Asking for Changes - An Artist's Perspective

by Mariah published on Aug 17, 2020 10 min read
Art: @Coonkun

Let's pretend, for just a moment, that I sent an email to Coonkun that looked like this:

"Hey CK! Would you please draw me with my microphone like I am singing into it, with a happy expression, while looking at the viewer? You know I'm pretty shy so would you reflect that in my body language too? Thanks for being such a great friend and artist!"

I know Coonkun (CK), so this note is really relaxed. CK designed my character for me and has my refsheet saved, so I also know that I don't need to include a ton of detail or any files. Normally, he would reply, give me a price, I would pay, and the art would commence! After a while, I would get a work-in-progress (WIP) sketch like what is seen here. What do you think?? Looks exactly like what I asked for, right?

Now, once again this is pretend, let's say I reply with another note that read something like this:

"Hey, that sketch looks great and all, but I've kinda changed my mind. Would you have me looking straight ahead instead of looking at the viewer? I think the picture would be cuter that way." 
Art: @Coonkun

Knowing CK, he would be more than happy to make the change I asked for and get right on it. Before you know it I would get another WIP sketch of exactly what I asked for! But, after looking the sketch over, it's really not capturing the feel that I want for this picture. I paid for it, so it makes sense that I get exactly what I want, right? I have to go to work every single day, put the hours in, earn my money by doing my job... Why shouldn't I be able to get the exact picture I want?

So, I send back another note and ask CK to make a few more small changes. This shouldn't be a big deal, everything is still in the sketch phase so it's super quick work. I know he will be able to just whip up exactly what I want on this third go.

"Hey CK! This really isn't what I had in mind. I love your art but I think I would rather see my sona really, truly singing. Would you draw me really giving it my all into the microphone? Just singing my heart out with everything I've got? I think that's what I really want to see. Thanks again for being so awesome and I'm really glad you're drawing this for me!"
Art: @Coonkun

Look! Exactly what I wanted! And it only took three times of almost completely redrawing the picture to get to this point! I know it took up a bunch of additional time by not knowing exactly what I wanted in the beginning, but hey, I'm the customer and the customer is always right. It was only three small revisions, that's not too bad, right?

Well, not exactly. Let's take a look behind the scenes at what it was like for CK to get each and every one of those revisions done.

With the first image, he was super stoked to draw it. He is accustomed to the perspective, the pose was something he was comfortable with, and it took him only an hour or so to get everything sketched out. At the price I was charged for the picture, CK was making a living wage at this point in the process and everything was okay! Emotionally, he was feeling good about his work and looked forward to my satisfaction with it too.

Then that first revision came. It wasn't that big of a deal, but the perspective was a little harder because of the species my character is. The shape and length of the muzzle gave CK a little bit of trouble, and drawing my character in profile was more challenging. So the revision alone took another hour just to get the face right. Now he has invested two hours into just a sketch, thus lowering the value of his time since the price I paid for the commission is fixed. While this didn't have a big impact emotionally, it's was still a little disappointing because he really liked the first picture better. Even still, he pressed on and delivered the second revision with a smile.

Much to his unspoken dismay, however, yet another note arrives and it's me asking for another major revision. What seems small to me, is really a big deal for CK. I don't know it, but this is really upsetting for Coonkun. He has tried twice now to make me happy as a customer, spent two hours on just a sketch, and now I'm asking for something completely different.

As an artist and friend, he does exactly as I ask and spends another three hours, that's right, three, to fix the sketch and make it look exactly as I like. CK is now 5 hours in, only has a sketch to show for it, and has lost all emotional drive to work on the picture I asked for. Not to mention the value of the art has decreased significantly because I'm not paying him any additional money for the additional time it has taken. Bummer.

Art: @Coonkun

Happily, I can tell you that this is all completely made up! I never asked CK for all those revisions and those sketches are from the initial phases of my refsheet. But they were great at illustrating my point:

In the art world there is such a thing as asking for too much. You need to be considerate to the artist's time in regards to how much you paid for the commission itself.

Each time you ask for a change you are altering many different factors of the original commission agreement. I'm not saying that you shouldn't get what you ask for as a customer, but what I am saying is that you should know exactly what you want before you even send the first note; unless it's an artistic freedom piece. If you do change your mind halfway through, then you should not expect an artist to make major changes for free.

As they say: time is money and that saying is beyond true in our community. Your commission could determine whether or not that artist gets a new tablet, buys their significant other a birthday present, or even eats dinner that night. Being considerate of their time should always be a priority. If you spend $500+ on a single commission, then you should definitely speak up if something is wrong. If it's a $60, fully shaded, single character pin-up, then keep in mind that if the artist spends 8 hours on it, then they are only making $7.50 an hour.

TL;DR: When it comes to asking for changes, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Don't reach out until you know what you want, unless it's an artistic freedom piece
  • Read the artist's TOS before asking for a change, you will often find their requirements and guidelines there
  • Approach the artist with an understanding that changes take time and may add to the price of your commission
  • Do your best to catch everything in the sketch phase, changes to lines or color are much more difficult and time consuming
  • If you must ask for a change, think about it from the artist's point of view. Talk to the artist and see how they feel about it. If you are totally unsatisfied, then let them know as quickly as you can so you can work on a mutual solution.
  • When you ask for a change, communicate clearly what you want. If possible, provide references, but don't expect an artist to exactly copy another artist's work.
  • Asking for changes is not an opportunity to add things to a picture. "Oh, my character always has their cat" or "my character always has this blue guitar with 7 necks and 200 multicolored neon strings" is not acceptable.
  • When in doubt, ask! Never be afraid to reach out to the artist who has taken your commission. Always be polite but keep in mind that they are people too and might not get back to you right away.

Commissioning art is a wonderful thing and it can be very enjoyable for both the artist and the commissioner. Being considerate is a must in our community and it's something I really hope to see more of going forward. I know I'm really looking forward to my next commission, how about you?


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