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Business Related Advice

So I know there's probably a ton of posts already, but I wanted to post this and see what people can give me in terms of advice.

I've been an artist people commission for about 2-3 years now, but I'm not consistent, and I'm often refunding people. I was merely posting in hopes that perhaps someone could help me. I know a lot of being an artist involves self-discipline, which I'm working on, but what are other ways to better myself as an artist? I don't mean skill, I mean the social, and business aspect of it all.

I want to be a full-time artist, but I'm a horrible part-time artist. If anyone has tips on how to handle a business better, I would love to read them. Most people who have commissioned me have good things to say, but I feel like there are people who hold back on the bad things, like turnarounds and promises.

I find myself artblocked a lot when I need to take on commissions, which is making me think maybe this isn't my path, as much as I want it to be.

Just any advice would be helpful!

PS - I hope it's okay to post something like this here, people will see it rather than a smaller blog and hopefully experienced artists will tell me tips of handling a professional business. [ I'm jaegerjack @ FA, and Modeo @ DA for those curious. ]

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( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2015 02:16 am (UTC)
First: Some people just aren't cut out for this as a business. In fact, I'd say more aren't than are. You need to be able to do more than draw to make a job out of it. If this has been an issue for a long time, it might be time to reconsider if you want to do commissions at all. It doesn't say anything bad about you if you decide it's not for you in the end!

Second: You might be better off doing pre-made things than taking commissions. Adoptables, easy to do YCH's, that kind of thing. There's nothing wrong with that either.

Third: Lastly, if you really want to make this work, you're going to have to come at it like you would any other job. If you were working at Starbucks and didn't come to work all the time because you didn't feel like it, you would be fired. A lot of people see commissions differently and let themselves slack off, but if you want to get better about it, you have to treat it like real work.

Fourth: If you still want to take comms in the interim, at least be honest upfront that you can be unreliable, and be pro-active about informing people of delays. Maybe don't take full payment upfront if you do that now, and instead in stages as you complete each piece.

As you mentioned, it's all about self-discipline. But I think it's important you think about whether this is for you. It might not be, and that's fine. If you really, really want it to be, you'll be willing to put that work in, and make it routine. This -will- involve working on stuff even if you don't feel like it, just like you'd have to at any other job.
(no subject) - fenris_lorsrai - Jan. 15th, 2015 03:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - prince_strifu - Jan. 15th, 2015 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 15th, 2015 06:08 pm (UTC)
I want to say thank you very much for all of this information, because you are absolutely right. I don't think I'm cut out for things that require sketching and lining and all that, unless it's simple. Premade things seem to be me forte, and I sell better because people know they're gonna get them!

It's very true, and I feel like I honestly treat this job so poorly I don't deserve to even call it a job. I take month breaks because I lose inspiration and end up refunding and you certainly wouldn't do that in a workplace. You wouldn't say, "nah I don't feel like making your frappachino today come back next month for it." and deserve to get paid.

The most important thing in this entire comment to me, is that you mentioned payment options. I think I work a lot harder when the payment comes AFTER completion, and that would probably be better for original works unlike pre-made.

Again thank you really for your input! It's great advice and I will follow a lot of it. I want this to be my job but I don't think ti can be, because of my lack of motivation to actually do it.
Jan. 15th, 2015 02:17 am (UTC)
One of the big questions is why are you refunding?

The thing about making this any kind of steady income is that "artblock" is not a thing that should happen regularly. Whether you feel like it or not, you will have to sit down and get the work done. I know that feeling where it's a struggle to get started, but once you do you fly through the piece.

Then we have to ask why you're getting art blocked. Is it because you take a lot at once? Would it be better if you moved to a pay upon completion method?

I moved to that method when my health wasn't too good, and it helped as a motivator to get up and work. I needed to earn art as an income, but often felt not too physically good. Knowing I wasn't going to be paid until the job was done helped me produce a lot.
Jan. 15th, 2015 06:19 pm (UTC)
I generally refund because I'm bad at keeping focus or I just don't feel like doing it, which makes me feel horrible. It's the biggest problem, so like some other people said, I think that I'm going to stick to pre-made works or just payment upon completion, it seems to be the better options. That way if something comes up I can tell the customer and not get any stress or bad business with them!

It's totally true - it's like "ughh I don't want to", but once I'm on it I do it with flying colors, but it's getting there that is the struggle.

I definitely take on too much, I feel bad to say no to most customers, and I often need money. The worst thing I think I do is spend/send the money to the bank BEFORE finishing the art, which is super gross and makes me feel like I've betrayed the customer.

Definitely gonna be easier to take payment AFTER because my health issues get in the way 90% of the time, but I don't want to be known as a sick artist who can't do things because of it you know?

Thank you for you comment! It made me see the roots of my issues and the errors I'm making for the most part.
Jan. 15th, 2015 08:12 pm (UTC)
""artblock" is not a thing that should happen regularly. "

I highly, highly believe 'art block' (when happening often) when doing commission works, is a huge sign you shouldn't do it as a job. If you stop because of 'art block' you really aren't cut out for it. It's the same as working. You can't just not show up because you don't feel like going to work.
Jan. 21st, 2015 02:34 am (UTC)
It's a little more like going to work and then dicking around the whole time, I think. Sometimes when you have art block with one piece, you can still draw other stuff.

Sometimes this is just something a person needs to learn how to work through (like doing lots of drawing exercises to get motivated, or working while listening to music/watching TV, etc.). Just kind of have to find what works for you to get things going, so to speak.
Jan. 15th, 2015 03:10 am (UTC)
I definitely agree that maybe commissions just aren't right for you - and I think it's good you've recognized this in yourself! I think some artists do find a block when it comes to drawing someone else's character or working on a non-personal project. And there's nothing wrong or selfish about that in the least - it just might mean this isn't the right business for you.

My wife is the artist in the family (I'm just the art collector!) and she only takes payments upon completion for this very reason - commissions is a side job for her after any and all work is finished. She sends along a heavily water-marked piece until payment is received and then sends the unwatermarked version after completion. She is also very upfront with people that it may take x-amount of time (sometimes a couple of months) and ONLY opens commissions when it's a slower season with her other jobs. For special projects (or people that have had to delay paying in the past but ultimately did), she'll take payment/partial payment after the sketch step to help too. Maybe making an approach like this will help you?
Jan. 15th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
It seems to be the real problem with it all, because I really do love drawing for me, but I can't when I owe commissions so I end up drawing nothing, you know? I mean I used to at least practice between personal and professional work but now I feel stuck. I think I'm realizing that my place in the art business is designs and templates, rather than actual painted pieces or the like.

That's a really good way of doing it and I did that for the longest time, but a few experiences got me stuck and I had already done the art without being paid and they never got back to me. Of course after which I wouldn't send them the full image until payment was recieved to avoid this issue again. That sounds like a really good approach to commissions honestly and I'll def take it into consideration, it seems to be the common advice here, so thank you for taking the time to respond!
Jan. 15th, 2015 12:08 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you don't have a system in place to track what you're supposed to be doing, or aren't sticking to it. If you want to freelance at anything full time, you need to do that. I'm a writer, not an artist, but here's what I've done. (This is just to demonstrate the process, not to say you should do it this way.) First, I worked out how long it takes me, on average, to do a certain kind of thing. For example, half an hour to research and write a 500-word article, or whatever. Next, I track all the work I'm supposed to be doing currently in a Google spreadsheet (private, because my work is not the kind that's shared). I also keep cost and payment info there, which makes it really easy to see what I have on board at a glance. That helps keep me on track for deadlines and helps avoid taking on too much work for a particular date. If I want to take something on, I can offer an alternative deadline if the one the client is asking for doesn't work. I also have standard rates for work, which make it fairer for other people and easier for me.

Dealing with blocking is another matter. For me, I simply refuse to acknowledge it. Writing is my job, and I don't need to be particularly inspired because I'm working to what the customer wants, not what I want. A lot of blocks in my personal writing come from decision paralysis or a demand for perfection, but I have managed to work around those when writing for others. They've said what they want, and they're not going to know that it's not perfect to my standards. This is a bit of a mental trick, but it's one you need to be able to manage if you want to do creative stuff for a living.
Jan. 15th, 2015 06:29 pm (UTC)
Honestly? That's amazing advice. I didnt' consider that. Like I normally complete pieces in an hour or two fully shaded, but when I'm working on other people's stuff it takes a bit longer because I strive for my absolute best even if I dislike the thing I have to draw.

This is very true, and I'll try to gain that sorta frame of mind too, because wow the fact that you could teach yourself that you are in control of your abilities and to not worry about blocks is impressive. That's part of the whole self-discipline, and I'm not gonna lie that's the type of thing I'd like to learn a lot more about.

That opened my eyes a lot because you're dead right - it doesn't matter if I'm blocked, that's a personal issue, the customer told me what they want and they shoudl get exactly that! Thank you love for this advice. <3
(no subject) - tisiphone - Jan. 15th, 2015 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tisiphone - Jan. 15th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 15th, 2015 12:34 pm (UTC)
I'm gonna give my advice about this one from my own personal experience. I may end up echoing others here on accident!

The best advice I have for someone wanting to freelance full time is: Don't.

I'm joking, but only a little to be honest!

First and foremost you need to gather a full scope of what doing freelance work for a living entails. Consider the work load, consider how much time you have to devote to it and mostly consider how dedicated you think you can be. Make a list of pros and cons based on your personal comfort level and give some time to really mull it over.

If you've decided you think you can do it, then you need to put it down to paper now to see if it can be a sustainable income for you. Figure out a list of your monthly expenses, but only the bare minimum you need to "get by" (this includes rent/insurance/phone bill/utilities/car insurance/ect). This number is very important once you total it because -this is the bare minimum- you need to make from JUST your artwork, more or less. Now that you have that number down, take a look at your current commission prices and figure out how many commissions you would need to do monthly in order to meet that minimum number. This is the most important thing I see people forget when they start freelancing; You need to take in the full scope of what you're getting into before you jump in!

If the number of commissions you need to do monthly is very high or even unreasonable, ask yourself if you can afford to raise your prices and how much would you need to raise them in order to make the work load sustainable. A good way to measure weather or not you can raise prices to meet quota is to ask yourself about your current queues. How quickly do your slots fill up and how often do they not fill up at all? If they fill fast -consistently- then that means you do have a demand for your work! You probably could raise your prices slowly over time to meet that quota for monthly bills if you plan correctly (raise prices slow as not to send potential commissioners into shock). If your slots don't sell quickly or don't fill up all the way at all, then you may not be ready to raise your price. Just like in retail, you have to function around the rules of supply and demand; even if you're a fantastic artist you need to put in the time to generate the audience that will purchase from you and for many artists (myself included) it can take -years- to reach a point where your client base is sustainable.

Do you have the time to market yourself to create the demand? This is where the unfortunate facts about "popularity" do come into play because the larger your fanbase, the larger your pool of potential clients is (thus generating demand). How many fans/followers/ect do you have? How many of those are actively commenting/favoriting/showing activity on your work? Is it a substantial amount? If your commission slots sell fast then you already know you are in decent shape but if they don't, do you have the time to put into marketing? Marketing yourself as an artist is VERY tough these days as it's such a competitive trade online between Deviantart, Furaffinity, Tumblr and Weasyl. There's a lot of folks with varying skill levels all competing for the same limited audience so knowing how to properly get yourself exposure is important.

To be honest "skill" alone does not make popularity happen; it has everything to do with your presence and the consistency in your artwork. ALWAYS produce the best you can, even if it's a sketch. Always interact with people who bother to comment on your work because it shows you care (which you should do from a moral standpoint anyways, haha). It can really make a person like you much more just by getting acknowledgement, even if it's just a ":)" reply. Reach out to your audience and be part of the community; don't just jump in to take people's money because it's very obvious when people do! The biggest thing about freelancing is that you need to love what you do or you will hate drawing all together very quickly. When you love what you do, people pick up on it and respond to that positivity.

Jan. 15th, 2015 12:35 pm (UTC)
By the end of the day, you need to realize that a good amount of the time drawing will be very little of it. There is so much more to full time freelancing than just the "make art" aspect.

Understand that you are a one-man show. Unlike most businesses that have people dedicated to separate tasks you need to realize that you will be all of the roles yourself. You will be in charge of marketing, customer interaction and support, you will be crafting the product and in many cases editing and fixing it and you will also be your own treasurer and your own financial consultant. That's a ton of work to take on yourself and it can be very overwhelming for many people, especially when drawing while stressed is a difficult task in itself. You will need to be calm and composed when dealing with clients and some of them can be pretty nasty at times (personal experience speaking here) and you'll have to remain calm enough to find a way to make them happy. Satisfaction is one of the greatest tools in freelancing as happy customers will come back and bring their friends with them. This is so very important when your client base is very small and consists of a niche group of people. Also know you will have to make public announcements and interact with people constantly! Heck, that is one even I have a hard time handling at times because talking to 15 or more people a day can be taxing when it comes to handling business and being professional.

Can you manage money? How good are you presently at saving? Do you keep nest eggs or do you often make frivolous purchases when you have the means to do so? This is also important because many folks have the tendency to spend money before the work itself is done. This is a huge no-no because you never know when something may come up that would require a refund. Can you do your own taxes and do you know how to file them for freelancing? If you make enough money every year, depending on where you are, you will need to file for a business permit and will be required to pay taxes as a business owner. Do you know how to fill out required forms or know what can be written off as expenses? Can you accurately track every commission you take and total the tax on each one so you know what you need to pay? These are important things to look into -before- you start freelancing full time and they are different depending on where you live.

Can you do the work?
It's easy to take on a commission slot but you must do the work that you are paid to do. Make a schedule for yourself and decide how long (on average) each type of commission you have takes and set days and time slots for them. Having them scheduled can really help you from getting behind and make it feel more like a "job". Creating that job setting is vital if you want to stay on track! Being your own boss isn't everything it's cracked up to be; the ability to slack off and get distracted or behind is very real as there is no one around to enforce the rules or force you to be motivated. You have to have the initiative to get stuff done. Additionally, depending on how much work you need to complete to get the minimum monthly costs, your work days may span past 8 hours easily. After all the marketing, customer interaction and actual drawing are finished you may have spent twelve hours working every day; That is rough. You also need to set days off too, as overworking can be almost as dangerous! Can you afford to have days off?

Another way to help make work manageable is to remember the business rule of "K.I.S.S." which is "Keep it simple, stupid!". Try not to offer TOO many types of commissions; too much variety can be overwhelming to potential commissioner and it will certainly be overwhelming to you. Find a type of commission that you can complete in a reasonable time (via ratio to pay) and run with that one. Try to work on speed with your work while still sustaining quality (this is so much easier said than done but in time you CAN do it).

Jan. 15th, 2015 12:35 pm (UTC)
Feeling blocked can suck the drive out of you, but if you want to make a living on freelancing you can't let it stop you. You have to be confident that you can push through a block and deliver what clients want without keeping them waiting because you -will- get behind and when the bills are due, even though the artblock is chillin' with you it won't help pay rent This is a very tough one to overcome but it's a necessity.

To summarize this wall of text; Art is hard to make a job. It takes patience, motivation and hard work. As it was mentioned above, it's not something that everyone can do and if it sounds like too much don't feel bad. If I had honestly known all these things prior to making the switch myself, I may not have done it at all. It's taken me years to get to a sustainable point and it's blood sweat and tears until it finally works just right. If you have the determination and genuine love for creating artwork you certainly can do it. Just know it's a long road ahead and don't quit your day job until you have figured out how to make it all work right. The last thing you want is to be stuck freelancing and stressing yourself to death if you decide you don't like it. Having your job while figuring it all out is a good exit strategy should you decide you're not cut out for it.

Again, these is just from my own personal experience and methods that have worked out for me. It's different for everyone but I hope it gives some insight into your mind on some of this!

Also I apologize in advance for any weird typos or very oddly constructed sentences; it's nearly 4:30 am and I haven't slept yet, haha.
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Jan. 15th, 2015 08:50 pm (UTC)
I've been a freelance artist professionally for about 5 years now, so hopefully my experiences can help you out. :)

When I first started taking commissions, I didn't have many, so I generally got started right away. Finishing work 'on time' wasn't an issue because I didn't have other projects (aside from personal work). As I began to get more commissions, time management became more of an issue I had to pay attention to. The most important part of accepting commissions - both for your sake and that of your customers - is making a deadline for the work. If the customer needs it by a certain date, that makes the deadline easy! If they don't need it by a specific date, then it's up to you to make a deadline for yourself and tell the customer when it will be done by. I've had customers tell me "whenever you get it done is fine," then come to me two weeks later asking where their commission is. A deadline will clear up any confusion between both of you, and will light a fire under your butt if you haven't started and that date is looming closer. Set up a spreadsheet, or even a whiteboard where every day you write down your projects and cross off the ones you've completed.

As for artblock, you need to ask yourself if it's a simple matter of not being inspired to work on that piece at that moment, or not wanting to start the piece because you're mentally stuck on where to begin, or how to complete the piece. If it's the first one, the best thing to do is sit yourself down and give yourself a goal. "I will work on [rough sketches] and then I will do something else." Or "I will paint [backgrounds and shadows] and then work on something else". This primes your brain for getting it 'out of the way', with a goal that you can complete. If you tell yourself that you have to finish the whole project all at once, you're not even going to want to get started. But if you feed yourself bite-sized pieces, it's easier to get started, and easier to continue working. I've done this with multiple projects that my brain has fighting me on.

However, if you've accepted a commission that you don't have the confidence to complete, that's another issue. Maybe it's a piece with a subject you have difficulty with (human anatomy, a city scene), or you promised the client a certain quality of work you're not sure you're capable of (a fursuit head when you've only ever made paws and tails, for example). In this case you need to be honest with the client and let them know that this is a subject/media you're not entirely confident in. If you can't get started, it's completely acceptable to refund them in that case, or even offer a discount if you're sure your first attempt is not going to be your best (a prototype fursuit head, for example). Most clients appreciate the artist being truthful with them, rather than delivering a sub-par piece of art.

Contact is the most important aspect of freelance art. I'd say most of the Beware posts here are for artists who have taken money and disappeared, or send angry replies when clients ask for updates. It sounds like you're at least honest with the money you've received, offering refunds when you're not able to complete the art. By doing this, you've already proven yourself a better businessperson than many of the artists featured in this community! It sounds like with a little time management and discipline, you could learn the ropes of art business.
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