Almost anyone who’s bought their weight in commissioned art has run into a flaky artist or two. Many have even forked out cash only to have an artist take it and run without fulfilling their end of the bargain.
This is a super discouraging experience and does hurt the amateur online market quite a bit. However, there are ways of spotting a flake and avoiding them. Understanding what might cause an artist to drag their feet on a commission can help.
The following is in no way a defense for artists who do provide poor business, there’s no excuse for petty thievery such as taking money for a service without ever delivering said service. It’s a shabby thing to do, regardless of the circumstances.
The following are just a small handful of things I had experienced/observed as both an artist and a client.
With that said, here are some reasons why artists don’t finish commissions:
1) Poor work ethic and procrastination.
Lets get the obvious out of the way first. There are some artists, young and old, who for what ever reason just can’t discipline themselves into completing paid work. The image could be something they are totally interested in, but as soon as they’re told it’s ‘work’ their heels dig into the ground and they may lack the discipline it takes to get around that. I think most of us have felt this at one point or another. We may put the task off day after day until the guilt of not doing it piles up until the task feels gargantuan. At which point, some artists will shut down, cut their losses, and hope quietly that the client won’t inquire anymore.
As a potential client, take a look at the artist’s queue. Do they have a billion incomplete art trades? Have they posted any commission work prior? If they have, do any of the comments mention “Sorry this took so long!” or “Thank you for being so patient!” Alternatively, has the artist posted many status reports explaining en masse why they hadn’t gotten around to doing their current commission queue yet? These can serve as some telling red flags.
2) Uninteresting/overly challenging/overly specific image request.
A proper freelance artist will have no problem over coming this hurdle. But for greener artists, this tends to be a big issue. They’ll accept a job that’s more than they can chew, or is simply ‘dull’ to their taste, or saps all the ‘fun’ out by overly specific detailing in the client’s request. The artist, if they have poor experience dealing with such things, might find themselves avoiding the task—and again procrastination becomes an issue. Alternatively, they’ll complete the image eventually, but the result might be lack luster.
If you’re going to commission fresh artists, especially artists who rarely appear to work outside their comfort zone, then it might help to commission them only if you have an idea in mind that sits in line with the rest of the work they’ve done. Heck, even the seasoned artists tend to put a little more ‘oomph’ into commissions that fall in line with their interests. It can’t be helped, really. As a general rule of thumb, try to find artists who’s personal tastes correlates best with the ideas you have in mind and try to trust the artist enough to provide them some creative leeway. A lot of folks tend to commission artists based on their skill and style rather than their overall tastes, which often works out fine, but can occasionally lead to disappointment for the client.
3) Enormous queues.
I have friends guilty of this! And while as a business person, racking up gigantic queues of clients who’ve already paid makes plenty sense (especially when they’re quite confident they’ll finish), it can be frusterating for a client to figure out after paying that they might not get their commission for another year because they’re #56 on the queue. The artist may be 150% competent and get the image done eventually, but it’s nerve wracking for the client who’s sitting there hoping for several months on end that the artist doesn’t lose steam, or that something doesn’t unexpectedly crop up to prevent the artist from completing their work. And for more impatient/unsavvy customers or in the case of poor artist/client communication, the long wait could be simply interpreted as the artist ditching their commission and accusations may arise.
It has happened (there’s been one very recent case) were an artist managed to acquire an enormous queue of pre-paying customers—and after a year or two of radio silence, the artist had to admit defeat. That generated quite a few angry and vocal would-be clients.
As a client, if an artist’s queue appears absolutely swamped; if you look at it and think, ‘there’s no way I’d be able to get through all that…’ perhaps it’d be best to hold onto you cash and wait until a time when they’ve got less on their plate.
4) Sometimes life just happens.
There are occasions when the sky just happens to be volatile and takes the opportunity to fall on a person’s head. When this person is an artist you’re commissioning, it’s hard not to feel frustrated. Injury, illness, a death in the family, the destruction/loss of critical art making equipment, a sudden influx of bollocks at work, a catastrophic financial falling out, these may all lead to an artist not getting their work done as they should. Be weary of the artist who makes a routine of using these excuses, but try to compromise with the artist who may very well be truthful in their claims. Compromise does not, however, mean the artist takes all. If an artist seems completely unwilling to provide any consolation for being unable to complete your paid work, that’s not right. They might not have had control over their situation, but neither did you. At the very least, they should provide you a refund. In the case of some kind of financial disaster, they should offer to stay in contact with you until the waters have calmed. Over all, it sucks when life hits hard and there’s really no way to account for or avoid this one.
Again, if the artist appears to be turbulent, using shabby life happenstance as a constant reason why they can’t get work done, it might be safer as a client to take your business elsewhere, at least until things appear to have calmed down for the artist.
All in all
Research an artists’ history before you decide to dump some money on them. A little bit of diligence as a client might save you a lot of headache. If you can’t find any prior history, just watch their activity for a while before deciding if they appear reliable enough to do business with. Commission work online is more or less the internet’s equivalent of an amateur market. An artist doesn’t have to be a disciplined professional to offer commissions on their website, many of them are very new to the world of business and haven’t quite found their groove. As a client, there is a certain amount of responsibility you owe yourself to make sure you don’t throw your money away for nothing. As an artist, you owe it to your peers to be honest with yourself and only offer services you know you can provide.
Cheers and happy commissioning!
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