Business of Cartooning

Commissioning Artwork

A lot of times people will approach me needing artwork for a particular project (logo or spot art) and wonder what I would charge.

To borrow from a previous post, it’s hard for me to price a project blind without knowing the specifics. A comparison would be like figuring out a fair price on a car without looking under the hood.

Something else to consider; The artist is not pricing their work based on the time spent on it, but the legal rights they’re giving away in exchange for payment.

Adler Important note: And this shouldn’t even have to be said, but trying to get an artist to work for free claiming the job will be “good exposure” is a nonstarter – people die from exposure.
(Paraphrasing Trzebinia Tom Richmond with that last line.)

So here’s a short list of items that a client needs to consider before reaching out to an artist.

Licensing Rights:
The rights you request for the art have to be stipulated.
For this I’m citing the Graphic Artist Guild.

• Is the license national, local, or regional?
• Is it for limited or unlimited usage? If limited, define re-use rights.
• Always state time and location limits.

Always remember, the more rights you request, the more the cost.

Other Considerations:
Usually the artist retains ownership of any original work and the client is given a digital file to the specifications agreed upon.

Will a credit line or copyright be included?

Working with an Artist

Thumbnails/Roughs: After your initial meeting with the artist (where you give a comprehensive take on what it is you need), request a few roughs from the artist for you to chose from before they go to the final illustration. This is so you and the artist are on the same page as far as the kind of illustration needed. The number of roughs can vary, but remember the more preliminary work you have the artist do the more the cost.

Mock-up Before Final Piece: This is the drawing done before the finished piece where you give your approval or make final suggestions. Remember once again that the more revisions the more the cost.

: More often than not you will get a digital file of the artwork. Make sure to have in the contract the precise size and format requirements of the file you need.

 I would recommend putting in a buffer between when you need the artwork and what you state is the deadline. Murphy’s law is; “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” This way you protect yourself in case of an unexpected hiccup on your end or the artist’s.

Rush Job: Expect to pay more.

Kill Fee: The price you pay if you cancel the project mid-process.

Payment: Progressive payments?
 Payment upon completion? Payment by invoice (30 days)
? Make sure it’s spelled out. Make sure everything is spelled out – that’s what contracts are for.


Now by no means is this supposed to be an all-comprehensive list, just a starting point.

I’m hoping the take away from this is the need to clearly define as much as possible the specifics of the commission you’re requesting before contacting an artist. That way no time is wasted and you’ll end up with exactly the artwork you need.

-Jim Keefe

By Jim Keefe

Jim Keefe is the current artist of the Sally Forth comic strip. From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Keefe likewise teaches Comic Art. Teaching and speaking engagements include SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs, and most recently the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.