, I think we ( the artists ) can also learn a lot from this as well.

    If we can answer or abide by these standards in advance, then it should be a smoother process for all involved.

    Thanks for the article!

  4. nice post.... what was the second picture with the blood angels and dark angels parts

  5. I enjoyed reading this.
    Ron you are so right but i do agree with KrautScientist doing it yourself is the way for me. ( till so far ) Thx for the post though.

  6. I used to get a lot of commission work by word of mouth. I don't do much anymore (since my kid was born I've had less time for hobby but strangely I could care less). My showcase pieces took months to complete and I made that very clear, but clients would still try to pressure me. Others wanted basic painting but a huge army - time still being a factor (airbrush and batch painting aside). The main thing for any artist commission is time - its a back and forth creative process so plan well ahead. That being said you do still get the rare client where they trust you implicitly and give you free reign (with painting at least cause in this hobby WYSIWYG is huge)and for most artists that faith makes them work harder to please the client than anything else.

  7. Fantastic Article. Hiring a commission painter has a lot of potential pitfalls, and this covers a lot of them.

    Looking forward to the next one!

  8. I enjoyed reading this.
    But till now i'm with KrautScientist enjoying the hobby to much.
    Nice post, thx.

  9. VEry true. As a commission painter myself, I was raising my own red flags about myself...I just couldn't stick to deadlines because of work, family, etc. I would add, check if the commission painter has a day job and family, if yes, expect late models.

  10. Ron
    I both like and disagree with this article.I think it should also be in there for the client not to be an unreasonable prick at times too. I have had tons of people confront me for commissions and many satisfied customers, but for every happy one I have turned away 2 or 3 people because they were expecting damn near slave labor from me. I have been told that if I'm making $6.50 an hour for painting minis then that's pretty good. The problem is that for me minimum wage is $8.50 an hour and I try to explain to some people that it's not about just painting minis as it's still a job. I have found many clients unreasonable and since have charged people for demofigs for the commission they may want.

    I found time and time again I would do demo figs exactley how they want then they want a different scheme and they expect me to do a demo fig for that then they decided they didn't want to do the commission anymore and I have wasted my time. I do agree that it is a relationship but people as need to have realistic expectations. I am a award winning painter but expecting me to paint a model as I would for demon for $20 is just silly. I enjoy doing commissions and especially ones that test me and allow me to push my own skill but with so many gamers it seems they just don't get it's not a hobby for me when I take on a commission it's a job. As I always tell people you get exactley what you pay for. If you want a model for $2.50 sure I will slap 1 coat on each piece and call it quits but if you want something that will show out for years to come then you need to expect to pay for it.

  11. Great article, Ron!

    I agree completely. Anyone looking for someone to do work for them should be as specific as possible. Specificity is our friend here.

    I've recently been asked to paint some models for a 40k buddy. Had to drag details out of him exactly what he was looking for. No doubt this will be covered in the next article. "Don't accept 'whatever you think is cool' as a response." The artist needs feedback. It's a delicate relationship that can easily go south. This being my first commission I have learned I need to be very clear in my language with my client. To be fair since it's a transaction he's no longer a buddy he's a client I have to understand and respect that.

    Thank you so much, Ron, for your articles. I appreciate them. I will be stealing several of them soon. For my models, not my blog.


  12. Can I copy this and send this to every potential client I get e-mails from?

    I myself am a commission artist and believe me, nothing is more frustrating then a client who has no idea what they want. Your the one in control, tell me what you want so I can make it happen. That is why I'm here and that is what you pay me for.

    Great article! Thank you for sharing as always.

  13. Great article Ron as always. As I'm thinking of becoming a commission painter this has come right at the perfect time. can't wait for part 2.

  14. @ Kevin. Yes! I forgot to mention my favorite client: The Control freak that can't make a decision. No word of a lie, one of those almost brought me to tears on a wood elf army once.

  15. M R Lee: Very true, the second part will focus more on what artists can do when it comes to clients.

    GamingLord: That was part of a commission I've been working on for a friend of mine. It's been a huge project and he's turned into much more than just a "Client."

    I'm fortunate that he gives me tons of creative freedom when it comes to working on his models and he trusts that I'm going to put together the best thing I can.

    Zab: I am extremely lucky in that I seem to have a number of those kinds of Clients that give me free run to build what I think looks good.

    AkersMinis: While this post was geared towards the people looking to have work done, the next one will be geared towards the artists and you bring up some good points.

    a Sent One: Specificity is definitely your friend. It's not until you establish a relationship with that person that "looks cool" becomes an acceptable response. I am working on a model for a friend of mine soon and that was the very thing we agreed on... that it looks cool.

    Kevin: Sure, just be diplomatic about it otherwise you might scare them off.

    james: Hopefully the pair of articles will help you out a bit.

    Zab: We'll be covering those in the next post. Maybe not using those terms, but I'll be bringing up a whole host of issues you might run into as a artist doing work for someone.

  16. @Zab: Yeah, my first commission project I had someone exactly like that. That was a hard lesson I learned very well about commission work. Always cover your ass and save every e-mail and conversation you've had with them. Long story short, he demanded I send him his stuff back, he gets it and apologizes (as he sees its 80% done) then a few months later I find out he sent them to another commission artist and now this artist claims he did all the work that I did. REMEMBER cover yourself, keep everything on record. Ron will probably cover it better then I can.

  17. Great article! I just wished painters would get paid better (I am not one, btw). They are artists, not slave laborers...


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