Once your shiny new D&D character is created, did you know there’s an extra step you can take to make the character feel completely yours? Commissioning an artist for a character portrait has never been easier, and it’s affordable as well. You can use the portrait online, or print it with your character sheet to show off to your fellow players.
Read on for the how-to for finding and hiring an artist so that you’re both happy in the end with the result, with tips from a professional: Tess Fowler, comic artist and Critical Role fan extraordinaire.
Tess began her professional career taking small commissions. “I started my career at 17 drawing other people’s D&D characters,” she says. “I loved them all. But my favorite commission to date was when I did the variant Critical Role cover for the Dungeons and Dragons comic.”
You don’t have to be a comic book publisher to commission an artist. Here’s how to get started.
Think about what you want your character to look like. This might seem like an obvious first step, but it’s best to be ready with specific requests for the artist so that their job is easier and your character looks how you’ve always envisioned.
Find reference images to help your character come to life. “If you want it to look like you, and that’s something the artist can do,” says Tess, “be sure to include clear, well lit, high res photos of your face from different angles. I also usually ask for full length photos so I can get height and proportions right.”
Creating an original character? Find out what the artist needs to make their job easier. “Ask the artist first,” suggests Tess. “If they do a lot of character commissions they might only need a written list of details.”
If they do ask for reference images and you have a specific character look based on your favorite movie, TV show, novel, etc., send those along. Don’t assume that the artist knows who that character is, or even what Dungeons & Dragons is. The more images you can provide for reference, the better.
“Chances are if you can think of it, there’s a movie with a prop that an artist can base things off of,” Tess says. “Lord of the Rings comes immediately to mind. When I was just starting out, I subscribed to medieval weapons buyers guides. They came with photos of people in Renaissance Faire costumes. So useful!”
Find an artist with open commissions. You can search Twitter, tumblr, reddit, or at conventions for artists who are currently taking commissions. Searching “commissions open” on Twitter and sorting by Latest can give you a great place to start.
Tess suggests even looking through Instagram. “If you’re looking for an artist to commission, check hashtags,” she says. “Especially on Instagram. Tags like #inktober #mermay #comicart #animation #inking.
“And from there, take some time to find someone whose art speaks to you. See what hashtags they use. Then keep diving down the rabbit hole.”
If there’s an artist you’ve found online that you’ve long been a fan of, through Critical Role fan art, for example, ask politely if they are taking commissions.
Read the artist’s terms before you contact them, especially image ownership. Know what you’re signing up for and how you can use the portrait once you receive it.
Don’t haggle the price. “It’s best to ask for an artist’s rates up front, if they’re not posted online,” Tess says. “And if it’s in your price range, great! If not, keep hunting. It’s all about respect.”
Be prepared to pay correctly up front. You’ll likely pay by PayPal online or cash at a convention, but make you’re ready when the time comes. While it’s not required, you can also consider adding a tip if you’re happy with the results. “If you know an artist is struggling, it’s nice to throw in a bonus,” Tess says. “Sometimes it’s the difference between dinner and no dinner for them.”
Be patient! Art takes time, so be sure to give it.
“Be respectful. Ask questions. Explore,” says Tess. “It’s a wide world of art out there just waiting for you.”
Do you know an artist you recommend for character commissions? Let everyone know about them in the comments.
Featured Image: Vex’ahlia by Tess Fowler
Other Images: IDW Comics, Igor Canova