Guidance – Author Anecdote: Ordering Artwork for Fun (But Not Profit)

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about ordering artwork for your PC.

Today’s article is a bit different because it doesn’t have anything to do with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It has everything to do with your character(s) in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Specifically, how they look.

Everyone has mental images of their character in their brain, but as anyone who has ever had a character illustrated before knows, there’s something special and awesome about having a character that you know, love, and have an emotional connection to and having someone illustrate that character for you. But for many, this task can prove to be VERY daunting. Well today, I’m here to offer a few tips on commissioning artwork for your character!

Tip #1 — Identify Your Price Range

The first mistake that many potential patrons make is looking for artists whose style they like before considering the price range. That’s not feasible. When commissioning art (as with anything else in life) you get what you pay for. Do not expect an artist to drop his or her prices for you just because you A) ask nicely or B) expect them to. An artist knows what his or her time is worth. You wouldn’t go into a store looking to buy a completed painting and haggle with the store’s owner to try to get the piece cheaper. And frankly, you’re never going to be able to haggle an artist down because chances are that for every person who doesn’t want to pay whatever price the artist is offering, there are at least three more who will. There are plenty of people who value the work done by artists, after all. (Especially us publishers. Good artwork will sell a product like you wouldn’t believe.)

So, what should you expect? Most artists charge by the content and complexity. The general “scale of complexity” that I commonly see is: line work, gray scale, color. Then the “scale of complexity” is typically something like: one 1/4 page character, one 1/2 illustration/2 characters, one full page illustration.

For most PCs, you’re going to want to stick with one 1/4 page character. Do not make the amateur mistake of assuming that if you’re a wizard / druid / cavalier / summoner / whatever that your artist will draw your familiar, eidolon, or special mount with your character for free. Again, it typically depends on complexity. Some artists might be willing to add a familiar to your picture if its relatively small, others will charge you for it. Given the size and complexity of a mount or eidolon, you can bet that you’re going to be paying for a two-character illustration if you order a special mount, eidolon, or animal companion in your picture.

Personally, I found that artists like Jacob Blackmon and Kristen Collins work best for me because their price range (about $40 for a character) is very reasonable. A Paizo-quality piece typically runs for about $100 to $200 and I’ve heard that Wayne Reynolds (who is basically a god in the field of fantasy artists) charges more then that so keep that in mind too! (Protip: Don’t try to get Wayne Reynolds. He’s booked solid for months and chances are you can’t afford him for something as simple as a personal RPG character anyway.)

Tip #2 — View Their Gallery

After you’ve identified a few artists with prices that you’d be willing to pay, take the time to peruse their gallery. Look at their pieces and see if you can find any pieces that are similar to yours. Make sure you like their style. If you go into a contract with an artist and assume that they are going to be able to perfectly produce a radically different style for you then what they typically do, you’re wrong. You wouldn’t go to McDonalds and ask for a Mexican-grilled burrito, after all.

As a general rule, the more realistic that the artist’s style is, the more expensive they’re going to be. This is due to the simple fact that photorealism (the art of making your pictures look like a photo that you’ve snapped) takes much longer to create then, say, a cartoon. Also consider the medium that the artist uses. Don’t ask a digital artist to make you an oil painting unless they specifically say that they’ll do oil paintings. In today’s world, digital artists can replicate many of the traditional mediums on their computers, but this takes skill and practice. Ask your artist if they’re comfortable working in a style that’s outside of the norm for them or that they haven’t specifically advertised that they’ll do for you.

Tip #3 — Provide References

By the very nature of their vocation, artists are visual people. Don’t rely on a semi-cohesive jumbling of words to explain to your artist what it is that you’d like them to create. Take the time to do some Google-Fu and find pictures of what it is that you’d like them to draw for you. Not only will this save you and the artist time because they’ll be able to see what you’d like their product to look like, but you’ll also save your artist a LOT of frustration. If your commission drags on for too long, the artist looses money because they typically don’t get paid until after their work is completed.

Here’s an example of a description that I sent Jacob Blackmon for the kitsune character who is on the front cover of the revised edition of the Kitsune Compendium:

Providing a solid description to an artist ultimately gets you what you want.

Providing a solid description to an artist ultimately gets you what you want.

Danshi is a male kitsune; about 12 years old. He is 4’ 7” and weighs 85 pounds. He’s scrawny. His fur is fulvous in color and his fur is slightly bushy around his breast, shoulders, and knees. He has short, messy hair in a slightly darker shade of fulvous and emerald eyes. He is sitting on something (probably a short wall or the side of a building) and is looking down grinning. He is wearing a dirty tank top shirt (the sleeves look like they’be been ripped off and there are a few holes in it) that is several sizes too big for him (He’s 12, probably sized for a 14 or 15 year old) and baggy pants that are several sizes too small, so they end several inches above his digitigrade ankles. Think Disney’s Aladdin in style. He might be holding an apple, waving, etc.

You can see the picture that I ultimately got to the left, with little to no revisions necessary. (Author’s Note: Jacob had some experience with drawing kitsune in the style that I wanted prior to this. That level of experience, of “knowing what your customer is looking for” is known as rapport, and an artist can only gain rapport with you if you work with that individual multiple times. I.e. the more you work with someone, the better they can anticipate your preferences and cater their style to yours.)

Ultimately, this is the reason that I choose to have established characters that I’ve either personally played or ran for friends in my home games for my Everyman Gaming products. Its MUCH easier to convey this level of detail to an artist if you already know all of the details already. As a result, I don’t recommend having a picture of a character that you’ve never played before illustrated. Give it at least until Level 3 or 4.

Tip #4 — Do Not Try to Do Your Artist’s Job

A common mistake that patrons make is that they set out to completely micromanage every brush stroke that the artist makes. Don’t do that. Artists are inherently creative people, and like any person doing a creative job they want room for personal expression and style. Using the description that I provided Jacob (above) and the ultimate picture that I got (also above), you can see a couple details that are in the picture that I didn’t ask for:

  • Jacob altered the “wall” into more of a “stone,” which looks better for the piece’s composition.
  • The “at alert” tail position.
  • Danshi being in the middle of eating an apple. (I only offered holding an apple as a suggestion.)

So again, everything that I had asked for is in this piece, but some of the pieces that I didn’t think to ask for or that simply didn’t fit the composition of the piece were changed or improvised. Ultimately, I like them. In short, don’t create a photograph of what you expect the artist to create for you in your brain and hold them to that piece. You’re not the professional. Your artist is. She knows what will work for a good-looking piece and what won’t. But if your artist does do something that truly irks you ….

Tip #5 — Provide Honest, Detailed Feedback

The artist that you’re working with ultimately wants you to cherish her work, and she wants the satisfaction of knowing that you’re pleased. If you’re not happy with something, remember my rules for online etiquette, but tell them what’s bothering you with the piece that they’re working on. Most artists will give you a step-by-step progression of the work; sketch to lines to color to shade. Speak up and let them know if you see something off. Artists are people too and they make mistakes, and ultimately your feedback could help them improve.

You know, if you’re polite and courteous about it.

Also, as with the description, don’t rely on your words to convey what you don’t like in the piece. Get some images to show the artist so they can see exactly what you mean. Don’t be afraid to open up Microsoft Paint and paint all over their proof picture so you can show them what needs to change and where that change needs to happen. Remember, your artists ultimately want to turn over pieces to you as fast as possible because it means they can move onto their next commission faster, and ergo make more money faster.

And those are my five tips for getting art made for your characters! What do you think? Does the idea of ordering illustrations of your character(s) appealing to you? Have you ever had characters illustrated before? What was your experience with the artist? Leave your questions, comments, and answers below, and I … WON’T see you next week, because next week starts our new Private Sanctuary Podcast schedule.

I’ve mentioned it before on our Facebook group, but Ryan Costello Jr. (co-host of Know Direction) asked Anthony Li and me to take over hosting the Private Sanctuary podcast, which includes editing. Anthony doesn’t have the appropriate software to do that, however, so I’m taking over the editing full-time. But in order to do so, something had to give so I had the time needed to put the podcasts together, and so my Wednesday article was what I ultimately decided to cut.

Fortunately, Anthony Li’s blog, Behind the Screens, is coming back in full-force starting in February and I’ll be pimping his blog like there’s no tomorrow! How it’ll end up working out is Week One: Podcast, Week Two: Behind the Screens, Week Three: Podcast, Week Four: Behind the Screens. And so on and so on into infinity and beyond. In any case, I hope you enjoy next week’s podcast! We’re excited to be bringing it to you.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune artist, but he never managed to reach Level 2….

Author’s Note: If you want to check out Jacob Blackmon or Kristen Collin’s galleries, click on the links embedded in their respective names.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at


  1. Jefferson Thacker Reply to Jefferson

    I order a lot of art myself and this is a good guide to getting things done. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re working with an artist that is newer to the professional side of life… they’re likely to be late on delivery. Expect this and plan for it. And be polite but firm when working out the new deadline when this happens. Usually things work out well, but just as you shouldn’t abuse your artist, don’t let an artist keep brushing off a commitment. Especially as you will likely have already paid for half of the work up front.

    Check out comments other patrons of the artist have had, and see if they keep making apology posts on their pages. One or two is fine, but if its a pattern it is a big warning sign that they over commit themselves, and you may want to consider a different artist.

    You should also have a conversation about the ownership of the image, whether or not you wish to purchase the original sketch (or if the artist is even willing to sell it), and the works professional use or lack there of. For instance several of the pieces I’ve purchased some publishers have wished to use in their books, but because I negotiated ownership of the image in my commissions, those were conversations I was involved with instead of being surprised to find a piece I payed for showing up in an RPG manual a year later.

  2. Do you have any advice for where to find artists to order from? I have held a dream of getting a team portrait of the group from my last adventure for a long time, but I’m not sure where to go to find artists (beyond stalking through individual blogs/pages/tumblrs etc.)

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