How Much? The Deafening Silence of a Commission Request

| November 27, 2013 | 0 Comments


We have a special guest post in the TRENCHES today by artist Cesar Feliciano, my partner in sequential crime on THE RED TEN. Cesar has written some thoughts on his experiences with commission requests, something most artists can relate to. Cesar’s words follow here, and I’ll add a few extra thoughts at the end.

I am writing this little piece to ask a question out loud, and also shine some light on certain realities facing comic book artists.

I get asked how much I charge for artwork all the time. You know, someone asks, “Hey, I need a drawing of such and such done for so and so…” I think it over carefully and try to read and consider the person asking –are a relative or a friend? — and try to give a fair price for myself and considering the person.   Often what happens next is. . . .

There is a big void of silence.   I ask myself, “Wow, did I do something wrong? Did I ask for to much? Did I piss the person off somehow?”

I can  usually cross those out. I believe that I am very fair in my quote.   I know that I am not the only artist who has dealt with this. This interaction seems commonplace between artists and prospective customers. The artwork that I produce is labor intensive and I don’t skimp on quality. With every piece I put my best effort forward to ensure a good response, repeat business and good word of mouth referrals.

As with any profession, the work that artists do is not easy. It takes time to produce it well. Furthermore, there were countless thousands of hours spent perfecting the craft.
Pretty pictures don’t happen by accident.

Mechanics, doctors, painters, electricians, carpenters, and so on all acquired their skill through hard  work  and study.

As artist, we have put in that same effort as well. We while away for hours at a time in our studios laying down line after line, brush stroke after brush stroke, in order to get to a level of competency that allows us to be able to charge for the art that we produce.

Sometimes, you do get a response such as, “Well, I can only afford $10 or $20.” Yet the person wanted an 11×17 fully colored inked piece with a background, featuring the  X-men fighting the Avengers in NYC with the shield Helicarrier floating in the sky!

I try to be kind and respond with a compromise of some sort. But where is the reality in that request? You wouldn’t expect a carpenter to build you a multilevel deck made out composite wood and vinyl for $200 would you? No, of course not. It is a preposterous request!

Sites such as  are chock full of artist that are essentially giving away their art, and this is not helping matters. Many of the people there are hobbyist, perhaps, and not making a living at art or looking to supplement their income. They makes it hard for those artist that have put in the hard work to compete against someone willing to do work for $5 or $10 bucks.

Let me just simply say this truth– Artists love to draw. We love to do this more than anything, and we love the response we get from customers when we turn in a piece of art that they requested, and it is exactly what they wanted. The appreciation and joy in their eyes is awesome. Realistically though, there are bills to be paid and supplies to be replenished, and that can only happen if there is a fair exchange of goods and services.

Thank you very much for reading this, and please go out and get your Batman or Wolverine drawn, get what you want, and support the artist and their hard work.

– Cesar Feliciano

Twitter: @cesarfeliciano



A big thanks to Cesar for submitting this post. I have to tell you, Cesar does some of the best convention sketches at any show for an incredible value. He’ll even bust out his watercolor set and do fully water-colored pieces. How he isn’t booked solid at every single show baffles me.  A few thoughts on Cesar’s piece:

1. Hard as it might be, artists shouldn’t take the silence as an insult. It can be maddening to give someone a quote you think is more than fair, only to have it followed by radio silence. But, remember, there are far more browsers out there than buyers in any market, for any product, and it’s often hard to tell who is who.  It could be that the person was more curious than anything else, and was asking simply to confirm that yes, I can’t afford original art. That’s on them, not you.

2. Post your commission rates, and availability. Rather than waste a ton of time doing customized quotes for people, point them to a blog post or website page where you clearly outline both your rate sheet, and availability. (Note, sometimes having less availability, will lead to more requests. A wait list can be good.)  This way, you’re not spending a lot of time thinking about or getting invested in a piece, before the customer self-qualifies by seeing what it’s going to cost them. You can also tell friends and family privately to check those rates, but you’ll give them an extra 20% off.

3. Offer substitutions. When someone asks for a ridiculous request for an obscenely low amount of money, it’s hard not to be completely offended. But rather than laugh in their face, or walk away, it might be a good time to offer reasonable alternatives. “Sorry, that piece you described would be 20 hours of work. Clearly, I can’t do that for $10. But I could do a full-color Wolverine sketchcard for that price.  Or, I could let you choose from among a set of full-color 11×17 archival prints of my art, that I’d love to sign for you…”  In the sales process, it’s about information. This person basically let you know he’s only got a few bucks to spend on art. Nothing you say or do is going to put more money in his pocket. So, better to offer him something you are willing to do for what he has to spend.

4. If Other Artist’s Prices are Impacting Yours, You Need to Do More to Differentiate Yourself from the Pack. Sean Gordon Murphy charges $1,000 or more per commission, and his list fills quickly.  Clearly, the fact that Jokester69YOLO on Deviant Art is charging $5 for a Batman sketch isn’t affecting Sean’s commission prices. So, why would it affect yours? Well, it might if you’re trying to compete for the “I want the cheapest Batman sketch I can buy” dollar. And sure, there are people out there that go to conventions looking for a sketch and don’t really care who the artist is. But it should be the goal of Cesar and every comic book artist to be an artist that people seek out commissions from. At any decent sized con, there are literally hundreds of artists willing to draw whatever people want. And yes, that does have the affect of lowering the price for the generic sketch. And yet, you’re not seeing big name artists drop their rates…in fact, many are raising them. As a consumer, I might only pay $5 for a generic Batman sketch…but for a sketch of Batman from one of my favorite artists, who’s drawn one of my favorite series of all-time…I’d pay a lot more for that.

Thanks again to Cesar for starting this discussion.  And FYI, yes, Cesar is available for holiday commissions. Hit him up!



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