Setting up a timeline for your client – For artists

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Setting up a timeline for your client is not only essential for said client, but also for you because it will guide you through your own planning as well. It's easy for an artist to get lost in their art, and you probably recognize the feeling that your art is never 'finished' or 'good enough. If that's the case with you too, and you are hired for commissions every now and then, you probably know this is not true, and it only feels that way. Having a timeline set up will help you to quit fiddling and actually get to work, as well as accept your art for what it is.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

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When will you start with the artwork

You might be surprised to learn that when you become an established artist, you won’t always be able to start an artwork right away. There are plenty of artists out there that have waiting lists for over a year, sometimes even two or three years. Establishing when you will start with the work is key. You don’t have to give an exact date though. You can make do with naming a month, or when your waiting list is over a year-long, maybe even with a quarter of a year. The more accurate you are the better for your client, but with waiting lists like that, you’re fine with less accuracy.

The deadline

The deadline is just as important as the starting date, I always advise against giving an exact date though. I don’t give a date at all when there’s no start date, to begin with. My deadlines are always a week, and not a date. When they’re very large projects of multiple illustrations that last months to finish, my deadline is a specific month. I always aim to finish the project at the beginning of this month, but I don’t stress it.

Some reasons to finish early:

  • You can take on a better paying rush job during the time you have spare.
  • Finishing early serves for a good customer experience, they will likely refer you to other people and might come back to you for more work.
  • You have some time for yourself, have a weekendtrip, take a last minute vacation, or work on some projects of your own.

Revisions

Revisions are extremely important to implement in your work. When you are a good artist, you will have a good feeling for what your client wants, but the chance it’s spot on is extremely slim. Revisions are a business standard, no matter what or who you work for.

Some artists will allow unlimited revisions. I recommend you only do that when you are extremely quick at what you do. And if you wonder if you are: You probably are not. If you can put together a full illustration within 3 hours, maybe you are. Otherwise, you don’t belong to these rare few. I know I don’t.

It’s reasonable to have 3 to 5 revisions dispersed throughout your workflow. It’s up to you where you place them and how many you do. I recommend though you put some right after the sketching/concepting phase and right after the coloring phase. If your style is relatively simple (not realistic or very elaborate like my style) you can also have some revisions right after you finished the artwork.

The way I do it:

  • Sketching/concepting
  • – Two revisions-
  • Coloring
  • – Two revisions- (Also the last revisions)
  • Rendering into a realistic illustration
  • I may allow some minor edits, but they’re not worthy the word ‘revision’. Think of things like eye color change, moving a strand of grass or hair, or editing the shape of a very simple style earring. I only do this because I know that as artists we can become blind for our own mistakes. This phase will allow for these small errors and/or eyesores for the client to be taken care of.

Concept sheets

If the description is vague, the first stage may consist of a concept sheet with several sketches or simple illustrations from which your client can pick. These cost extra time! Make sure you know how much time a sheet like that costs. And charge them for it as well. A sheet like that to the right takes me roughly 6 hours to put together, this includes the research of the ideas of the client, environment, and creatures living there.

And after this phase usually, another sheet follows with variations of the favorite design which will take another 2 to 4 hours to create. If you want to avoid discussions about whether or not you can be charging more for that: Put it clearly on your website, as I have done with mine: Prices – Tez Art & Design ~ Creature and character design. This reduces the chance of people letting you swim in their own unclear ideas and expecting you to do 3x the work for the price of just one commission.

Read more about concept art and the development of the specific illustrations to the right over here: Creature design archive.

Approval

After all the stages discussed above are run through, you will get your client’s approval. It’s very rare for a client to back out, especially when they already paid part up-front. And if you did your job well, which you obviously should, your client will have no reason to. If you didn’t get fully paid yet, don’t forget to send low-quality and watermarked illustrations to your client! Make sure they pay before you send them the final artworks.

Payments

We talked about fraudulent clients before in this article. For this reason, it’s very important to make sure you get paid at least 50% upfront. The rest can be paid either before the rendering phase if your artworks are very time-consuming, or when you finished the artwork, right before you send the art to your client.

Most artists work through PayPal or through a platform like Fiverr or Upwork. Just keep in mind that the last two take a big chunk of your income (around 20%) and, unless you specify otherwise, you will give away all the rights to your art to the client. You can read more about that,a nd why you should or shouldn’t do that in the article mentioned in the paragraph above this one.

How do I know how much time it will take?

You don’t, there are always variables. You are lucky if you have a nice customer that’s easygoing or one of whom you know what to expect. But if you don’t, it’s always a guess. So when you know that an illustration takes roughly 8 hours to finish without revisions: Allow some extra time for potential revisions. You also have to count the time it takes you to converse with your client.

Even before you start there is already some time you spent on your client. Time is money, so you should count that in as well. I even recommend that, when you’re an artist that frequently gets commissions, count in some extra time to make up for all those clients you spent hours on, but didn’t land you a commission. Just don’t specify this to your client of course. It’s common sense, you work so you should get paid.

The best way to go about all these uncertainties is to keep track of how many extra hours you spend on average on revisions + the time you would spend on an illustration without revisions. Take the worst-case scenario and make that your standard rate. Sometimes you will be lucky and have an easy-going client, and the time and money from that commission you have ‘spare’ will then cover all those commissions you don’t land. Worst case scenario you will spend all your time on the commission, but get paid for every hour you do so.

How much should i ask?

This is an irrelevant question for the topic, but as I get asked this a lot, here is a small summary;

  • Don’t go below the hourly minimum wage + tax, vacationmoney, etc. unless it’s someone you want to do a favor.
  • Take into account all the years you trained your craft. You shouldn’t stick to the minimum wage for too long. As soon as you get some grip, raise your prices. Preferably do so every year with roughly 3%. Take into account the progress you made throughout that year. If you improved your crafts a lot, increase your price more. The longer you draw, the more this will plateau. How long your waiting list is will then start to dictate what your prices should be. But by then you will also have a good feel for your own value.
  • Take inflation into account. Check out the overall inflation of that of your country and the world and apply that to your prices as well. You can easily look up the inflation rates on google, but you can also check out the average increase of salaries with other jobs. In 2022 in the Netherlands this was 4%. This is NOT a raise! Inflation is the reduced value of money. You can buy less with the same money and you should compensate that as well.
  • Look at western countries for prices, especially when you don’t live in a western country. You can earn WAY more, and you can help the whole art trade to become way more valuable and be way more valued simply by charging western country prices.

You can find more information about charging money for your artwork over here: Making money as an artist, things to keep in mind – Life to Legend

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