The Dour Dwarf King

Private Commissions: Process Breakdown

Interested in commissioning a painting for your personal collection to hang in your home and bring you inspiration every day? In talking with many people at conventions I have found that a lot of people are interested in commissioning art, but have never actually worked with an artist before and are not familiar with the process or what to expect. So, in this article I walk you through the process for an actual private commission I completed to give you a better idea of how it works and what you have to look forward to. My main goal throughout the entire commission process is to make sure you (my client) are excited about the process and completely satisfied with the final painting.

Interestingly enough this is the same process I use for much of my professional client work save a few differences due to working with an individual instead of a larger company with its own policies and process.

So, let’s get into it!

Step 1: The Dour Dwarf King. Backstory

It all starts with an idea, an artist, and a talk.

All personal commissions I take on start with a great conversation. If you are serious about commissioning a painting the first step for us is to chat. I always want to sit down and chat in person (if it is possible) or at least have a live video chat using systems like Skype. This is a great opportunity for me to get to know you more and for you to get to know me. For example for the Dour Dwarf King piece my client and I met at GenCon and had a great time talking for an hour one evening in a hotel lobby.

During this initial conversation we will dive into the details of what you are wanting from the piece. Going over items such as subject matter, details, where the idea is coming from, motivation behind the commission, etc. As well as solidifying all the more technical details such as deadline, cost, and how the process works so that you know what to expect each step of the way. My goal is for this to be an enjoyable process for you resulting in a great piece of art you can treasure for years.

Step 2: Agreement & a Deposit for the Fun to Begin

With all the relevant details worked out in the initial talk I put together a written agreement so that all the important information about the commission is available at a quick glance and to ensure that I got everything right from our conversation (I always aim for clear up front communication to mitigate an unwanted surprised or confusion.) With the agreement signed 50% of the total price is required up front to cover the initial cost of materials and to serve as a deposit. With the agreement and deposit in hand work on the painting begins.

Step 3: Exploration Sketching & Thumbnails

Every illustration, painting, and commission I take on starts with thumbnails and exploration sketching. Searching for ideas, the best visual solutions to the challenge I am being asked to solve. After going through dozens of sketches I take the top 2-3 sketches, clean them up, and present them to you to pick between.

For the dwarf painting the client was pretty specific as to what he wanted to see in the painting so with each sketch I tried to show a slightly different angle and aspect of the dwarf king. In Sketch A I wanted to show the dour sturdy expression of this old king, in Sketch B the worry and concern that his crown is bring him, and in Sketch C the weight of his crown bearing down on him. You’ll notice the angles (looking up, head on, downward) of the viewer reinforce the idea behind each sketch.

Step 4: Final Sketch

These sketches mark the first chance for you to make changes to the piece. These would be the largest changes such as moving elements around the composition, redesigning major elements, changing character poses, etc. For example with the dwarf king piece the client liked Sketch A, but wanted the banners from Sketch B, as well as some modifications to the back of the throne.

So, taking all those requests into account I create a final sketch and would send it to you for approval. You can see in this final sketch for the dwarf king I’ve made all the requested changes as well as updated the background so that it works better in perspective, and did a quick value pass.

Step 5: Completed Drawing & Color Comp

With the updated final sketch approved. The next stage of the commission is for me to start working on the final drawing for the piece. Depending on how much time I have to produce the illustration and the final medium I do the drawing either digitally or traditionally. Since this dwarf king in its final form is going to be a canvas print I decide to draw right in Photoshop. Along with the final drawing I will also create a small color comp to give a glimpse as to what the final will look like. Again, this is to make sure that there are no surprises for you when I create the final painting.

Once each of the drawing and color comp(s) are completed I will send them to you for approval. Here is the second chance to ask for adjustments. These would be medium adjustments generally if there are any at all it is usual minor details or the way particular costume pieces are designed, or a shift in colors.

With the final drawing and color comp approved 25% of the total fee is due.

Step 6: Painting

Now with the drawing completed and the color comp finalized this means all the major design work for the illustration is done and all the major elements of the painting have been solved for. All that is left is hours of relaxed fun rendering to bring the piece together.

[ *Note: When painting (traditionally or digitally) I always keep my value and color comps in site to make sure I am on target. Here is a screenshot of my working file for this piece and you can see I have my value and color comps to left directly on my canvas. ]

**For a full in depth look into my painting process be sure to check out ‘Fury of the Dracolich Tutorial’.

Step 7: Digital Approval

Once the painting is completed I will send a jpg/photo of the image to you for final approval. Here is the third and final chance to request adjustments. These would be minor changes such as color tints or small details in the piece. In general however by this point in the process since there are two stages of approval before there are usually not really any requested changes at this point.

Once approved the last 25% of the total price for the commission would be due.

Step 8: Final Delivery

With the final painting approved and full payment in hand I now deliver the final to you whether that be an original oil painting, digital print, canvas print, jpg file, etc. In the case of the Dour Dwarf King the commission was for a stretched ready-to-hang canvas print to match a previous canvas print my client had purchased from me at GenCon. With final piece delivered the commission is complete.

Hang that art & enjoy!

If you are interested in a personal commission I can be reached via email at I’ll be happy to talk with you. Availability for private commissions depends upon my schedule at the time.