I have two stories to tell which showcase how these things can go both well and poorly. But the latter experience made me change the way I get commissions entirely. This is a long post retelling stories, so read if interested.
The commission that went well netted me this great Dan Brereton commission. I can't remember when exactly this happened but this was one of my first commissions so I would put it around 2006. I contacted Brereton via his web site and wondered about commissions. He emailed back and we settled on a style, price, and time line. Up front he let it be known that it would be several months so I had an understanding of when to expect the piece. In many ways that worked out for me. A few months after the initial deal, I emailed and asked if I could upgrade from a pencil sketch to a painting and as he had not begun the commission he was able to do so. In the end, I waited less than a year and got this piece. Brereton touched base with me when he was close to finishing and I was thrilled when this arrived. That's the good story.
I am going to be a bit lame and not say who the artist is for the commission which went awry. But I will say that he is best known for indy work and does not produce a lot of comics, certainly none on a consistent monthly basis. And I will say I was a big fan of his art and still am. I contacted the artist via his handler and asked if commissions were ever done. I was told full commissions went between $400 and $600 dollars, a price significantly out of my range. That was in May of 2008.
Approximately two months after that initial interaction, the agent emailed me and said there was a new offer, a deluxe sketch book with a 'convention style' commission sketched in the inside cover for $120 (sketch and book). As a fan, I jumped at the offer with the caveat that the commission be on a separate paper so I could display it. The agent said the commissions would be done at the SDCC that year, which was imminent. The money was sent via Paypal in July 2008. But it didn't get done there.
Every couple of months I would email the agent just to get a sense of where we were and each time a response would come back that the artist was finishing some other work but was then going to get to work on the commissions. And as a fan who wanted the piece I was fine with that. I understand that work is work and commissions are done on the side.
In July 2009, a year after payment was sent, I emailed again. Again I said I wasn't necessarily in a rush; I just didn't want to be forgotten. The agent again responded saying that the artist was dealing with 10 weeks of deadlines and gave me a soft guarantee that things would be done within the next 2 months. To their credit, at that point, they did offer to refund my money and remove my name from the list but I really was a fan and really wanted the piece.
I tried to reach the agent in October and November of 2009 when I hadn't gotten an update. I got no response. In December I emailed again, and got a response saying the artist has been getting 'project after project' and so they had no idea when it would be done. I forwarded the two month pledge from July and got no response.
I emailed in February and March and did not get a response.
In April 2010, I sent an email and this time, for the first time, admitted I was frustrated. It had been 21 months since I had sent payment. I understood that 'work' came before side projects but I wasn't asking for the major commission, just a con sketch, something that could be done in an hour or so. That I had paid for the piece and wanted it but I was at the end of my rope.
The agent again reminded me that I could get my money back if I wanted. They also said they would keep me on the list and I could resend the cash when the commission was done.
I felt like a bit of a jerk, unloading on the agent so I sent back a response, again from April 2010, apologizing if I sounded angry and reiterating that I just wanted the piece. I also didn't want to get my money back if I would only need to send it back when my time came up.That seemed like a waste of everybody's time. I just wanted the commission and could I get some idea of when.
The agent responded that they understood the frustration. But another new project had rolled in and that it was unclear if he would ever get to an "old con sketch". In May, the agent emailed me and asked if I would consider a page of art from a comic the artist did instead. I thought that was a fair deal but held out hope for the commission. We agreed to extend the commission deadline to October 2010 (27 months post-payment) in hopes it would get done by then. This is how much I wanted a Supergirl sketch from this particular artist.
In October 2010, the commission was not done. I asked for a page from a particular miniseries. I was sent back a list of a handful of pages I could choose from and I picked one. I still would have preferred the commission but I felt I needed to cut ties. The page arrived in December 2010, 29 months after payment.
It was a tiring and drawn out process. And it basically stopped me from ever getting a commission done outside of at a convention where I know it will be finished. I haven't looked back.
In some ways it limits what I can get. The Brereton piece is gorgeous and could not be accomplished at a con. And that went well, with good correspondence and an understanding of the timeline.
But this other story was too much. Too much uncertainty. And I felt a sort of growing animosity for the artist which didn't feel right. I kept wondering what other projects were bumping my commission when I didn't see new material on the racks from him. I kept wondering why the agent would contact me about this offer way back when if this was how things were going to go. This was a convention style sketch, something which could have been done in a couple of hours on a lazy morning ... so I kept wondering why that small amount of time couldn't be carved out of the artist's day. And there were soft deadlines throughout ... over the course of 2+ years! Did my fandom and my money mean so little?
Listen, I have no idea what was going on in the artist's life. Maybe things were crazy. But if they simply couldn't do the commissions, why not say so and refund the money.
Anyways, caveat emptorand all that. I stick to conventions sketches now. I would just say that if you are going to get a commission from an artist, some details should be hammered out ... a timeline, etc.