Draw Me That: How to Get the Commission of Your Dreams

Comic book conventions are good for a great number of things: Picking up half price trades, people watching, listening to writers and artists talk about projects, great unveilings of new plotlines, lots of free swag, seeing superheroes brought to life… but one of the most important and unique aspects of a convention is the close vicinity fans have with artists they admire, with usually just a small table seperating them. It is a very accessible sort of "hero worship", and it's simply great to be able to approach your favourite artists, strike up a conversation, browse through a portfolio of their original art, and come away fulfilled.

Having artists so easily accessible like this means a very unique opportunity that is rarely offered anywhere else: art commissions. Conventions give fans the ammunition to basically say "draw monkey, draw!" to artists and they will happily do so (within time constraints and when properly "rewarded", of course). Have you ever wanted to see your favourite horror artist draw a zombie Wonder Woman? Get a sketch of Tony Stark having a bro moment with Axe Cop? Request Polaris riding on a unicorn? Well then, get your butt to a convention.

However, there is a certain amount of etiquette that comes with requesting a commission. I have been working within the industry for long enough that I have seen the gauntlet of faux paus committed more often than not, and the fact that I live with a commercial comic book artist means I am more intimitely familiar with the commission process than most. But I am still a fan, and not an artist by any means, so I believe that my outside perspective is the way to go.


If you want to go to a convention this season and get yourself a great piece of art to call your own, there are a few easy steps you have to follow:

1. Have money

Although many artists at conventions will offer a quick scribble for free, a real commissioned piece of art work from a commercial artist will probably be a fairly substantial chunk of change. Obviously, it varies from artist to artist, but a good ball park range is around $40-200 USD. If those numbers aren't too staggering for you, set aside your art fund and read on.

2. Check Rates Beforehand

Many artists post their commission rates online before a convention, and several even will take email commissions leading up the con (most artists only do commissions at conventions). Resources like twitter, facebook fan pages, the artist's blog/website, and even google searches will usually give you your answer on what an artist's rates and criteria are. If you can't find the information and you are still unsure, usually shooting an email to the artist will get you an answer quite quickly.

3. Know What you Want

I know all about the daunting moment when you are confronted with a huge number of choices and have that sudden "uuuuuuuuuuhhhh" reaction. Don't let this happen to you! Figure out what you want your art piece to be before you contact or approach an artist about it. Don't shift awkwardly from foot to foot looking confused and staring at them, feeling pressured into making a decision: it will just make both of you feel awkward.

Personally, I have two sketchbooks I bring to conventions with me: A unicorn themed one (where as long as the drawing incorporates a unicorn in some way it's cool with me) and one of "hot comic book ladies", which leaves it open enough that artists have drawn me some super awesomly obscure characters. If you are ok with just owning something by the artist and don't really care what it is they draw, that's ok too! Most artists are happy to draw "whatever they want". But make sure you really MEAN "whatever they want". Too many times have I seen people say "draw what you want!", and when they receive the commission suddenly turn around and say: "no no no, I wanted Slave Leia eating donuts on a moped!"

4. Communicate with the artist

Artists are people too! And they also do this for a living, so they are good at taking art direction. If you have a vision in your head for your commission, tell them! They will communicate and work with you as long as you are not micro managing their pencil strokes. You're paying a lot of money for art from them, so they are generally not going to say "no" (unless it's something really weird or they aren't allowed to draw that character for legal reasons – this is why communication is good!)

5. Provide Reference

If you want the artist to draw you an obscure superhero from the 70s that they have never heard of before, bring reference. If you want the artist to draw freakin' Wolverine, bring reference. Unless the artist has worked on a character, generally they are not going to be able to dredge a perfect replica out of the trenches of their brainstuffs. I always have little cards if I want character specific commissions, and I either leave the card with the artist or send them an email reference beforehand.

6. Be Polite

Yes, this is a business transaction, and therefore you are the customer. But this is a very intimite exchange, a melding of ideas, and artists put a lot of work into their paid commissions. They are going to make you a much prettier picture if you are courteous and kind and generally treat them like the brilliantly talented person they are instead of an extension of your crippled artistic side.



A few more things to note:

Commissions are for private use, not commercial. If you want an artist to draw your SUPER AWESOME CHARACTER, it doesn't give you the rights to use that pin up as a cover for when you undoubtably get famous. If you want a commission for this purpose, talk to the artist, but it will be a much heftier chunk of change IF they even agree to do anything.

If you don't manage to contact an artist or research their rates before the con, find their table and talk to them. Even if they don't have a sign out most artists will have commission lists. If they are a more popular artist, get there as early in the day as you can in an attempt to get on their list. Most artists only do x amount of sketches a con, so first come first served is the generally accepted method.

BE PATIENT. If you commission a drawing at 10am in the morning, don't come lurking by the artist's table every hour thereafter. They will get it done, and having you breathing down their neck is only going to make them uncomfortable and feel pressured. Most artists will have an ETA on the completion of their commission, so adhere to that and go from there.

Commissioning artwork can be a very rewarding and unique experience. I hope this guide helps out in future convention endeavors.


Molly McIsaac likes unicorns and is constantly awaiting the TARDIS. Or her letter from Hogwarts. You can follow her on twitter.


  1. cool. I’m excited about WonderCon in April!

  2. Great article.  I am heading to C2E2 tomorrow (yea!) and I am planning on buying my first commission.

    I have an etiquette question.  Is it bad form to ask the primary artist on an on-going title to draw the title character?  My concern is that the artist draws this character a lot and may bristle at the idea of drawing the character again.

    I understand that one must be patient when it comes to commissions, but what do you do if the artist is not finished with your commission by the end of the day (not unheard of)?  Assuming you are not planning on attending any other days of the con, will the artist typically mail it to you?  Will they charge you extra for that?

  3. Thank you Molly 🙂 I am going to get some commissions from Tim Sale, Tony Harris,Shane Davis and Carmine Infantino at The Motor City Comic Con this may 🙂

  4. Awesome, thanks Molly. I’m attending WonderCon this year and it will be my first convention so this article is super helpful!

  5. Great article. I was wondering from everyone here what they’re 1st commissioned piece was?? Mine was a profile pic of The Flash from super-inker Dexter Vines (inker on Wolverine Old Man Logan/Civil War). It was my first and so it holds a special place in my heart

  6. Do you know a way to get Chris Samnee to NYCCC? lol…( sigh ).

  7. Great article.  Thanks a lot Molly.  I’ve always wondered what the protocols were.  Anyone have any good ideas for a cool sketchbook theme?  Maybe superheroes who just had the crap beaten out of them.  Or heroes stubbing their toes on a sofa.  

  8. Commissions make great con souvenirs, yes!

  9. This article makes me wish I could afford a commission. Having a Bob Layton sketch of Iron man is one of the things I would have in a perfect version of my life.

  10. A post C2E2 convention update: I never ended up getting my commission.  I was there on Friday, in line right when the convention opened to the public.  I walked immediately to my desired artist’s table, where 3 other people were already in line in front of me.  I thought, “This is ok, I should definitely get on the list.”  Turns out, I was wrong.  The artist’s list was already full.  It appeared that the first person in line in front of me got added to the list, but the two other people in front of me got turned away too.  I looked at my watch.  It read, “1:06pm”.  The artist had filled up his commission list for the ENTIRE convention in less than five minutes.  (The convention opened to the public at 1:00pm and I had stood in that line for a at least 2 minutes.)  

    I glanced over at the artist’s list; it had about 12 names on it.  If I had to hazard a guess, the artist’s list was filled with the names of people who had exhibitor badges and, therefore, could get into the convention at 10:00am.

    This was really disappointing.  I had contacted the artist about 4 weeks before C2E2 to ask if there was a pre-convention commission list I could get on.  He said there wasn’t one.  I to take my chances at the convention, and therefore, I was out of luck.  

    I thought, “No big deal.  There are a ton of great artists here.  I’ll get someone else to do a commission.  I started walking the aisles, looking for another artist to approach.

    One row over I found another artist that I thought would do a great commission.  I approached him and asked if he had any space left on his commission list.  He said that it was pretty full, but not wanting to turn me away, he said that he might have it done by late on Sunday, if I was willing to risk it not being completed.  I said, “ok,” and he added my name to the list.  Feeling somewhat better, I looked at my watch.  It was now 1:16pm!

    So, here’s my question to everybody: How is a normal person, who doesn’t have an exhibitor badge, supposed to get a commission?  These artists are not BIG-NAME artists on BIG-NAME books.  They are definitely second, or possibly, third tier names, but their lists for the entire convention was filled within 15 minutes of it opening!

    Anyway, back to my story.  I checked back with the second artist at the end of Friday to gauge how he was feeling about my chances of getting a commission.  The artist said, “Come back late on Sunday, and we’ll see.”  So, he wasn’t commiting, either way.  I glanced at his list and he had added about a half dozen more names to his list after mine, so I was feeling pretty good that I would be walking away from the convention with a new piece of art.  

    The commission would not be cheap, and I was now considering the money spent.  Unfortunately, the cost of the commission would only leave a little money left in my budget for the rest of the convention.  I spent much of my time over the next few days looking at a lot of other artist’s tables but not much buying.  This was fine because I was pretty sure it would all be worth it in the end.    

    On Sunday, at about 2:00pm, I checked back with the artist.  The commission was not yet finished.  And, this time, the artist looked nervous, but he asked me again to check back at 5pm, when the convention would be closing.  Now I was worried, and long story short, when 5pm rolled around, the artist had not completed the commission.  He asked me if I was going to New York, hopefully.  I said I wouldn’t be.  

    It was apparent now that I would be leaving without my custom art, and by this point, many of the exhibitors and artists were already closing up shop.  I made a mad dash to buy some 50% of trades with my left over money, but the trade boxes were pretty well picked over by that point and nothing much caught my eye.  Money that I would have gladly parted with earlier in the weekend would be going home with me.

    To be honest, the whole experience has soured me so much that I don’t know if I even want a commission from either of these artists EVER.  I recognize that I should have probably cut my losses with the second artist sooner.  Lesson learned there.  I just don’t feel like I got a fair shake in the whole process, and I wonder if I’ll ever attempt buying a commission at a convention again.

    Anyway, that’s my tale of woe.  Thanks for reading if you made it this far. 

  11. @ctrosejr  Too bad to hear. My daughter has had pretty good luck with quick sketches at conventions. (In fact, she got a great Aristocats drawing from Ben Templesmith.)

    And yes, everyone bring reference material. You can really see an artist’s face relax when they realize you brought source material.  Really can’t stress the importance of this enough.

  12. Oh, and we also have an informal rule about quick sketches.

    If an artist does a quick sketch for free, I make sure to buy a couple items they’re selling, chiefly as a sign of appreciation.  (There was only one time out of all the artist she’s gotten sketches from in which we did not buy anything, and that was because the only thing the artist was selling at that moment was way, way too far out of our price range. I felt bad about it, but it couldn’t be helped.)

  13. Oh, and we have a similar rule for our comic shop on Free Comic Book Day. (If we get free stuff, I want to make sure we give back some love by buying at least a few items.)