A Guide for Ordering Commissions on dA.
Ordering commissions online can be kind of a scary thing for a lot of people. You don't really know the person you're ordering from, and you're trusting them to take your money and make something you want. This journal will encompass the following: commission rules set by the artist, how to tell when an artist is not reliable, and lastly, how to communicate to ensure that you get what you paid for. Since I am most familiar with the part of dA that makes photo manipulations of horses, it will be focusing on what I've seen in that community.
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Every artist who offers commissions should have a journal or some other area of their dA page where they have a list of commission rules. Basically all of the questions you could possibly ask this person about their commissions are in their rules. Please do not go bombarding the artist with questions without looking at their rules. These rules include what they do/don't do, different packages they might offer, prices, and it will usually include how they accept payment.
The very first thing you should do upon wanting to commission someone is to check and see if their commissions are actually open. Most artists will have this information on their front page, but others might have it inside of their commission rules as well. Make sure you know if they are open or closed before contacting the artist. If they are closed, do not pester them. However, if they openly say that you may ask to be on a waiting list, it's okay to ask.
It's important to know what the artist will do with your commission after they make it. After all, it is their art! Most people will submit commissions to groups, will use them to advertise themselves, etc. If you have any problems with those sort of things, you should bring it up right away if you choose to order from that person. Many artists have disclaimers and money-back guarantees and things of that sort, so when reading through their rules, watch for the things that they reserve rights to, as well as things they promise to do for you as the customer.
Next, look at their pricing. Most horse manipulators operate their commissions in the form of packages. Different packages determine what you can get for one price. For example, I have one package for $10 that does not include unnatural colors or markings on the horse's coat. Then I have a second package for $20 which does include them. It's good to know before ordering which package you would like, making sure that everything you want in the piece is covered in whatever package you order. Some artists are okay with haggling on prices, but others aren't, so make sure you read carefully what the artist will and will not allow regarding price.
It's important at this stage to decide if their art is really worth that price to you. In this situation, you do not have to be nice or give them the benefit of the doubt, as you are buying it. Granted, if you don't particularly like someone's art to begin with, you wouldn't commission them, but if you do like their art and still think their prices are way too high for the quality they put out, you will have to decide if it's worth it or not to pay that much for the result you'd expect from the artist. If you are not comfortable paying $20 or $30 or $40 for a commission from an artist you believe is not skilled enough to be charging that much, don't buy it. Do not, however, approach the artist and demand they lower their price. That is rude and inappropriate, and it also makes the artist feel bad about their craft.
Lastly, know how to order from them and how to pay. Normally, you would send the artist a dA note with all of their requested information. This might include which package you want, what subject you want, what kind of background you want if any, etc. It's good to have this information ready right away so the ordering process can proceed easily and quickly. Most artists on dA use PayPal or a similar online payment site to receive payment for commissions. Some artists will allow you to pay them in dA points, too, if you would rather not use actual money. If they say they only accept one form of payment, do not try to talk them into another one. In their rules, it should say if they accept payment after the art is done or before. Some artists might accept half before and half after. If they do not say this in their rules, it's okay to ask them.
Looking at commission rules is an easy way to determine how organized the artist is. If they have everything laid out in a clean and organized manner with clear prices and examples of their work, that's awesome, but if they have a sloppily-put together journal that has vague rules and a price that is way too flexible, it might be better to choose someone else. If they don't have commission rules at all, it would be best to steer clear of buying from them, as they most likely make things up as they go.
Are they reliable?
The big questions you should ask yourself after you have read someone's commission rules are: "How long does it normally take for them to finish a commission?" and "Were their past customers satisfied with the work?"
For this, you will need to look beyond their commission rules. Take a look at their to-do-list if they have one, and see how many commissions are on it. Does it look like they might accept too many commissions all at once? If they do, that's a big indicator that they probably take a very long time to get through their whole list. If you decide you want to be at the bottom of that list, don't expect your commission to be completed within a timeframe that exceeds what you might expect if the person has maybe 4 or 5 commissions to complete before yours. For horse manipulations, one manip might take one day, or it might take a week, depending on how much time the artist has to do art, as well as if they are able to do it all in one sitting.
Another good thing to watch for is if they have a pile of commissions on their to-do-list, but instead of working on those, they are doing personal art or streaming sessions that have nothing to do with their art and just involve a bunch of random doodling. If you see an artist do this in an extensive manner, they clearly don't care about their customers, and it would be a very bad idea to order from them. If they do a personal piece just as a small break from the commissions they regularly finish in a timely manner, that's completely okay. Artists are allowed to take breaks from making art for other people, as long as they aren't avoiding doing the work for an unreasonable amount of time. Look at how frequently they post art. If they post one commission every 6 months but still have some left to do on their list, it will most likely take about that long for them to finish your commission.
Secondly, look at their work. Do they frequently say in descriptions that the piece is a "long-overdue commission" or something of the like? Do they frequently apologize for making their customers wait? If so, they might not be a good choice to commission, as you could be waiting for months or, in a worst-case scenario, years at a time for someone to finish work for you. Personally, I do not like to wait more than a month for a horse manipulation to be completed and posted to dA. For you, you might be okay with waiting one month, but no more than two or something like that. Try to determine how long it might take this artist to complete something.
If you're really up for creeping around their page, pick a commission on their to-do-list that someone may have just recently ordered and keep track of how long it takes for them to get that commission finished. If that commission isn't done by around the time you would expect yours to be done if you ordered from that person, you might want to choose someone else. As far as time and waiting goes, it all depends on if you think it's really worth it. Would you pay $10 for a commission and wait two months for it to be finished? Would you pay $50 for a commission and wait two months? What is reasonable and what isn't? It's good to figure this out for yourself before you commission someone.
Next, keep looking at their work, and look to see what their customers say about the commissions they make for them. If an artist posts a finished commission and they say in the description who ordered it, look for what that person commented on that deviation. Did they seem satisfied? Did it seem like they were pretending to be nice, or did they truly enjoy the result? If they truly enjoyed it, they might have flaunted it on their page somewhere saying how much they love it (in a journal, a poll, "look what i just ordered! look how awesome it is!"), or if it's a character, they might be using that image as their avatar if they RP on a forum or maybe they're using it as the main depiction of their character, etc.
If it is of one of their characters, check to see if that person has made their own reference of that character, and compare that with the finished commission from the person you're looking to buy from. Did the artist render the character accurately, or does it barely look like the character at all? If not, you might be extremely disappointed when you order from that person that it's not exactly what you wanted. If you are not picky about your characters and would be happy with whatever that artist's personal opinion of what that character looks like is, then you might be okay with the artist not depicting your character as you created it. For me, I like my characters to be shown with the correct colors and markings, especially if I have paid for the art. This might not be the case with you, but again, it's a good thing to determine what your values are when it comes to buying commissioned art.
If you're really wanting to dig deep before ordering from someone, feel free to ask their previous customers how their experience was with that person. Get their honest opinion before possibly throwing your money away on someone who, past the fake-nice comments, is not very good at what they do.
Communicate your Expectations
After looking at their commission information and their art, do you still want to order from them? If so, go ahead and proceed in the way they indicated in their rules. If they ask for specific information regarding what you want, make sure you include it. If you are picky about how your character looks, make sure you tell them! Make sure they know every little thing about what you're wanting so you get a result you are happy with. If you prefer that they use specific colors or even specific stock imagery, give those colors and/or images to them. Make sure you are telling the artist everything that you want out of the commission.
Be aware of artists who break their own rules. Sometimes artists will say that if you are not satisfied with the result that they will change it for you as much as you'd like until you're happy. Sometimes, artists who might have this rule will be outwardly unhappy or even annoyed if you ask for a change or revision of the art you paid for. They might say that they "like it better this way" or prefer it how they originally did it. If an artist ever makes you feel bad for wanting them to change something on the art you paid for, do not stand for it. They set their own rules, and they should be able to keep their promises and guarantees.
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On a final note, do not be afraid to ask for a refund if an artist takes too long to complete the art you're wanting, breaks their own rules, or does something else that is inappropriate or does not follow what they said in their commission rules. Some artists will even have information about refunds in their commission rules, so if you are in a situation where you want your money back, look at those rules again and make sure you know the procedure.
If you have any questions about anything in this journal, feel free to ask in a comment or send me a note! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this helped anyone who is unsure or worried about ordering commissions on dA.- Bef