Commissioned Sketches — Saying No to the Doodle
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He stood in front of my table, after hearing my prices for convention sketches.
“No,” he said, “I don’t want a commission… I just want a doodle.”
Try telling a plumber that you don’t want your drain unclogged — instead, you’d like him to come over and just… tinker… with your pipes.
He’ll tell you to turn blue.
I think artists could learn a lot from plumbers.
I made a choice to charge for sketches at comic conventions a long time ago, and it was the right choice for me. For starters, I never had the hang-up that so many artists seem to face when it comes to accepting that their work has value. What I do takes a certain degree of skill — and I’ve worked for a long time to develop that skill — so it follows that it’s worth money. And then there’s the simple logistics. If I’m spending extra time doing free sketches, then I’m being prevented from the things that I came to the convention to do — selling and (secondarily) promoting.
So I set up a very simple commission fee structure.
• I’ll do a free headshot sketch inside any book you purchase.
• I’ll do a single-character illustration with limited/no background for $20
• I’ll do an illustration with multiple characters or a single character in a fully developed scene for $40
• As the request gets more complicated, the price gets higher.
This structure does exactly what I want it to do.
• It weeds out people who aren’t really interested in a sketch by me.
• It reimburses me for the time at my table that I’m not selling/promoting.
• It ensures that the longer I spend on an illustration, the more I’m being reimbursed.
Let’s not kid ourselves — convention space is expensive and it’s available for a finite period of time. If you’re not thinking about a convention appearance in terms of turning a profit during those limited hours, you’re simply not going to be in business very long.
“I just want a doodle“
So, let’s get back to this guy who stood in front of my table at a recent comic convention.
Him: “I don’t want a commission… I just want a doodle.”
Me: “I don’t do doodles. I do commissioned sketches starting at $20.”
Him: “But I bought a book!”
Me: “I already put a free sketch in the book — at your request!”
Him: “But, still… I’m a customer.”
Me: “You wanted $20 worth of book. I sold you $20 worth of book and added another $20 worth of sketch. That transaction is over, and you got your money’s worth and then some.”
He hands me his sketchbook: “Listen. I know you do commissioned sketches all day long — drawing what people tell you to draw. Here’s an opportunity to just have fun and draw whatever you want!”
Me: “I want to draw a commissioned sketch for $20.”
Him: “It’s not a sketch! It’s a doodle! Have fun!”
Me: “You’re asking me to put zero effort into a drawing. Create a shitty piece of art. And then put my name on it?! Dude, my reputation is partially based on how well I draw. And I didn’t earn that reputation by letting shitty art circulate with my signature underneath! Can’t you understand that?!”
He couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. We went back and forth for what seemed like a solid thirty minutes. It became clear that he was going to block my booth until I did something to get rid of him.
So I took the sketchbook and flipped through it.
It had some truly gorgeous illustrations in it. Either he had paid for those drawings or his “just doodle” bullshit actually worked on some poor schmucks.
I did what I can only describe as a scribble. With my left hand.
And I didn’t sign my name.
And he walked away. With any luck, for the last time.
“Why didn’t you just draw in his book?”
That’s what my wife asked me.
My answer was simple. First of all, my skill is worth money. And the minute I let some hammerhead convince me otherwise, I head down a slippery slope filled with bad decisions. And secondly — and by no means less important — if I did an honest-to-goodness convention sketch under the guise of a free “doodle,” I would be cheating all of those people who had actually bought a sketch. Which fan do I want to keep — the one who realizes that my work has value or the one who doesn’t?
If this guy never comes back to my table, I’m honestly OK with that. He can go become a fan of someone else’s comic. That is an OK outcome.
I have an entire community of readers who are eager to support what I do. That’s the group that I need to concentrate on pleasing. I’ll happily lose that “doodle” guy to you.
What are you going to do with him?