Commissioning Art

The whole idea of commissioning art for me began when I started spying on other people’s Kickstarter pages.  The ones that did fairly well with supporters all had incredible artwork.  The artwork was what grabbed you on the kickstarter page, and then the text.  People are very visual and if the book cover/art sucks, you start wondering about the quality of the book.

I had started speaking to a number of Canadian artists I knew over the last 2 years.  But scheduling was a problem as my contacts had a full time jobs and art was something they did on the side.  So I started to search globally – writing to people I found with portfolios on and researching other websites for online freelance services such as,, and

In the end of my long search and “testing” many people on their styles/workflow, I found some fantastic artists which I hope to maintain relationships with on a long term basis as I continue to write more books.  There are links to their great portfolios at the end of this post.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting up the artwork I’ve commissioned for The International House of Vampires series on this website along with a Q & A with each artist so you can learn more about them as they are all fabulous people!

Mommy and Daddy!
I commissioned a pic of Mommy and Daddy! ($10 USD) Off where things start at $5. You can even get a fake girl/boy friend to post on your social media pages for a week there!

The Steps to Commissioning Artwork:

1)       Think about what you want to commission – it could be for a gift, book, game, etc.  It’s important that you spend time developing a vision as this is something you are hiring to bring to life.  If you are not clear what you want, believe me, the artist will have a hard time delivering the goods.

2)      Write down specs – you know what you want, but now you have to communicate it to someone.  I try to provide as many details as possible.  If the artist doesn’t read this – they aren’t very good with clients then!

*  Intro sentence about what the art is about, what it’s for
*  Do you want to own the copyright for future reproduction or is this a one-off that will never be reproduced?  Usually the artist retains all copyrights unless you ask for it to be transferred, usually for a price ($ depends on artist).
*  The style you want.  Western realistic?  Manga?  Cartoon?
*  Find some references of stuff you like.  The idea is to let the artist know what kind of style, color palette and “feeling” you want to invoke in the art.
*  Describe each person if any.  How old are they?  Height?  Facial features, clothing, etc as if they are real people to the artist.
*  Find specific references for things such as poses, fashion style, faces, etc.
*  What’s in the background?  Do you want nothing or a specific environment?
* Hope that they understand and don’t freak out if the first piece isn’t what you imagined – sometimes it take a few tries before the artist can draw what you had in mind!

3)      Search for an artist – Like I mentioned earlier, there are many websites for you to do your search.  Look through their portfolios and see if they have done similar work to what you want for another client.

It is not fun looking for artists as you will be overwhelmed by the different styles and prices available for people.  A person may be super cheap at $5/piece, but can they deliver your vision?  Another person’s art looks fantastic, but they want $1200/piece.  Can you afford this?

For your book you may have a picture or style in mind already, but you have to search hard for the right people to make your dreams come true.  Don’t settle for something your gut tells you is not right…this is not very scientific advice, I’m afraid, but gut feel is super important!

4)      Make contact – Depending on which site, you will either have to fill in a form for a third party or you can email the artist directly with specs.  The artist will send you a quote based on that.  If you go through a third party (website service) usually there is some sort of guarantee so you can get your money back if something goes wrong.  Sometimes to get better prices you may be asked to pay direct.  There is always a bit of risk with dealing with a new person, but usually if the artist has a decent website and looks legit, I would take this risk to save some money.

Keep in mind of a budget of what you can afford.  Commissioned art can range from $0 (bartering for future favors) to $2000 USD in my experience, for one piece of art.  Sometimes the price varies depending on how many people in each piece or if you want a nice background.  Read the fine print of what the artist is willing to do!

5)      Evaluate options – Each artist will quote you different prices.  To help with making the decision, I go through their portfolios once again to determine if it’s worth both of our time to go through with making a deal.  Sometimes you can barter, but it depends on the artist.  I’ve learned that you do get what you pay for; don’t cheap out so much that you can’t hire a decent artist!  Otherwise, what’s the point?!

6)      Make a deal with one, send payment and send out sorries to the rest – It’s only decent to let other people know that you hired someone.

7)      Finalizing the Artwork – Usually the artist will send you some drafts to look at to ask for your opinion.  There should be some back and forth but this depends on the price as well.  For artists that don’t earn much or if you drive them crazy, they will sometimes ask for more money per change.  But usually you can ask for at least one to two changes before finalizing.

8)      Copyright transfer – From the beginning I ask for this, so at the end I write up a contract for them to sign to transfer copyright to me.  For personal artwork, it’s usually not done.  I only started doing this based on an editor friend’s advice as she was worried about long term consequences for me.  Most artists will charge you a fee for this (sometimes close to the price of the commissioned piece), it’s usually not free.  However, I do think it’s fair for them to have the piece in their portfolio even if I have the copyright as they should keep a copy of the hard work they have done!

9)      Show off the art!  It took a lot of time and effort to bring a vision to life, so brighten someone else’s day with something fantastic!

Virtual Artist Team for The International House of Vampires series

1) Eumir Carlo P. Fernandez, illustrator (Q & A with him here)

2) Eri-chan (Elisse Mariano), manga artist

3) Robert Altbauer, cartographer (Q & A with him here)

4) foosoo (An Trinh), Illustrator