How to hire an artist for your project?


Do you wish to commission an artist, would you like some of your favourite artists to work for you? Got a project and need some artwork? Don’t worry, If you have never hired an artist before, that’s why I wrote this little Manual. Whatever you would like to get drawn or painted or what kind of design you require, there’s definitely someone out there with the talent to develop your vision and complete your task to the deadline you set. 😄 

Check the website or portfolio. Don’t contact social-media-only artists, 
Your research should always have a look at his/her work to make sure the style suits your project. Portraits, animals, dark art, fantasy, whatever you seek. Some artists hide specific art (‘erotic’ or ‘horror’ for example) because of age restrictions. Use the Contact information to reach out and ask for artwork that maybe is not be shown on the artist’s website. It’s better to look for artists who have already specialized in your chosen style (pencil, ink, oil, digital, watercolour, etc.). Narrow the field down to several to hire based on the work they’ve displayed. 👌😊 


Describe what you need and try to be as concise and clear as possible. If you want them to draw a real person or creature, you’re going to have to provide reference materials. Keep in mind that if you want an artist to “copy” a photograph, it will have to be a photo that YOU have taken. (Copyrights)

They would be okay for reference, like certain structures, colours, or patterns. Reference photos should be large and clear enough for your artist to make out features and details. If you’re hiring an artist to paint something that doesn’t exist (your novel or RPG character, or a mermaid swimming with a dolphin, for example) then you need to be as specific as you can be about what you want. Keep in mind that artists can only paint visual things, moods, or scenes. They cannot paint smells, sounds, thoughts, or internal monologues. I’ve had authors send me four-page descriptions of a character’s life story without ever mentioning their eye color! Try to keep descriptions as clear as possible. 

If you envision a particular scene, describe it as thoroughly as you can. Mention which elements are important to you visually and which you’re willing to let go of if needed. You may need to provide reference images for your artist, but be aware that providing movie stills or images, or other paintings should only be to help you illustrate what you want. A professional artist cannot legally replicate a movie scene, character, or someone else’s illustration for you. 

When you’re hiring your artist, it’s important to state upfront what kind of end product you expect. Are you paying them for the original artwork on a canvas? A digital copy or a traditionally painted one? Will the final piece be printed on a book cover? What size do you require? Will you need to take it to a professional printing house? 

All these things should be covered before starting. 

In order to do the job, your chosen artist will need to know most of this information as early as possible. In the case of prints: You may also need permission from the artist that you are allowed to reproduce their work. (More about copyrights in commissions? Scroll further down this site) You’ll find more information about that below. If you’re paying for an original image, you’ll need to discuss shipping methods and costs. It will more than likely fall to you to cover these costs in the final commission price, separately from the cost of the actual painting. 🙂

Checklist before contacting an artist or musician to commission.

  1. Do your research and make up your mind: What style and medium do you prefer? None of us can read your mind and it’s essentially important that you know what you are searching for and what you require for a successful collaboration and task. 🙂
  2. Get the information you need, like prices for commissions, terms of service, copyright, and licensing. Any information you can get BEFORE sending an e-mail or form from the artist or musician’s website.
  3. Don’t expect any artist or musician to lower his or her prices just because you look for the “best offer” or simply just got a very small budget. They set the price for their unique work. You want them to take part in your project. You want them to create your vision.
    This is about ‘what does the artist/musician bring to the table?’ Not ‘how much money can I safe?’
  4.  Communicate your request clearly. The more information the musician or artist gets, the better. Also: Use only one e-mail address during contact. 😊 You can also use references but don’t expect the artist or musician to create something similar or copy complete artwork or styles of other artists. It’s a big ‘nono’. 

Revisions are depending on the artist.

Usually, they let you have a look at the sketch or certain stages during the work in progress. Setting up specific milestones where you want to see progress is a good idea for both. It gives you the assurance that the work is being done, and it gives the artist a chance to get some early feedback from you, which is motivating and inspiring. 

Make sure you mention as early as possible if something isn’t working for you — there’s nothing an artist hates quite so much as finishing a painting and finding out you want half of it changed.

Keep in mind that different mediums also have different revision requirements. A digital painting can be changed right up to the deadline, but a watercolour or inked drawing cannot be as easily changed once the inking or painting has begun. Make suggestions for revisions during the sketches. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that the artist will have to start over again if you change your mind after the painting has begun. That could cause additional charges.

Talk to your artist when you’re setting up revisions and when that “unchangeable” part of the project begins. Revisions are a normal part of the process. It’s our job to provide a service for you, after all, and trying to meet your expectations is important. However, there comes a point when revisions go from normal to absolute hell. This is usually the point when we’ve finished the painting and the client has decided that they want it to be a night scene rather than daylight, or that the tall barbarian woman should now be a dwarf male, or when they’ve sent the final copy back for tiny changes for the fifteenth time. Excessive revisions will sour your artist toward working with you and may cost you if the artist expects the changes to take extra time. 

When deciding on what you want, the sketch stage is the time for exploring options and making major changes. The painting in progress will provide chances for some revisions, but by the time the painting is almost finished, there should be only a few tiny changes left to iron out. Communication This is perhaps the one place where artists and clients fail the most. It’s important to keep in touch during the duration of the project. On your part, you need to be checking progress, answer questions, and approve or correct details.

On their part, they should be updating you regularly on that progress and letting you know if anything happens that might delay the project. Artists, sadly, are used to clients who will flake out when the time comes to pay. Just like you would like them to respond to your calls or emails about the progress of the project, they will want to be sure you’re not going to run off at the last minute. 

Try to respond to any emails within 24 hours. If you’re going to be out of town or unreachable for a day or two, let them know that, and touch base as soon as you’re back. Staying in touch should keep things running smoothly for everyone involved. Do keep in mind, however, that there is a line between touching base and refusing to leave it. As I mentioned earlier, many artists work part-time alongside a full-time job.

Those who do art full time, they often take on several projects at once in order to make ends meet. Some multitask and jump between different paintings to keep themselves fresh and interested, others work exclusively on one painting while lining up or preparing for future jobs on the side. In any case, don’t expect your artist to give you daily updates unless they prefer to work that way. Spamming them with emails demanding updates or changing your mind will only distract them and make it harder for them to work. Set a schedule ahead of time for updates and stick to it.

Quick Checklist for company contracts for an artist or musician.

Once you’ve established that the artist wants to take on your work, you need a contract. In today’s world wide web-based economy, emails function as a contract. Treat them as full legal contracts, or ask for a hardcopy contract from your artist if it makes you more comfortable. Things you should outline in a contract, be it email or otherwise:

  • Your name and the artist’s name
  • Date of the agreement
  • What specifically you are hiring them to do (a portrait, a full-color illustration, sizes, format, etc.)
  • What specifically you are purchasing the rights to (we’ll talk about rights later in this article)
  • Milestone dates (when you would like to see sketches, etc.)
  • Final deadline and how the final image should be delivered
  • Cost, broken down if need be (any fees or shipping charges should be noted here)
  • How and when final payment should be rendered

Please, treat the contract with your artist professionally. Art is just like any other service-based business in this regard. Neither you nor your artist, want to be taken advantage of.

Checklist during a collaboration with an artist or musician.
  1. Are they currently accepting commissions? Occasionally, even if their webpage states they are, they may be booked up for several months or otherwise not have time to accept commissions at that point. ☺️
  2. Whether it’s an artist or musician or your colleagues at work: You should treat people with respect. Be a professional: Don’t act like you are doing them a favor by giving them a job. They are not ‘beggars’, they are ‘choosers’ and they probably won’t agree to work with you again if you don’t treat them with respect. So be respectful and professional.
  3. Set up pricesdeadlinesshipping (if not digitally sent), and talk about copyrights and licensing (this is important if you wish to share the artwork on social media or use it in a campaign, etc.) Anything not discussed before the artist or musician starts is difficult to claim or difficult to negotiate after the fact.
  4.  Keep in touch but don’t pressure the process. If you’re working for a company and hired the artist or musician, some ‘Good Morning,…’ with a short bulleted list, concerning the process of the collaboration, is nice and gives the impression that you fully involve the artist or musician in that project. Meet up if you or the artist/musician got questions or if you want to give new input. 👌
  5. Feedback: As early as possible.
  6. Don’t add changes when the artwork is finished. Repainting will usually add extra fees.
About Copyrights in Commissions

From the moment something is drawn/painted/created etc. in a medium (canvas, on a piece of paper, in a photograph, or in a digital file), it is copyrighted to the person who created it

That would be your hired artist. Even if you’ve given them the idea for the painting, the execution of the final product is copyrighted to them.  Copyright gives the artist the right to decide who can use their work and how, whether or not it can be duplicated or reproduced, and where and how it can be displayed.

 Yea… I know, technically artists got the power to change the world, whether due to their mindset or their sensitive souls that keep them from taking over the world… 😉

When you (Company) set out your contract it’s a good idea to discuss upfront with your artist exactly what rights you wish to purchase with the commission. Are you only purchasing the original, with the intent to hang it on your wall? (Private Use) In that case, the copyright remains with the artist and they can make prints from a digital copy of it, use it in their portfolio, or license the image out. 

Do you wish to purchase any commercial rights to the image? Do you want to use it on a book cover, to promote something, or as part of an ad? Do you intend to sell copies of the image? (Cons, markets, etc.) All of these things may have some impact on the final cost of the painting. If it’s an illustration that they could easily be reproduced and sold prints of and make additional money, they may want to retain those rights for that purpose. It’s important that you discuss this with your artist/designer/musician before starting. 

Once you’ve agreed on who gets which rights, remember you are legally bound by that decision, and if you’d like to obtain further rights to the image, you’ll need to discuss it with the artist/designer/musician first.


I thought I’d give this topic it’s own heading, even though I mentioned it above in a few different places. Artists—like plumbers, doctors, and stylists—are skilled professionals who can provide you with a service you cannot do yourself. Some artists work at it full time, others do art part-time in addition to another job. In any case, understand that artists expect to be paid for their work the same way that you would expect to be paid for yours. The myth of the starving artist makes many people think that all artists care about is the painting. That’s not true. 

Artists have bills to pay and families to feed, just like you. What an artist charges for their time is ultimately up to them, but if a painting is going to take several days, it’s simply not fair for you to expect them to work for less than minimum wage. Art isn’t easy, and no painting springs fully to life in moments from an artist’s hand. If your budget is small, you may want to wait and save up so you can hire the artist you want. Try to respect your artist and their need to balance their time and how much they can work. Occasionally in the art world, you might hear the word “exposure.” No artist should ever be expected to do free work for “exposure.” 

Exposure, for an artist, is easy. We can find it in free online galleries, in professional publications, and by submitting our work to various agencies. Doing an illustration for a private client, even if that client is a celebrity, seldom gives an artist the kind of exposure they would need to balance out the amount of money they could have made from the project. Suggesting to an artist that they should do free work for nothing more than exposure is as insulting as suggesting that you should do free plumbing work in exchange for your name on their toilet. Exposure should be a fringe benefit and only mentioned along with a reasonable offer of payment.

Things you better not ask just any artist or musician EVER 😅

Contrary to popular belief artists and musicians need to eat and have a roof over their heads and don’t accept ‘for exposure’ or ‘likes’ instead of money.

“I got 100000000… Followers on Social Media, can you work for exposure?”

Imagine yourself doing your job. Instead of payment, your boss says:  ‘Great job, I will tell everybody what a pro you are but I can not pay you.’ Kinda hurts, doesn’t it? If you want to know how artists and musicians think about people asking them to work for exposure: There is a Twitter Channel called @forexposure where you can find artists around the world dealing with that question. Read the comments. We all got bills to pay. We all got family and responsibilities.

“Can I get a discount? You do enjoy painting, don’t you? It shouldn’t bother you to spare some coins because you have fun.”

Sometimes there is already a discount hidden in packages artists and musicians offer. Mostly due to a platform, not the artist or musician him/herself. Also, just because people enjoy their work and gain satisfaction from their job doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay for a place to stay, tools, etc. And above all: It’s rude to ask for a discount if they don’t offer it in the first place. Just don’t.

“What if I don’t like the result?”

You give the conversation a direction you probably don’t want to, but asking an artist or musician stuff like that kind of ‘assumes’ that you doubt in him/her and the quality of his/her art. Instead, you could ask politely via e-mail for terms of service and the process of your commission. Creative folks are often quite sensitive to “Schwarze Rhetorik”. Keep that in mind.