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For any and all artists, professional and amateur, who are either offering or considering offering commissions, you'll want to read this.  

Artists need to be aware of how to protect themselves online and in the real world, particularly involving commission work.  There are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of you if they can and if you let them.

This particular case was brought to my attention via KrisCynical's journal, which you can read here, kriscynical.deviantart.com/jou… think this is very relevant to members of UnseenArtists, especially those of us that offer commissions or plan to in the future.  Education about this is our best defense.

Part 1: Doing it wrong.

In a blog, Kaitol Flash Development gives a few tips on how companies should hire, specifically mentioning that they should go to sites like deviantART and Newgrounds for the following:

"...There’s a few reasons you want to find an artist this way. First of all, they’re cheaper. These guys aren’t used to making a lot of money for their work so they will be more appreciative of the chance even if they are being payed slightly less than what professionals are payed..."


He also goes on to say how not to select a client.

"...Do not look for either professional artists, or an artist that has done a lot of game design work in the past. The problem with artists who do this as their full time job is that they’re usually expensive...

"...Artists who have done a lot of game design work are also bad for a similar reason, they know how much flash games can earn so they expect a decent percentage of the profit. It’s ridiculous to pay something 50% of a sponsorship when you can find someone else who would accept $500 for the same job..."


And how to work with said client:

"Keep them in the dark:

"...If an artist knows how much their artwork will increase the value of the game they will then feel they deserve that amount of money..."


This is the blog in question.  It has since been amended with a preface attempting to explain what he really meant and all it does is say that he really sees nothing wrong with what he's done.

The problem is that there is something fundamentally wrong with it.  

It's not just bad ethics, it's bad business.




Part 2: Doing it right

Now I'd like to point out this blog, by Jon Jones, smArtist.  You can read the full blog here, How Not To Hire An Artist.

Jones points out many of the things Kaitol's doing wrong.  He also makes extremely valid points about how to safely operate as both client and artist.

This is probably the most important point, right up front:

"...Sometimes budgets are limited and you need to hire inexpensive artists. Nothing wrong with that. But in my experience, the world isn’t divided into “cheap, inexperienced artist” vs “expensive, talented artist.” Every contract is different and every artist is different. People are motivated by different things, and if your financial means are limited, you can still do a lot if you can find what it is they actually care about that you can offer them..."


Some points things artists in particular should focus on becoming more aware of, such as:
"...Whoever gives the first number loses. If you intentionally seek out inexperienced artists not familiar with negotiation and lead them into that trap, then sure, you’ll probably get lower prices..."

"...The obvious downside of this, though, is what if that artist figures out you’re screwing him? All he has to do is talk to another artist. Losing an artist in the middle of a contract or a project sucks! If you approach the beginning of the contract with openness and mutual respect, you’re more likely to retain that artist for the long term, which benefits you and your project enormously..."


Artists do, absolutely, need to be aware of negotiation practices and keep on their toes about it.  Not everyone will approach you with respect or openness about their intentions.  This is very much something you have to be aware of, especially when you're dealing with contracts.

Another point to be aware of is to be wary of percentage offers, if they do appear:
"...Most intelligent artists see “I’ll pay you a percentage!” as code for “I am cheap, this game will never launch and I will waste your time but act as though you are my slave because of Massive Future Profits!”..."


The blog also covers commissioning and long-term contracts, how to approach artists about these respectfully and open up better relationships between client and artists, and where Kaitol's tips regarding those go horribly awry.




Part 3: Further tips and tricks for protecting yourself

  • Be aware of "spec work" or "Speculative work".

    • If someone approaches you as an artist about work, but never really sets a price and still expects the work, you want to consider declining, especially if this involves something that's to be used commercially.

      You don't want to be sitting there a month later, with the client skipping off going "It's not what I was looking for, so I'm not going to pay you."

      For more information on spec work and how to spot and avoid it, see the No-Spec website.
  • Poke around, talk to other artists.

    • Artists generally remember two types of clients vividly - good ones and bad ones.

      If your client turns over a lot of artists or a competing artist automatically turns down a job from them just because it's that client, there's usually a reason.  Talk to them, find out what to expect.  Don't let yourself get caught off guard by a nightmare client.

      Sites like Elance.com and Odesk.com allow you to check your client's history and see what kind of feedback they've received.
  • Use contracts.

    • Clearly outline with your client what you will do and what you won't do.  If you are offering revisions, set a limit. Don't get caught in infinite revisions.

      If you wish to retain rights to or ownership of your work (particularly for printing, displaying and portfolio purposes), be careful to include that in your contract.  When receiving a contract from a client, carefully read it to see who will retain control of your work.  Otherwise, you will lose the ability to display, sell or reproduce that work, even for your portfolio.

      When you have set your contract, stick to it.  Do not let your client try and slip stuff that wasn't agreed to in there.

      If your client decides to terminate it, make sure you have it clearly stated that you expect to be paid for the work you have done to this point.
  • Payment.

    • Do not accept a contract or commission if it's pay on completion.

      I am sorry.  This is one trap that a lot of new artists fall into.

      The safest way usually is to use a "half up front, half on completion" policy.  This allows you to allocate some income for your costs and ensures that the client is committed to the contract.

      For longer term contracts on larger projects, I suggest looking at Jon Jones' blog regarding setting up longer-term payments.
  • Samples and Works in progress

    • When showing your sketches or works in progress to a client over the web, upload it at 72 dpi, with web optimization, and a watermark if it's on the bigger end.

      Do not let your client have the full-size until you've been paid.


If you have a suggestion, tip or trick to avoid getting ripped off on commissions, please comment and we'll add it.

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