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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How to Get an Art Commission

Today I'm going to write about something near and dear to my heart - getting art commissions for roleplaying games. I love getting professional art of characters from my campaigns. Having an actual visual representation of the heroes helps so much and helps the players get into the game more.

I have one artist that I go to. Well, they're twins, so it's really two artists. They are very inexpensive, really fast, and very professional. They are the Fraim Brothers.

I order black and white art. I think for younger people, black and white art is no good. I grew up with black and white interior RPG art, so it's fine with me. The Fraims do color, but it costs more. Sometimes I take a stab at coloring them on my own in photoshop, with mixed results.

Finding an Artist

I have tried other artists and it is almost always a fiasco. Most artists don't return my messages.

Some tell me they only take commissions of stuff they feel like drawing, and that my thing didn't fit the criteria.

The biggest pains are the ones who take your money and then take forever to do the work (if they do it at all).

I found one artist who drew art on a live stream. She was really good. She took my money to draw a dwarf (no background, just one dwarf) and told me it might take a few weeks. It took her 4 months to get around to it. Keep in mind, she drew on her livestream all the time. She just had to wait until she felt like it. It was a good piece of art, but it was not worth the wait.

Don't Be Vague

The key to getting an art commission is in your description. Don't be vague and make sure you send reference images.

I had one player who was in marketing. I asked him to send me a description of his character to send to the artists. His description of his character was the most bizarre thing I'd ever read. I don't remember the exact description, but it was something like:

"Think of a bodybuilder combined with the Hulk. He's got a helmet with one horn on it and the biggest sword you've ever seen. He's pro-active and screams INTENSITY." 

He included an image of an oily, steroided-up bodybuilder doing a posing routine.

Here's the pencils of the group image. See if you can spot his character:

This art came back and he didn't like how his character looked. Nobody liked it! In my opinion, his description was simply poor. I don't remember why we didn't get it corrected.

That player was quite a character. At least once every session, he'd get up and do something perverted with a remote control or a joystick or something. There was one time when he put a blanket over his body and pretended to be a ghost for about 5 minutes. By that point, we were desensitized to his antics and just kept playing while he waved his arms around and went: "OOOoooo."

I'm not much of a colorist, but I tried to dress it up. He was a goliath, so I could do some fun stuff with his skin:

Placing an Order

It's pretty simple. Here's how it works:
  1. Send an email/message, get a price estimate.
  2. Pay. I use paypal.
  3. Send a description.
  4. Check out the pencils, tell them about any corrections.
  5. Enjoy your finished product.
My Planescape Commission

Here's the description I sent:

"There's two heroes looking at their planar compass. The lady of pain is behind them, looking ominous. They are in the city of sigil, but i don't really need any special detail, just something to indicate they are in the city. This is the city that is in a tube, so there's buildings up above them - but you will be happy to know that there is a haze that hovers in the air that pretty much blocks those buildings from view. This haze is the light source of the city.

The Heroes:

Theran - He's a dark elf wizard with long blonde hair. He wears a robe of eyes (attached image).

Bidam is a dragonborn fighter with platinum scales. He's got a sword of sharpness. He's wearing armor and has a bag of holding, which just looks like a normal D&D backpack.

They are looking at their planar compass, trying to find the location of the nearest portal in the city.

The Lady of Pain is this weird entity who rules Sigil. She is 12 feet tall, hovers off the ground and never speaks. She's got all these blades sticking out of her head. When someone makes her angry, she sends them to extra-planar Mazes.

Planar Compass: I don't know if we'd even be able to see it in this image, but here's the description. It's a 6 inch iron sphere. The two halves of the sphere split apart, revealing a hollow cavity within. When an object from a plane is placed in the cavity and the two halves are joined, the direction of the nearest portal of that plane is revealed - the compass has a small arrow that juts out of one of the halves, pointing the way."

I sent a pile of reference images. Here are some:

Two days later, they sent me the pencils and asked for corrections. The only thing I asked was to get rid of the fuzz around the lady of pain's mask:

Two days after that I got the final inked version emailed to me:

Four days after that, this came in the mail:

That's it! The original art always looks much cooler than the scan. I'm not sure how to describe it.. you can see every line and every shade of grey.

Here's some of my other favorite commissions from days of yore:

This is a scene from a game I ran at the tender age of 14. The villain of my campaign was Lord Soth, and he was wielding an evil sword called Ebonbane (which is an NPC/item from a Ravenloft adventure). One of the characters challenged him to a duel, and he was winning. Soth jumped through a portal to escape. The players really liked that session, so I had it immortalized.

These are the bad guys from a recent campaign I ran. They are a bunch of "zombie" gods and primordials:

From left to right, they are:
  • Shar: The Forgotten Realms goddess.
  • Piranoth: The primordial from Revenge of the Giants.
  • Timesius: The primordial from E3 Prince of Undeath.
  • Orcus: Orcus had been killed when my players went through E3. Here he's wielding the Orcusword.
  • Aoskar: The god of portals referred to in many Planescape products.
  • A former character who had turned into an evil lich-god and had the wand of orcus.
This is maybe my most infamous campaign - a "D&D Next" conversion of the Pathfinder Skull & Shackles adventure path. These were the filthiest, most perverted bunch of scoundrels you will ever meet on the high seas. It really got out of hand, but it was fun and fondly remembered.

Here's my colored version:

I don't think any of these cost me more than $60. To me, that is a great deal. If your whole group chips in, then it's going to cost you very little. I pay for them all myself. I do that so I get to keep the finished art.

If you have a campaign that has some legs and you think will be fondly remembered by your group, you might want to get a commission. Get it while everyone remembers all the little details, so that they can be included in the art.

Remember that sometimes the art isn't going to come out how you envisioned. Some players might not like what they get. I don't think I've ever had a bad commission.


Timothy Brannan said...


I also love getting art of my characters and I love supporting artists.

Reese Laundry said...

Wow - their stuff looks FANTASTIC! Any idea if they've done any Shadowrun/Cyberpunk type stuff? Googled a bit but didn't see anything jump out at me.

Sean said...

Timothy Brannan: I'm right there with you! Art kicks everything up about 20 notches.

Reese Laundry: Most of the art they do is actually superhero stuff. They might have done a few cyberpunk things - they do a lot of art for Knights of the Dinner Table, which sometimes has articles for different types of RPGs.

Silver Hood said...

I've always thought of opening up and doing commissions for other D&D/roleplaying fans. Didn't realize how popular this is! Thanks to your post, I got a pretty good idea of where to start. I hope to do some artwork for you someday!