Beware the adult fangirl with some expendable income.
We are an unstoppable and insatiable demographic, because when we love something, we don’t love it halfway. When we’re really into a fictional character, a ship, or a fandom, we dive in. We want more. We want to BUY THINGS.
That’s where fanart comes in for me. I’ve always loved shopping for art. Art festivals are paradise. Etsy is my kryptonite. I’ve also always been a fangirl at heart, so fanart is kind of a win-win for me.
The first time I commissioned fanart, it was a special birthday gift for myself, and I thought it might be a one-time thing. In reality, I had just opened a door to my ultimate version of self-love. Shopping is a natural high for me, and shopping for art is even better, and paying someone to create art of my favorite characters is right up there with eating chocolate fondue with a spoon.
Now, if you’ve never commissioned fanart, the whole process may seem a bit vague or complicated. But never fear! I, a fairly seasoned fanart commissioner, have arrived to show you the way.
But fair warning: if you’re anything like me, you may be diving headfirst into your newest addiction.
Step 1: You have an idea!
You are trash. Yep. Complete and utter trash for a fictional character, or maybe—probably—a pair of fictional characters. You have a glorious idea for an illustration of these characters that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere. The idea is stuck in your head like a song, and you’re certain angels would weep upon it if it were created.
But, like me, you are not an artist. (Or maybe you are—but this imaginary work isn’t quite your style.) In any case, you want this fanart to stop existing in just your head and exist in real life, too. The good news is, you can totally make this happen.
Who ya gonna call? FAN. ARTISTS.
Sometimes, even long after you’ve embraced your fanart addiction, the idea can just be “it’s been a while since I bought any fanat . . . time to fix that!” and then you hunt around for inspiration.
Tip: Manage your expectations. Although they may seem to have magical powers, most fan artists are not actual omnipotent beings. Don’t expect to see your mental image replicated exactly. It’s just not possible. Keep in mind that your idea is just an idea and that the real art will be a different picture of the concept. This isn’t a bad thing—in my experience, the end result is usually more stunning than anything I originally imagined!
Step 2: Choose an artist
This step is incredibly fun to me, but it can also seem like a daunting task. With so many incredible artists online, how do you find the right one for the creation you have in mind?
First, if you’re on tumblr, you’ve probably seen and/or reblogged some rad fanart at some point. Try hunting down that post and checking the artist’s blog to browse their work and see if they offer commissions. Another option is to start in the tags of your fandom, whether it’s for a certain ship or character, or just the name of the fandom in general. In my experience, there are usually a handful of popular artists in any given fandom, so this can be a great way to narrow down your choices and find someone who will be just as pumped as you are about your idea.
If neither of these methods work out for you, you can try more broad searches such as “fanart” or “commissions.” In this case, you may want to make sure you have safe search on, since there will be no shortage of NSFW art in these tags. (On the other hand, if that’s what you’re looking for, great news!)
I’m mainly focusing on tumblr because that’s where I live on the internet, but you can find artists offering commissions on other sites, too, such as Etsy and Deviantart. There’s nothing wrong with looking around until you find the one you like best for your project! Better yet, if you love their work and are thrilled with the commission results, I’ll bet you go back to them again and again to get that sweet fanart fix.
Always be sure to review an artist’s pricing before contacting them. If an artist’s prices are far beyond what you are willing to spend, you cannot afford that artist. Many artists will offer lower rates for simple sketches or black and white pieces, but you should have an idea if they’re within your range pretty quickly. And while there is a lot of variation in pricing, be realistic with your budget. Keep in mind that many artists begin offering commissions out of necessity, because they need the extra income. If you’re looking for cheap/affordable fanart, personal commissions may not be the right medium for you. That said, I’ve seen prices range from $15—$200, so I’m definitely not saying you have to abandon the idea of commissioning if you don’t have a lot to spend.
Tip: Found an artist you love, but their site never mentions commissions? It doesn’t hurt to ask! Send them a brief and polite message explaining that you love their art and are wondering if they ever offer commissions. There’s no need to explain exactly what you have in mind or ask about pricing yet—those are details you can work out later. But you’ll never know unless you check! On the other hand, if their profile specifically mentions that they do not offer commissions, move on. There are lots of other artists out there who will be happy to work with you.
Step 3: Contact the artist
You’re not alone if this step feels intimidating! I’m the most easily intimidated person on the planet, and starting a conversation with an incredible artist is honestly enough to stir up some “I’m not worthy” feelings. (I’m a mess.) One of the things I secretly love about commissions is that they give me a reason to be brave and talk to super talented people I might never “meet” otherwise (not to mention, support their work)!
After finding an artist you love, check their profile or commissions page for their preferred means of contact. Be sure to read their guidelines in full before contacting them—this will facilitate a productive conversation right from the start, since many will have instructions, pricing, and FAQ right there. Following their guidelines is the best way to get off on the right foot and show them that you’re a serious and pleasant customer.
If they don’t offer any guidelines aside from “message me if you’re interested,” don’t be discouraged. I find that the best way to proceed in this case is to find an example of their art that most closely matches what you have in mind (so, for instance, if you want a full-color drawing of two characters from the waist up, find something similar) and include that in your message, simply asking how they would price a similar commission (your details can come later).
Most of the time, this email is where you’ll describe the piece you have in mind. Being specific is great, and many artists love for you to provide reference photos. For example, if your request involves a character wearing a certain outfit, find a photo of them in that outfit to help the artist. They may ask for clarification of details or more reference photos in some cases; do your best to find something that matches your concept. Keep in mind that you are hiring the artist to create art for you, and providing all the information needed is your part of the deal.
Tip: Include any relevant questions in at this stage (when requesting a price quote, so usually your first or second email), as well. Now is the time to make sure you’re on the same page! Right from the start, I like to ask about two things: usage and an approval sketch (if these weren’t already addressed in their FAQ). Regarding usage, I enjoy being able to show off my badass commission by posting it on tumblr, but some artists prefer to post on their own blog and let you reblog it. It just comes down to their preferences. As for an approval sketch, these are fairly standard—the artist will send you a quick sketch of your concept before getting started on the actual piece. That way, you have the chance to request tweaks if needed. Since I really appreciate this step, I ask about it if an artist’s page doesn’t mention it.
Step 4: Payment
After you send your initial commission email, the artist will usually respond with a price quote. If there were pricing guidelines posted, this number likely won’t come as a surprise.
In the event that the quote is much higher than what you expected or can afford, just respond honestly (and POLITELY). Many artists will work with you to come up with an idea within your price range. (I once had an artist offer me a lower price for accepting a smaller image file, which was awesome!) Changes like not including a background on the work, doing it in black and white instead of color, or not including full bodies can be other great ways to reduce the labor required and bring down the price. (That said, don’t “haggle” on the price—if the quote is far too expensive, simply thank them for the quote and explain that it’s beyond your current budget but you’ll keep them in mind.)
After you’ve agreed on the price, the artist will either send you a bill, most often via PayPal, or simply ask that you send the payment to them with no formal bill generated. Many artists prefer the latter since PayPal will allow you to select “no address needed” when sending money. That way, they can’t get into any hot water for not entering a shipping number. (If your commission will be mailed to you, this doesn’t apply, of course!)
Tip: Paying for fanart does not mean that you own the copyright for that art! The art credit should always go to the original artist. Unless it was explicitly agreed upon, you can’t use the art for profit. (Some artists do offer commercial rates if that’s what you’re interested in, but you should never assume.) This may sound pedantic, but as a lover of fanart and commissions, I can’t stand rude buyers who disrespect artists’ hard work. In that same vein, some artists may want to post/sell the commission later on. This doesn’t bother me—I like to see my own concepts getting a lot of love in the fandom—but if it’s not your preference, be sure to ask about this before working with an artist!
Step 5: Wait
Here’s the hard part! Now you’ve discussed the piece with the artist, submitted payment, and all the magic is happening. But you can’t see it yet. There’s no shame in eagerly checking your email first thing every morning when waiting on a fanart commission.
As I noted before, many artists will send you an initial sketch to approve before they begin the actual piece, and you can let them know if you approve or if it needs some tweaks. Give yourself some time to think about the sketch before you respond, since this is your chance to ask the artist to make any changes. Once the work is complete, big adjustments will likely come with an additional fee, which makes sense. Some examples of tweaks I’ve requested at the sketch stage are a different pose, changing a character’s hair, or adjusting a facial expression. It’s also totally possible that you’ll get the sketch and it will be perfect and hearts will explode out of your eyes and you’ll reply with YES, YES, DRAW THAT, which is always a joyous day.
Tip: You’re going to want to gush to everyone about the fact that you can’t freaking WAIT for your fanart commission to arrive. (Well, with your other nerdy friends, at least!) There is no shame, my friend, no shame. Rest assured that this is all normal and the end result will be worth the wait. And hey, maybe you’ll inspire one of your pals to seek out their own commission—possibly even from the same artist!
Step 6: Receive & Display!
Woohoo! You received your complete commission. Now you can print a copy to display on your wall, set it as your phone lock screen, and make heart eyes at it all day long. SCORE. Keep in mind that there’s no right/wrong way to display the art. My first commission was a watercolor painting the artist mailed to me, which I framed and hung. Subsequent commissions have been more traditional digital illustrations for the most part, and I’ve either printed them or simply set them as wallpaper. It’s all good!
Something I enjoy about fanart is seeing other fans’ reactions to the piece! If you (or the artist) are posting the piece on tumblr, this gives you a golden opportunity for some prime tag-stalking. Of course, the bottom line is that you requested what YOU wanted, but it’s always fun to see other fans getting excited about the art.
Tip: Thank your artist and tell them how much you love the commission! They just rocked your world and deserve all the praise.
There you have it! Feeling inspired? Commissioning fanart is such a wonderful way to support an artist AND be more involved in your fandom! Plus, as I’ve probably mentioned, it’s incredibly fun! If you do decide to pursue your first fanart commission after reading this article, please come show me the piece!
And for all the fan artists out there: What am I missing? Is there something potential customers should know that I left off? Does my process need improvement in any way? Sound off!