Advice for somebody considering taking faceup commission?

Nov 20, 2020

    1. Hello, everybody! I've been thinking a lot about doing commissions for body blushing and faceups. I feel that I'm beginning to approach a level of skill in which I may be able to do so and would enjoy working on various sculpts, helping people bring their visions for a character to a tangible form, and of course having an extra little source of income.

      I'd like to build my portfolio via my own dolls and get some more practice in first, but beyond that, I'm unsure of of how to proceed. Sadly, I haven't found much reading material on how to go about doing so and I haven't heard many people's personal anecdotes or nuggets of advice from those who do doll-related commissions.

      If you are a faceup artist, eye, clothing, or wig maker who does commissions, what advice do you have for those wishing to start their own business? What's something you wish you'd known beforehand and blunders you feel you could've avoided? What are the joys and pains of doing commissions or generally running your own small business?
       
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    2. I used to be a face-up artist. When I started, I first focussed on building up a portfolio. That's quite important, you need to be able to show examples on different style heads. I offered a limited amount of cheap/free face-ups for people in my country and then raised the prices when those slots were filled and completed. It's good to have a clear overview of your prices and state clearly what you do and don't. Not only with prices but also state headsizes you do or don't, and face-up styles you do or don't. I started around 30usd for SD heads so still not crazy expensive, and I did YoSD-sized and up. I didn't do any gore-y face-ups, but did natural, fantasy and pastel face-ups. State your materials too. Some people prefer watercolour pencil face-ups, some acrylic paint face-ups. It's good to have a list of materials so people know what they'll get when requesting a face-up. And, better too much info than too little.

      Another thing is communication. Some face-up artists don't do in progress photos but I found that customers often like having progress photos. Often because then they know you're working on the head and to just see the process. Also, when for whatever reason something gets delayed, always tell the customer. Some things can't be helped but at least then they know you haven't forgotten them.

      I started doing face-ups before the whole fakes thing, but later people started sending me fakes to face-up and didn't tell me. I ended up with a bad rash on my hands from toxic resin and breathing issues from the amount of dust inside the doll (my fault, should've checked and worn a mask during face-upping too and not just during spraying MSC). I temporarily quit offering them but eventually decided to not offer them at all anymore because I just couldn't take the risk and I didn't miss doing them. So I completely quit. I still do them for friends sometimes or for my other dolls, but for others... never again.

      I now have an Etsy shop for Smartdoll and Dollfie Dream clothing and I honestly prefer making in stock stuff compared to commission ^^" I found that doing commissions is quite a pressure for me, you have to work on something even though you may not always be in the mood. Sometimes I have weeks where I can sew all day and sometimes I have weeks where I rather throw my sewing machine off the balcony. So that's another good bit of advice, set an amount of face-up slots you can handle. Don't do like 10 slots a month because you'd either get delays or end up working on days when you'd rather just relax. Set a working time you can handle. Finishing a face-up in a week is great, but just set an expected working time a bit longer than that in case something happens.

      Other than that... Just go have fun.
       
      #2 Kayren-Twist, Nov 20, 2020
      Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
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    3. I started taking commissions back in 2008, and have been doing them pretty much the whole time. This year is the first one where I take a long break and have nothing at home I need to finish.
      I already warn you, this will be a long post.

      Where do I start...maybe with my history first.
      I got my first doll in 2008 and always knew I wanted to do face-ups. Less out of interest and more because I knew I wouldn't be a fan of having to send out my dolls to get them painted. I very quickly for some reason had local collectors express interest in my work, so I started taking commissions.
      I hadn't planned to take commissions when I entered the hobby, I just kind of stumbled into it. I would NOT recommend doing it that way. 2008 was a different time and I was just really lucky.

      At first I took in things when they came. Someone would ask me if I could do X, I would say yes and tackle it. I finished things pretty fast during that time, sometimes within a day of receiving a package! Very informal, but those were the days back then.
      I then moved out from home and got a very soul-sucking job, and because the job paid badly I relied heavily on commissions to keep me afloat. It turned from a funny hobby thing I did to get extra spending money to a second job. That's when things turned sour. I had to take on more and more commissions, while being drained from life and everything on top. I had to take commissions that were not fun simply to get some bread. I had my own collection sitting there unfinished, while heads from others piled up around me. I at one point didn't want to go into the doll room anymore because I knew what would await me there.
      I got a better job and then just had to work on reducing my slots and waitlist. This took forever still, but at one point I was finally free and actually managed to stay free. That was this year. I am still struggling to keep it that way and trying to force myself to paint my own dolls.
      I am still not sure I will take commissions again in a big manner. Maybe a random head here or there for a trade with another artist I like, or to make use of my airbrush. But I will not return to how it once was.

      ---

      That was my story, now to the pro and contra stuff.

      In the beginning taking commissions was really nice! It made it possible for me to a) earn money for the hobby (essentially making the hobby pay itself), b) see and paint a lot of different dolls and concepts, and c) have some fuzzy feelings whenever a customer was happy that I breathed "life" into their doll, and turned it from a blank base into their OC. Those three things made it worthwhile, in one way or another. Besides, I also just really enjoyed the craft. I like painting dolls. You can only repaint your own dolls so many times, and many concepts I love to do but not to own. Commissions were perfect for that.

      However, now comes the downside. First of all, the money is pretty much laughable in comparison to the work one puts into it. I think I am still not at the point where I pay myself minimum wage, and I will likely never reach that point. BJD face-ups are in comparison to for example Blythe customs very, very, very cheap. Even in the high price face-up bracket people rarely pay much more than 100$. Considering that you sometimes spend 20+ hours painting a head when you do detailed realistic face-ups...that's pretty rough. And that doesn't include materials.
      While most of my materials have lasted me for years, sealant alone is especially expensive. I bought an airbrush at some point because I got tired of doing fantasy blushing by hand and with pastels (which didn't look good and took forever), which cost me several hundred bucks. However, again people love the look but aren't willing to pay much money. I had someone request me to airbrush a pair of wings, and they complained about the price because "I paid less for the wings, why should I pay so much to get them painted". I mean sure, let me airbrush a pair for 10 Dollar simply because you bought the wings for 20 Dollar. Face-Ups for Resinsouls are from now on also cheaper than for Volks :abambi: Honestly, that logic still baffles me.

      Which brings me to the next point, the customers. I was extremely lucky with the majority of my customers. They were honest, paid on time and were extremely patient with me at times (more about that later). I never had to re-do any of my works or had arguments with any of them.
      However, I know I am extremely lucky there. I heard so many horror stories from other artists of customers who just can't make up their mind and demand a lot of (free!) re-dos, who lie about the state of their doll (being a recast, or being dirty while having claimed it was clean and then being unwilling to pay for cleaning), don't pay or are just generally a pain in the ass. And you got those in every price bracket.
      I personally made sure to weed out the worst ones through certain means, but sometimes you still have them slip through somehow.

      Now the last aspect. Taking commissions eats up A LOT of hobby time and energy. The majority of people I know who take commissions, make goods for selling etc. spend like 95% of their time doing stuff for others. My seamstress, face-up and co. colleagues often suffer from being stuck in the same cycle of "as soon as I am done with X, I will finally do something for my own dolls!". That never happens, unless they fully close commissions for good. A point many reach after several years.
      I am a victim of this myself. Remember I mentioned that I started doing face-ups so I don't have to send out my dolls? In reality most of my dolls have been blank for years or maybe are lucky enough to sport an old face-up of mine. When you do commissions you just don't have the time and energy to do more for yourself. And there is a bit of guilt as well. Guilt for doing something for yourself while you have commissions waiting (which customers could see and be angry about), and guilt for doing something that is neither bringing in money nor doing anything else but "just" making you happy (some people just struggle with that).
      This can escalate and completely paralyze an artist. It happened to me, which meant people had to wait pretty long at times until I finished their commissions. I was so tired and worn out I just couldn't do it anymore. Meanwhile my own dolls too were unfinished, I never had time/energy for them and so on. Not really a nice way to experience a hobby.
       
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    4. Part 2:
      ---

      Now to the more technical stuff and how to start/what I think is important and know makes it easier:

      1) Good pictures
      I cannot stress enough how important that is. Try to find a certain setup that works for you and take nice, clear and crisp portfolio shots. Good light, minimal editing, pleasant close-ups. People want to see your line work and what to expect. That might mean having to invest in a proper camera and a lens that allows for such shots.

      2) Build up a portfolio
      Use your own dolls for this in the beginning. Think what you like to do style-wise and make a couple examples for that. You don't have to do everything, if you don't like painting horror stuff for example...just accept that. When a customer asks for it, tell them you don't want to do it and that they have to find someone else. It's okay to have preferences.

      3) Write down a clear set of rules
      Think about things like "What am I going to do when someone wants me to redo the paintjob because they changed their mind?" or "What should I do when they damaged the doll shortly after receiving it?". You need to cover your ass for any possibilities, so to speak. Check out what other artists usually write about these things as a guideline, and what you might need to include.

      4) Outline the process
      Explain how the process of commissioning you is going to be like and write down the steps. Things like "Contact me through PM, afterwards you receive a form from me you have to fill out, send me the doll, payment is due when you ship me the doll etc.".

      5) Write down your materials
      Helps people to know you are using the right stuff, and to give them a general feeling for your work process as well.

      6) Think about your prices
      That stuff is rough in the beginning, and people tend to undervalue themselves. I would NOT take free-face ups in the beginning personally, at least cover material cost (sealant is expensive after all). Try different means to build up trust and a portfolio, like working with friends/locals for example.
      After you have an idea, outline those prices. Think how you want to split them up (SD costs more than MSD or is everything the same, a base face-up price and things like freckles or scars costs extra vs higher base price that includes everything), and what other services you want to offer (face-up removal, subtractive and additive moddings, body blushing etc.). I personally have some things listed that I do, but without a price. That's for everything where the price can only be determined case by case.

      7) Organize yourself
      I personally at one point set up an e-mail address for all my commissions. People would need to send me an e-mail there with a filled out form I gave to them. This form included all information I needed to know to do the job (their personal information, what is included in the package, and all details needed for the commission like which doll, colors and theme etc.). Some customers dislike filling out forms, but it made my job SO MUCH easier. I had a central file I could check vs having to crawl through 20 messages and hoping I didn't miss the "I want a mole underneath the left eye" in one of them.
      Also don't believe when they say "they don't know what they want/don't have a preference". They do, believe me.

      8) Don't take on too much
      Try to keep it to one commission at a time for the beginning. Once you are done and a commission is shipped out, you can offer a slot again. As long as this doesn't become your main source of income and job, there is no need to take everyone you can get.

      Honestly, try to check out how other artists handle this in their threads! Look up the forum here and just browse and take notes. Some things pop up again and again, and maybe you didn't think of something that is super important.

      Things I know customer like/wish for:

      1) Take WIP/work in progress shots
      That is not only something that is good for them but also good for you. Yes, it takes extra time, but it makes the customer happy and helps you to cover your ass as well.
      When you provide them with those shots you can early on realize whether you are on the right track or not. When you only send final photos and it turns out you made a mistake/misunderstood them already early on in the process, you just wasted time and money. I personally usually send an image of the eyebrow base to confirm at least, because that's the biggest issue people usually have (wrong shape/angle). I then send ones whenever I felt it it was needed or showed interesting progress.

      2) Be professional and available
      I mentioned that I had times where I was very slow, and that my customers were very patient with me. That was largely in part because I was always available, always answered messages quickly and tried my best to keep them informed. When you receive a message, try to answer it the same or next day. Don't avoid it, even if it hurts.

      3) Be respectful with the goods
      Those dolls are expensive, and we know people love their dolls and are attached to them. While they are with you, do everything to store them properly and safely. I personally had my commission area always covered up, or would let pieces rest in their shipping box when I wasn't working on them.

      I once wrote a guide for general commission taking (not just BJDs), some of it might be helpful here too: https://twitter.com/assortedara/status/1015911622534189056

      Things I wish I would have done differently:
      1) Be more strict with myself
      Not saying yes to everything, every offer, every request I received from someone who asked me to paint something for them. Yeah being nice is great, yeah some of those ideas sound SUPER INTERESTING...but no. Sit on your hands when you feel it gets too much, no matter how tempting it might be.

      2) NO WAITLIST
      Seriously, don't do it. It is so easy to overdo it, and at one point it feels like working at an assembly line because you always know what is awaiting you even months down the road. Customers just have to keep trying whenever you open up.

      3) Forcing myself to take more time for my own collection
      My own hobby enjoyment should have been more of a priority. What's the point of a hobby when you never actually do anything for yourself in it?

      ---

      Phew, I think that is all I can come up with for now.
      I know it sounds at times pretty bleak, but it can be pretty nice too! However, I think a lot of people forget that taking commissions is not just "yay I get to paint dolls and be paid for it".
      You need to put in a lot of time into organizing things, talking with the customer, taking pictures...basically juggling a business. And when you take commissions you are often also very limited in what you actually end up doing, which for some artists is a nightmare. Some need the artistic freedom too much to enjoy taking commissions, and sometimes they realize that way too late.

      So I'd say, sit down and ask yourself if you are willing/able to handle all that extra work on top. If yes, give it a try and see if you enjoy doing commissions!:)
       
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