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Commissioning an Artist

After seeing numerous requests on Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and various forums about how to hire an artist or just commission artwork, I've decided to share my personal experiences in that area in great detail.

Brian Woody, Blogger

January 14, 2015

25 Min Read

(Since most of the images were posted straight from my email, you can right-click>view image to see them full size.)

Lately I keep seeing requests for information on how to hire/commission an artist for indie projects, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to talk about my experience, since I am literally in the process of working with an artist on the development of the Puzzle Hunters characters. Just a warning, though, that this will be a very in-depth post complete with full email transcripts, in order to show readers exactly how I've gone about hiring and interacting with my freelance artist.

This is probably a good time to remind everyone that I am literally OCD, to the point where it has a substantial effect on my life. I'm not crazy organized, or super picky, or any of the other types of person who says they're "ocd" when they're not. I mean I have to touch things a certain way, have things a certain way, and can't rest until things are the way I need them. I accidentally turn off the radio in my car all the time because I can't turn the volume up or down without having to put pressure on the knob (hee hee). I can't use a knife to cut my meat without having to tap the tip of the knife against the plate a number of times (just thinking about it right now is making me anxious). So yeah, you get the point, I have actual, legitimate OCD.

This can make me a very difficult person to work with. I've already gone through three writers during the course of this project. Programmers get off easier because they aren't presenting me with information I can easily digest, which I guess makes them immune to my OCD. But the gist of it is that I have very high standards. I won't (can't) settle for something that I don't think is right. I'll tell the writer or artist exactly what doesn't work, why it doesn't work, and how they can fix it (though I'll also be sure to mention what works, why it works, and praise the artist or writer for a job well done).

So with all of that in mind, I figured I would create this post about how I deal with commissioned artists. I'm not saying this is the most effective method, or even a good method, this is just the way I do things.

About six months ago I posted on the deviantart.com "job offers" forum that I was looking to hire an artist. I received close to a hundred replies. I quickly found that there was a direct correlation between how talented someone was and how much money they wanted (hint: it's not what you think..).

The commission was for twelve characters illustrated in full body poses and separate close-up action shots. Here is the example I used in my post (from the game Avengers Alliance):


For that amount of work, I was quoted between $480 and $6,000. It seemed that the more someone charged, the worse of an artist they were. Seriously, I wouldn't have let some of these people do work for me for free, and they were charging $500 per character.

Once I got it narrowed down to my top three, I asked each of them to do a quick drawing of Trapjaw (the cyborg from Masters of the Universe), just to make sure they could adapt to my needs. I chose the winner based on this sketch:


So six months went by (though I'd send him an email about once a month just to keep him in the loop) before I was finally ready to go through with the commissions. Rather than for all characters upfront, I decided it was a better idea to do a single character at a time. So I cleared it with him and sent him payment for a single character, along with this email:

Ok, so here is the mock-up of our main character, bounty hunter Vila Kast. I'm no character designer, and I'm still not totally sold on the design, so feel free to take liberties wherever you see fit. She's essentially supposed to be a female Boba Fett, a hunter of monsters and outlaws in a world of magic, robots, cyborgs, and superpowers.I recommend keeping things as quick and dirty as possible so we can iterate through a few quick designs to see what works best. This mock-up is also a bit too masculine, since I used primarily male characters, so please don't be afraid to up her femininity a bit. For her helmet, I looked over around 100 different helmet designs and couldn't really find anything that blew me away, and I still can't decide between a closed-face or exposed-mouth design, so feel free to experiment there. I think something like the middle example from the mock-up could work, minus the weird techno-horns.

As far as overall style, your sample work of Trapjaw is exactly what I'm looking for (though fully polished). Our universe is based heavily on the designs of the 1980's Masters of the Universe and Thundercats shows, as well as a good bit of Star Wars influence. This is a high-tech world, but the tech is kind of retro, clunky, and dirty, as opposed to sleek and shiny.

I hope that helps, but please ask me as many questions as you need to. You can text me at ***-***-**** to get an immediate response, or email me for a slightly slower response. I can't wait to see what you put together!


Here are our next few back-and-forths:

Artist's helmet designs

My response:

Wow, very nice! I'd say the upper right is my favorite, though I'm also loving the 2nd from the left, and really all of them are great. I think we should be able to use some of those, even if we don't use them on Vila Kast.

I've actually been working on touching up the mock-up to give you a better idea of what I had in mind, and this is what I've come up with. I'm thinking almost like a Spartan look, with a bit of exposed skin on the arms to show a bit of humanity, though I'm still not sure what material the black underarmor should be (leather, maybe?). I figure all of the bronze spots are solid plates, and her helmet, under the bronze outer later, is like a porcelain white, or maybe steel. I think she should have a shield, though I haven't settled on a design for that, though I think it should have some sort of symbol or emblem on it. I also think she should keep some sort of rifle on her back, over her cape. She should have smaller sci-fi pistols and knives located at other convenient spots around her body and belt. In the mock-up I've got her with a sword on her back as well, but we could move that to a hip scabbard if we needed. Any thoughts?

Vila Kast 2Helmet

Here's one more very rough mock-up, which better shows how her black underarmor should look. I've clumsily edited her right arm to be holding a gun up against her shoulder. If you look at her belt, I feel like it should mostly be hard bronze, but any pouches and/or holsters can be black. This image, when used in conjunction with the last image I sent, paints a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for, especially since she looks a lot more feminine in this image. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do. Thanks, [artist]!

Vila Kast 3
Artist's response:

I think the overall image is pretty clear.

I´ll prepare some pose sketches and send them over.

So her general palette would be:
-bronze armor (with white accents such as the helmet)
-dark/black underarmor -red cape

My response:

That's kind of what I'm thinking, though I'm open to suggestions. A white cape could look could look cool as well (as seen in the attached pic of Prometheus from DC), though I do think red brings some much-needed color to her design.



Hear are the roughs for the full body pose.

I think they all work ok but it depends on the personality of the character.

I is more femenine. It gives her a playful ironic look. As if she has fun bounty hunting.

II is still pretty femenine but with a stronger stance. It says "Yeah I am a girl but I can give you a nice beating if I have to"

III is the least femenine and is straightforward buisiness. In case you want the character
to be a pure badass.

Let me know what you think of these.

full body

I'd say the 3rd is my favorite, though it would still need a few changes. Instead of having her standing straight forward, can she be turned a little sideways? Kind of like this example, except she should be facing the camera.


Or, something like the girl on the left in this example. I think I might prefer this look, with the gun rested on her shoulder:


I've started putting together info about the additional characters, including pose information, so they should go a bit smoother. I'll also include personality traits so you'll have a better idea of how to capture them. Vila Kast is the main character, so I'm being a little more persnickety with her than I will be with the other characters, since she's going to be the face of the game. Thanks!


I prepared a new sketch based on the reference you sent.
If you are Ok with this pose I will polish it up and send over the colored version as soon as possible.

full body 2


Absolutely, that's perfect! Just need to figure out how to add in her shield without blocking too much of her.

On closer inspection, just a few minor issues.

full body 2 2

I tried to address all the suggestions you sent in your last mail. I added the shield, and layed in the basic color scheme for it to read more clearly. Does this work better?

full body 3

It's very close, but it's a little too "techy". Can you take off all of the glowing lights, making most of the bronze parts just solid metal? Dame with the shield. Also, the visor should be black, and located under the bronze outer layer, as opposed to being integrated. Almost exactly like the samples I sent.

Oh, and that middle section of her abdomen should be leather, no armor.

Hey, sorry, I was typing on my phone earlier. I basically just want her to look a lot more low tech. The exposed arms and helmet design are meant to give off a slightly more brutal/ruthless look. I couldn't tell on my phone, but looking at the image now, it looks like she has leather on her arms. That should be removed as well. All that should be on her arms are the small shoulder plates, small upper arm plates, and small forearm plates.


I do really like the silver trim around parts of her armor, though. Very solid call! The shield design is also badass, it just looks a little more "digital" than what I'm looking for. If you remember the pic you did of Trapjaw, that's kind of how I want the technology to look. More "iron age" and less "digital", if that makes sense.


Thanks for the feedback! Is this closer to what you had in mind? I removed the "digital" accesories and gave the whole armour a darker more gritty look. I think it looks a lot more like a fusion between Leonidas and Bobba fett which was the primary goal after all.

full body 3b

Wow, getting much closer! I've included another list of changes. It's still too high-tech looking, which is the only major issue. The only thing I didn't include in the feedback image was the mention of the blue light. I'm assuming that's just from an off-camera light source, but I wanted to make sure she didn't have anything on her that was causing that glow. I think her shield will be perfect if you just take out the middle part (the "techno-hole") and have that silver bar go straight across. Not sure what the little black nub is at the top of the shield, but it needs to go. Hopefully this next iteration can be the final one! Thanks for putting so much time and effort into her design. I know I'm requesting a lot of changes, but you really are doing some awesome work! I think we'll both have a much better idea of the desired character styles once we're done with Vila Kast, so future designs should require much fewer iterations.

full body 3b 2

Because I'm so nit-picky, I'll pay you [double] for the next character, with that extra [amount] going towards the additional time and effort you're having to put into Vila Kast. Does that work for you?


That would be great. It is very considerate of you. I am glad to know you appreciate my work.

I have tweeked all the elements you mentioned in your last email.

Yes, I am sure future designs will be a lot smoother.
The whole concept you have for these characters is very unique so it is logical that
it would take some time to find the right blend between sci fi and ancient elements.

Having Vila as a compass for the other character styles will make it a lot easier.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

full body 4

Still have some issues to work out. I love the symbol you added to the clasp, belt, and shield. The helmet is still not what I want, though. I literally don't want any flourishes on the bronze helmet. The picture that I keep sending; that's what I want. I've included an additional mock-up with the helmet. Other than that, the other changes are very minor, like moving her upper armor armor away from her bicep and towards the sides of her arms. If her arm was straight down by her side, her shoulder pad, upper arm plate, and forearm plate should all line up on the outside of her body. There are also several issues that I believe are just based on the fact that this is a super rough draft, and will hopefully be corrected in the final draft, like her feet, her left leg, and some assorted issues with perspective. Please let me know if you need any more details. Thanks!

full body 4 2
Vila Kast 4

Just caught a bad type on point #5. It should say "they should be oriented on the sides of her arms", not "the sides of her armors".


Yes that is correct. Her right shoulder is covered only by the cape. Considering it would be the one she would
use to support her rifle and swing her sword I thought it would give her more freedom of movement. And by exposing her
left side she would be protected by her shield and shoulder pad.

I think I have changed all the issues you last mentioned.

I made a change around the belt. I thought the grenades around the waste weren´t really helping the figure be more readable.
So I took them away and gave the sword a bit more protagonism, making the scabbard visible behind her leg.

I also thought it would make the whole greek helmet-sword-shield combo make a lot more sense.

Let me know if this works better for you.

full body 4b

Ok, we are just about there. I'm sure a lot of these issues are due to this being a rough draft, but I just want to make sure you're aware of them before we're locked into a final draft.

I'm still not happy with the helmet. The open face area of the bronze helmet is too small and tight; it needs to come closer to the sides of the helmet and be more squared off. The visor underneath should form 2 almost perfect rectangles.

Her left leg is also giving me some problems. It still looks a little janky and unnatural.

Her forearm armor needs some minor touch-ups and it will be perfect.

I absolutely agree with you about her grenades. They looked very out of place, so it was a solid call removing them. I added some ammo to her belt, and think tiny pouches, clips, tools, and other items could be added to similar straps and bandoliers around her shins, belt, thighs, and upper arm armor plates.

I love the placement of the symbols, and think the red/silver color scheme works very well for her. As far as the actual symbol design goes, it needs a touch-up. I've included a sample, but I'm still not sold on it, so feel free to experiment here. I also think the symbol can be removed from her cape clip, since 3 symbols in view might be a little overkill.

I think these changes should require one last touch-up and we'll be good to go. The helmet and armor are almost perfect. The pose is great with just a few perspective/anatomy corrections needed. I think you're going to nail it with this final draft. Thanks!

full body 4b 2

On second thought, let's remove the emblem from the shield entirely, and just have a single emblem on her belt.



I think i have introduced all the changes mentioned.

I put the blueish back light back in there. it isn´t anything glowing on her, I just tought it added a little more ambience to the design.

Let me know what you think.

full body 5

Very nice! Believe it or not, there are only 2 minor issues!

Her forearm armor is still not correct. Please see my previous email.

That emblem is awesome, but I'm afraid it's too close to the Mandalorian emblem on Boba Fett's armor. Considering she's a bounty hunter with a t-shaped visor, I'd like to avoid any additional similarities between her and Fett.


I think the forearm issue is solved and I have added some variants of the emblem based on the rebel symbol.

Let me know which one you prefer.

full body 5b

#3 is my favorite. Very nice!


Perfect should I go ahead with the final version of Vila?


Yup, I'd say she's good to go. Great job! You can also do the rough of her close-up action shot when you're ready. It should just be a 3/4 shot of her facing to the right, engaged in combat with some unseen opponent. It doesn't matter if she's using her rifle, her sword, or a pistol. It should probably be a sword or pistol since she's got her shield, unless she's using the shield to steady her rifle. It's your call. But it does need to be a .png with no background. I'd say keep it as rough and quick as possible, though I imagine it won't take long at all to get it right. Thanks,[artist]!


I have attached soem roughs for the close up. Is something like this what you are looking for?
How much of her should be visible?

close up roughsMe:

I'd say from the waste up, and she should be facing directly to the right.



Sorry it took me so long to get back to you.
I haven´t been feeling well lately so i couldnt spend much tiem on the pc. I hope you understand.
I have attached some more roughs for the close up shot. let me know if these work better and which one you like best.
I am also sending the polsihed version of Vila. I tweeked some aspects of her pose to make her a bit more stylized and femenine.


close up roughs 2full body finalMe:

Hey [artist], no problem. Sorry to hear that, and I hope you feel better soon!

Those polished shots look fantastic! Very nice work! Since she uses a pistol as well, I'm thinking that can be holstered on her left hip, hidden behind the shield in that shot. I'm also thinking she can have some weapons and gadgets built into her forearm armor, which is also hidden in these shots.

I love your close-up roughs! I think #2 is my favorite, though with a few tweaks (of course! =P). I've included a very rough mock-up with some of my ideas included. Her gun should be more sci-fi, and a bit more barbaric. I'm thinking something double-barreled with a hard-light blade projector, allowing it to double as a melee weapon. As far as the pose goes, I'm wondering if we might be able to have her using her shield to steady her shooting arm. So she's still protected, but instead of shooting around the shield, she's got it braced against her body and her shooting arm is resting on top. That might look weird, but it could be worth a try. Any thoughts?

close up roughs 3Oh, I did want to see if you wouldn't mind changing the hilt of her sword. I'm not really feeling the hand guard. Since she has a shield on her left arm, I'm thinking she'll need to use her right arm to wield the sword, and since it's on her right hip, it seems like it would primarily be used reverse-handed (where the blade comes down past her elbow, instead of away from her like a longsword or rapier). I love the sword design in your close-up shots, I just think the hilt and guard need those tweaks and everything will be perfect. Thanks!

Hey sorry, I did notice a few tiny things on closer inspection. The armor on her right leg should cover the scabbard strap. The armor on her left leg seems to be more toward her inner thigh than directly on front, and doesn't properly cover her leg. If you picture it without the shield to cover it, it looks very strange.

Also, could you adjust the glare in her left visor? It looks like you can see an eye, but they should be solid black.


full body final-3 issues


I have been working on the adjustments you had asked for in your last mail and the close up shot.
let me know what you think.

full body final2close up final2Me:

Very nice work! The armor on her left leg, just below the shield, is still jacked up, but everything else looks great. I love what you did with her gun, but I actually don't like the knife (sorry!). It also looks a little weird that she's holding her arm straight but shooting at a downward angle; can you have her shooting straight? So yeah, just touch up the armor, remove my bad idea, and straighter up her shooting and we're good to go! I'll also go ahead and transfer $[#] into your account in preparation of the next character.


let me know if this works better and we can move on with the next character!

close up final 2full body final 2Me:

Everything looks great except for the energy blade; it sounded like a good idea, I'm just not feeling it. If you take it out, I think we'll be good to go. Oh, I also think the bullets on her armor should be changed to something a bit more sci-fi, like energy cells or something. I put together a rough mock-up to show what I mean.


I have made the changes you asked for.
I tried leaving a blue light on the pistol to give it a silght more tech look, as well as adding some blue light to
the energy cells so as to link them to the pistol.
In case you dont like the idea I also added a light-free version!

close up final 2bclose up final 2b

And I'm going to go ahead and cut this off here. As you can see, I won't settle for something until I'm happy with all aspects of the design, for better or for worse. We've since completed three additional characters, as seen below. I hope this post has helped those of you curious about how to hire/deal with freelance artists, but feel free to post any additional questions in the comments section and I'll be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading!

Additional Characters:

Dekar, front-line medical bot:

med bot final Medbot close up final
Cy, the cybeast mount/bodyguard/companion:

mount size comparison mount close up

Grekko, the brutish raider villain:

Brute body brute close up final

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