Saturday, 6 October 2012

Commissioning Artwork on a Budget by KeriLynn Engel

I'm delighted to welcome KeriLynn Engel to my blog.
In these days of self-publishing, finding someone to do the cover for your book can be a nightmare. That's why KeriLynn's fantastic piece is so topical.

Commissioning Artwork on a Budget

It can often be true that when buying a creative service, you get what you pay for.

An experienced professional who makes a living off their artwork is necessarily going to charge you more than a college student trying to make some cash on the side, and you’re more likely to have a smoother experience and more polished product from the experienced professional than from a part-time noob.

Still, as a writer, you know that countless factors go into determining a price for creative work. Just because someone is “cheap” doesn’t mean their work will be. It could just be they don’t need to make a living from their artwork and enjoy making affordable pieces for people on a budget! You never know.

There are ways to purchase creative services within your budget without sacrificing quality. It might require a little more work on your end, or a willingness to be a bit more flexible, but it definitely can be done.

If you think you’re stuck searching through endless pages of cheap stock photography looking for a model who’s “close enough” to the character you’ve envisioned so clearly in your mind for years, because you’re on too tight a budget to ever afford artwork commissioned just for you — that’s just not true.

I’m going to share with you a few tricks on using the magical power of the interwebs to find artists who will be willing to work with you within your budget to produce custom art you’ll love.

Budgeting & Payment

Firstly, you must have a clear idea of how much you’re able to spend on your art.

Some artists have their prices posted, and with your budget in mind, you’ll know right off the bat whether you can afford them. For the ones that don’t have prices posted, you can tell them exactly how much you’re able to spend. Then they can let you know whether or not they can work with you within your budget.

It might help to set up a savings account specifically for this purpose (or just for your book budget in general). I use for my finances, and they have a feature where you can set up savings goals for specific purposes. It lets you input a target date and amount, and lets you know what you need to do to get there. (I’m not an affiliate, I just really like Mint!)

Most artists accept payment via Paypal. The generally accepted practice is to put down a deposit or the entire payment upfront.

What if you fall in love with an artist outside your budget?

If they’re not TOO much outside your budget,  I would still contact them. Tell them how much you love their work, and be upfront about exactly what your budget is. Let them know you don’t expect a discount for no reason, but you want to know if there’s any way they can work with you. They might consider bartering services for part of the cost, or come up with other ways to accomodate you. Some artists might be insulted at this, but I think it’s worth at least asking as long as you make it clear that you respect their work and time.

Finding an artist


Etsy is known for having lots of sellers with handmade crafts, from the mundane (scarves, jewelry, purses, notecards), to the bizarre (check out for a laugh... some posts are NSFW).

It may surprise you to find out that Etsy has tons of artists and designers on it as well. Some sellers specialize in custom work like painting pet portraits from your photographs, or creating custom digital clip art or even logos.

Etsy used to have a feature called “Alchemy” where you could post a request for a custom item. Unfortunately, they discontinued Alchemy in February 2011, supposedly to revamp it, but there haven’t been any updates yet that I could find. Instead, they encourage you to find an artist you like and contact (“convo” in Etsy lingo) them to request an item.

Searching for an artist on Etsy

Etsy has a tag system for items — it works like tags for blog posts. Sellers can tag their items with any number of keywords, which makes it easier to search for them.

When searching for potential artists for your custom work, you could try searching for “custom art”, but then again you’re limiting yourself to artists who have done custom items in the past, or who have custom items posted. What if there’s an artist out there that perfect for you, but hasn’t done any custom work on Etsy yet?

Instead, try searching for the specific style you’re looking for. Some keywords to consider might be:

1. Oil painting
2. Character illustration
3. Digital art
4. Abstract painting
5. Steampunk art (or whatever genre you write in)
6. Romantic portrait
7. Paper art

Here’s a really cool piece of art I found with the last search: 2 ORIGINAL ARTWORKS Mr & Mrs Giraffe posing- Mixed Media, Hand Painted on 1922 Parisien Magazine 'La Petit Illustration' by Coco De Paris.

On the right side of the page, you can click on the artist’s shop name to see their storefront. Here you can read about them and see if they mention anything about custom work. This artist does paintings and illustrations over antique paper- love it! Doesn’t say anything about custom work, but you can always contact the artist using the “Contact” link on the left. Even if an artist has never thought about doing custom work before, they may be flattered you ask and excited about the prospect, so give it a shot!


Deviantart is a more well-known source for commissioning artwork.

It’s easy to browse or search through artists right from the front page. You can use the search bar on the top if you’re looking for something specific, or choose from categories on the left such as Digital Art or Traditional Art. In each broad category there are tons of subcategories, so it’s easy to get as specific as you’d like. You can sort your results by “Popular” or “Newest”.

Once you find a piece you like, view the artist’s page by clicking on the “More from [artist]” link on the right. From here, you can view their entire gallery of artwork. Contact the artist using the “Send a Note” link on the top-right (you’ll have to login first).

Sometimes the artist will say on their profile page that they do commissions. If not, don’t be afraid to contact them anyway and ask if they would be interested in doing a commissioned piece. You never know, they may have never thought about it before, or are dreaming about making money from their art but just don’t know how to get started! You might be the first one to make their dream come true =)

Other Sources

Even if you’re not quite ready to commission your artwork yet, or are still not 100% sure what you want, it helps to keep your eyes open for artists you like. You never know where you might come across the perfect one!

“I found out about Sarah Ellerton from her web comics. My boyfriend was the one who pointed out that she opened for commissions a few months ago, and when I saw her style, I knew it would be perfect for the book cover.” N. M. Martinez, author of Ruin

“I found the artist that I'm working with Lisa Falzon via an incoming link to my blog. I'd never heard of her before (sorry Lisa if you read this) but followed the link back to a post on another blog where she said in an interview that my blog was one of her favourites. I had a look at her art work after that and was hooked! I also immediately knew that she would be the perfect person to illustrate the cover of my upcoming book.”
Madame Guillotine, author of The Secret Diary of a Princess: a novel of Marie Antoinette

Advice from other writers
“My budget is about nil as I'm a housewife and mother, who fundamentally lives off my husband. However, I knew that having a good cover can really make a book POP and capture attention so was prepared to forgo a few shopping trips to make it happen. It's definitely something that should be done properly so I was prepared to save up and make some sacrifices for it!

“I think my main advice is that covers are very important and definitely worth doing as well as possible. I was lucky in that I found the perfect artist quite by chance, but if I hadn't then I would have asked around friends until I found someone who was right for the commission.”
~ Mme Guillotine

“Know how much you can spend. Make sure that you are very clear with the artist what you are going to do with it and what you want it for. Most of the time the prices artists list on their websites are for personal use only, not commercial use, but you can still get an idea of how much they charge from seeing the pricing on their work.

“Start a DA account and follow artists you think are interesting. I find DA a great place to find artists who do commissions, and it's easy to note them and ask more questions.
Also, pay attention to lesser known artists. Don't be afraid to approach an artist who doesn't have commissions listed. If you know what you want, be clear with the artist and ask if they'd do it for you. Maybe they won't, but maybe they've never thought about it because no one's ever asked them before.” ~ N. M. Martinez, author of Ruin

Your turn

Have you ever commissioned artwork before?
How did you find the artist? What was the process like, and what advice would you give to others?

About the Author
KeriLynn Engel is a writer, artist, knitter, and crazy cat lady with too many hobbies. She blogs about all the kick-ass women the history books left out at Amazing Women In History, and will be using the advice in this post for her upcoming book based on her blog. Follow her on twitter as @womeninhistory!


  1. Thanks so much for having me guest on your blog, Jenny! I hope you & your readers find the info useful :D

  2. Thanks KeriLynn. I thought your post was amazing and full of good information for anyone wanting to commission cover art:)


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