A frequent source of confusion in the furry fandom is about commission pricing for furry art.
This confusion is often driven by (usually younger) furries demanding free or severely cheap art from artists, and the aftermath of such exchanges. There’s a reason @SpicyFurryTakes posts so frequently.
In the interest of not adding to the confusion, I’d like to offer a simple algorithm for artists to use for their standard commission prices, and then some guidelines for artists and commissioners to make the art commissioning experience better for everyone.
As my goal here is to simplify, I will be taking liberties and eschewing a lot of the economic details. If you feel that I made a mistake but aren’t sure because I’m not showing my work, feel free to leave a comment.
Commission Pricing For Artists
If you’re an artist reading this, you should almost certainly raise your rates.
Furry artists in particular are notorious for undercharging for all their time and hard work. We’re talking single-digit percentages of what industry professionals charge for roughly equivalent quality.
And then when one encounters a financial emergency, they desperately scramble to take on a lot more work just to pay for whatever life event happened. If the artist hadn’t been leaving so much money on the table with their commissioners, they probably wouldn’t need to do emergency commissions in the first place–let alone endure the mental toll of delivering on them.
If you’re not sure how much you should charge at all, I recommend the following algorithm:
- Calculate your floor.
- Increase your rates.
- Are you able to consistently fill your commission slots?
- Yes -> Go to step 2 above.
- No -> Be patient.
Calculating Your Floor
First, benchmark how long it takes you to complete a typical item on your price list. For example, a sketch of one character might take N hours to complete on average (with variance granted for complex character details).
Next, decide on a fair hourly rate for your work as a professional.
Don’t undersell yourself! For example, your hourly rate should never be less than $24 per hour (in 2020 dollars), in the United States. This number is based on what the federal minimum wage should be, if it was pinned to productivity. If that seems to high for you, don’t go below $15.
Whatever number you landed on, immediately double it. Roughly half of your income will be eaten by taxes (income taxes–including state income taxes if applicable–plus payroll taxes since you’re self-employed as an artist), unless your tax accountant tells you otherwise.
Now that you have a number in mind, you’re going to want to go through the rest of your price list and make a mental note of how many hours each item will take you to complete.
For example: If a complete illustration of one character with a detailed background takes you 8 hours, and each additional character takes an additional 2 hours, you can setup your pricing as follows:
where is the number of additional characters beyond the first one, is your minimum hourly rate, and is the price of a commission.
If you decided , then your price list entry for this type of commission might look like this:
- $400 + $100 per additional character
You should do this for every item on your commission price list.
Increase Your Rates
Once you have a price list figured out, you will want to occasionally increase your prices.
When To Increase Your Commission Prices
Generally: If you’re utilizing 100% of your allocated time for art, it’s time to increase your rates. This means you have sufficient demand to justify a price increase.
If you’ve allocated 40 hours of your time per week for commission work, and you’re consistently allocating all 40 of those hours, it’s time to increase your rates.
(This logic also applies to commission “slots”, but not all slots are equal. Use your best judgment here.)
How to Increase Your Prices
There are different schools of thought on pricing strategies. As a computer programmer, my generally recommended strategy is similar to a git bisect:
- Double your prices.
- Are you able to fill at least 50% of your commission time allocation at the new prices? (Let’s call your old price N, and your new price 2N.)
- No: Go exactly halfway between the old prices and the new prices (1.5N).
- Yes: Are you able to consistently fill 100%?
- Yes: Go back to step 1. You haven’t doubled them enough.
- No: You may have found your prices, but don’t bail out just yet.
You know that 2N yields between 50% and 100% utilization. If you dropped down to 1.5N, you’d very likely see 100% utilization, so your ideal rate is probably somewhere between 1.5N and 2N.
So try 1.75N.
If you’re below 50%, you need to go down (1.625N). If you hit 100%, you know you need to go up (1.875N).
Recursively iterate this process, increasing half as much as the previous step.
Keep this up until the difference between this step and the next step is smaller than some threshold (e.g. $5) or you’re at a comfortable utilization between 50% and 99%.
Working Through An Example
Let’s say you were charging $50 for sketches, $150 for lined art, and $300 for full colored illustrations, and your commission queue is always filled.
First, double your prices (sketches: $50 -> $100, line art: $150 -> $300, full colored illustrations: $300 -> $600).
If your next batch of commissions gets filled to 100%: double them again (sketches are $200, line art is $600, full illustrations are $1200). Keep doing this until you’re not at 100% utilization.
If, after you’ve finished a cycle of doubling, your next batch of commissions is between 50% and 100% utilization, sit tight at your current rate. Demand for your art will increase as you grow your audience, and you’ll find yourself needing to start the process over with again.
However, if you’re at below 50% utilization, it’s time to step halfway between the old and the new. If going from the initial ($50, $150, $300) to the new ($100, $300, $600) dropped demand to below 50%, your new prices would be ($75, $225, $450). If you’re still below 50%, you can keep decreasing it further.
(Feel free to round these numbers, but err on rounding them up.)
If you started at 100% utilization, this process will end up at some price greater than your starting point.
Every time I’ve said “your prices” above, what I’m talking about are your standard rates, not what you’re offering on a particular day.
You should absolutely feel entitled to offer discounts, sales, and special deals whenever it suits you.
Computer science majors will recognize this strategy as approximately a binary search algorithm.
A true binary search would zero in on your 100% utilization prices if you were capable of going above 100% utilization, but I wrote this with the assumption that 100% utilization is a market signal that you need to raise your rates. This is the guideline we’re using, because I’m assuming you cannot go above 100%. (That’s how you get burn-out!)
If you replace 100% utilization in the “true” binary search algorithm with another target percentage (say: 75%, and you bail out when you’re within 2.5% of this value), you will zero in on prices that meet your threshold.
The reason we’re increasing/decreasing by powers of 2 with each recursive iteration is that it’s the most efficient algorithm available.
A more naive approach would be to, instead of going from 2N down to 1.5N, decreasing by 0.1N until you hit your goal.
If you’re going from $100 and trying to hit a 90% utilization, and the magic number that hits that number is $147, the comparative strategies might look like this:
- $100 -> $200, 60%
- $200 -> $150, 88%
- $150 -> $125, 100%
- $125 -> $137, 100%
- $137 -> $144, 100%
- $144 -> $147, 90%
- $100 -> $200, 60%
- $200 -> $190, 65%
- $190 -> $180, 70%
- $180 -> $170, 76%
- $170 -> $160, 82%
- $160 -> $150, 88%
- $150 -> $140, 94%
backtrack, smaller increments
- $140 -> $149, 88%
- $149 -> $148, 89%
- $148 -> $147, 90%
The efficiency here is important: More price changes in a short time interval can make customers nervous.
In the example above, if 88% was acceptable, you could have stopped at $150. That would have been two total operations for the binary search and six for the gradual step-down approach.
In all but the most contrived scenarios, you want to use a binary search strategy.
Consider Hourly Commission Rates
Price lists have a tendency to get complicated, especially when complex character details (your fursona is a wolf, but with wings!) enter the mix.
One alternative to this is, after applying the price algorithm above, simply express your prices in terms of how much time a piece of art typically takes and advertise your standard rate.
Then your commissioners will know they’re hiring you for e.g. $50/hour for a project that typically takes N hours.
Improving the Furry Art Commission Experience
Guidelines for Artists
Communicate with your commissioners. If you’re not using something like Trello to track your projects, you should send them updates more than you’d normally feel comfortable. The more complex the work, the more updates you should send.
Dates Rule Everything Around Me. We understand that you have multiple projects–often running in parallel–that need to be completed to keep your clients happy. We know we’re not the only iron in your fire. Give estimate completion dates as soon as you can. If you can’t give a completion date, give an estimated date for a date. (I’m serious. This will virtually eliminate commissioner anxiety.)
Be transparent. If you need more time to get a piece done, tell your commissioners as soon as you can. Shit happens. We all get sick. We all have unproductive days/weeks. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is someone you probably want to decline accepting work from in the future.
Guidelines for Commissioners
Be polite. It’s difficult to understate how important basic manners are, even moreso when nobody seems to practice them.
Don’t bitch about prices. If you can’t afford their rates, you have three choices: Save up money for this luxury expense, move onto another artist, or learn to make it yourself.
n.b. This includes telling artists they should charge more! If you’re going to do that, your words must be accompanied by a generous tip. If they aren’t, you’re an asshole.
Updates are your opportunity to request changes. If you just say, “It’s coming along great, thanks for the update!” then you’re agreeing with the current direction of their work.
If the artist forgot an important detail (e.g. a marking on your fursona), the sooner you tell them, the sooner they can correct it. You aren’t being rude by informing them (unless you word it rudely; use good judgment!).
Credit your artists. Always. Link to their account too, if reasonably practical.
A lot of an artists’ income is the consequence of their previous commissioners showcasing their work. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising most can afford.
If you credit your artists, you’ll be helping them stay afloat until you decide to commission them again in the future.
Questions and Answers
I’ve received a bit of feedback since I first published this article from various sources (Reddit, forum posts in other languages that I can only hope Google Translate got right, etc.) and I thought I’d address some of your questions and concerns here.
“It takes me forever to get art done. Should I bill for my egregiously slow time?”
There are three reasons I’m aware of that could lead an artist to have a glacial work pace.
- They have insufficient art practice
- Their techniques and strategies aren’t time-efficient
- They live with some sort of disability
For the first two reasons, the solution is simply to practice more, try different techniques, and learn from other artists so you can get your work pace fast enough to earn a living from art. It’s okay if you’re still somewhat slower than your peers, but until you’re able to consistently produce art at a reasonable rate, you’re probably not ready to do art professionally (and that’s okay, not everyone has to be).
For the last one, I don’t have any useful advice. I don’t know your disability and am unqualified to advise you on what to do to overcome the challenges you face as an artist because of it. The advice on this page is intentionally very generalized and I’m sorry it won’t help you.
“My clientele only make poverty wages. How can I raise my rates without betraying them?”
I mean this in the gentlest way possible: If you’re in this situation, you do not have clients, you have friends. Friends are an incredibly good thing to have. Humanity overall severely underestimates the importance of good friendships, especially in America.
But if you’re trying to earn your living through art, you have to distinguish between the two. Clients are people who–whether through income or saving up–can afford to pay you a livable wage for your time as an artist.
That isn’t to say that you can’t continue to give your friends a discount, or even free art. They’re your friends, it’s your time. Do what you will. I mentioned this above. But if you’re doing real work, you should be getting paid a real livable wage.
Your friends might even be able to help you find clients that are able and willing to pay for your time. Don’t write them off or treat them as second-class.
“This advice doesn’t apply to me because my customer base is small, or nonexistent. What now?”
There are a lot of things you can do to change this fact, but I’m not qualified to speak competently to them. (If I knew the secret to a larger social media following, don’t you think I’d have used it for myself?)
Ask artists in your community for help and advice. Some might even help increase your follower counts so you can acquire more business.
“How do I find furries with sufficient disposable income to pay a livable wage?”
The truer but non-helpful answer is, “You don’t, they’ll find you.”
A lot of furries that work in tech fit the bill, but not all of them. Additionally, some well-off furries are righteous assholes and you really don’t want to deal with their bullshit.
The best advice I can offer here is:
- Be active on social media.
- Be kind to people on social media.
- Don’t be afraid of self-promotion on your own feed.
Everything else boils down to patience and luck.
“I’m not an American, so what should I do differently?”
There are two schools of thought here.
- On one paw, you can localize your prices to the cost of living for your area. This will ensure your needs are met and you can comfortably continue to work as an artist in relative comfort.
- On the other paw, you could recognize that the Internet is an international marketplace and you are, at least in part, competing globally for clients. Many clients will come from wealthy countries and have the income or savings to facilitate large commissions, and therefore you can earn more money for the same work.
Use which ever you like better as your guiding light. I’m not a dictator, and even if I was, I have no mechanism to force you either way.
“What if I don’t want to make a livable wage as a furry artist, and just want to make art for other furries as a hobby?”
Why’d you click the link to this article?
“What would an increased bill rate look like for an artist that followed this advice?”
See this post for a detailed breakdown of furry fandom art spending, accompanied by an analysis based on an arbitrary rate at $50/hour and utilization at 30 hours per week. (Spoiler: It ends up at about $80,000/year.)
“This pricing advice isn’t specific to furry artists, it’s general pricing advice for freelancers in any industry!”
It’s true, I didn’t invent these tactics or pull them out of a magic hat. If you’re trying to make it in the world as a professional, price your work like a professional.
From what I can gather: Roughly half of the people that read this blog post picked up on this nuance immediately. Y’all are pretty sharp.