I am going to do my best to answer all these questions as they have applied to me personally. I am sure other artists in here have done things differently, so it might be cool to see what has worked/not worked for others in this forum.
1. At what point do you recognize that your work is worthy of some type of payment?
For me, it came to a point where I was doing free sketches for people on myspace to pass the time and get in a little practice after a long hiatus from drawing and people started asking to buy the originals, so I went with that and set a very low starting price for those early drawings.
2. How do you determine how much your art is worth (what stages do you increase your price)?
I started out super low (like $10-15) and used very basic materials such as a #2 pencil and printer paper. As I bought more expensive materials and the quality of my artwork improved, I increased my prices. I would look at other artist's web sites for price quotes when I felt their art was comprable to mine, although I tended to see a HUGE difference in prices across the board and it was difficult to figure out what a reasonable price would be in comparison to other artists. I just made sure to make my price increases very gradual, especially since I started having repeat customers. I didn't want to alarm them when prices suddenly went up. So far no one has complained about my prices. If anything, people tell me all the time that I don't charge enough. I'd so rather hear that than the other alternative. One thing people advised me on was to charge in accordance with demand. If I am getting overwhelmed with a lot of orders, it probably means I am not charging enough. If I am getting no business at all, maybe lower the prices a little. I can tell you from personal experience that the couple times I ran fundraisers at 50% discounts, that's when I suddenly had a TON of business, way more than I could really handle with also having a full time job. The amount I charge now is just enough to allow me a small amount of business that keeps me somewhat busy without feeling too overwhelmed.
3. Where/How do you advertise?
Most of my advertising has been through internet forums such as myspace (though I do not use my account anymore), facebook and here on horseforum. I have posted flyers at my local barn before. I eventually created my own web site. The first one was a free website which meant I had to attach the name of the site creator to the domain. I didn't like that, so I purchased a domain name through weebly.com. I love that web site creator as it is very user friendly for someone like me who doesn't do well with computer stuff. I am sure there are other good sites for more computer savvy people, but I love weebly.com. Now I have my own domain name that no one else can have www.soulponyportraits.com
. Since building up a decent clientele, most of my business comes from repeat clients or referrals from people who have bought portraits from me. I also donate to fundraisers when I can. Although I am donating my time and materials for no profit, I use it as an opportunity to get my name out there. My next goal is to make business cards that I can leave on a silent auction table so that passers by can pick up my card and even if they don't win my item, they "might" contact me a later time to set up an actual commission. That might be something to think about, especially if you are just getting started. Look into donating to a silent auction for a local animal or horse rescue and see what people are willing to bid for a custom portrait.
4. What do you use as paper (Is normal sketch paper unacceptable....ect)?
I think normal sketch paper is fine in the early stages of your art business. That's what I used after I graduated from printer paper...lol. Build up a portfolio with less expensive materials at a lower price. As your technique becomes more mature and consistent, consider looking into nicer paper. I don't want to buy a fancy pad of bristol paper and wind up throwing out a drawing because it didn't come out just as you (or the client) wanted. That's a waste of "your" money. Wait until you become more consistent before buying expensive paper. I personally love strathmore bristol paper because of it's smoothness and the paper is really thick so it is not as prone to tearing or crease lines during handling and shipping. I seal ALL my commissioned work with a workable fixative spray to prevent smudging. Some people claim hairspray works as a less expensive alternative, but I have yet to find a hairspray product that works well enough to use on a drawing that some one has paid for.
5. How do you mail the finished protect?
Shipping artwork is still one of my biggest bugaboos and I still struggle to establish shipping prices with the cost of a shipping package and the method of shipping used (first class vs. priority vs. UPS). It varies so much from one destination to another, so it's hard to give someone a quote before the item ships out. If anyone can field this question better, I'd personally love to hear your input. As far as shipping packages go, make sure the envelope is either made of firm cardboard, or put a firm cardboard insert in the envelope. I made the mistake early on with using just bubble wrap envelopes and the drawings got folded and damaged in the mail. The envelope "must" be rigid to prevent folding.
6. Do you ask for payment before or after or some upfront and then the rest later?
I used only require payment "after" I completed the drawing, but "before" I shipped it out. Unfortunately, I had several people decide not to pay after I put in all that work because, hey, they already have the image and I guess that was good enough for them. A lot of artists put a watermark on their drawings to prevent this from happening. First of all, I do not have a program that allows me to do watermarks and I personally don't like showing off my artwork with a big ugly thing across the image. The downside is that people can easily take my images and print them out for their own use or even "claim" the drawing as their own, a problem I am very much aware of and just "hope" people won't be that stupid, but I know the potential exists. Because of the few people that never paid me for my time, I now ask for 50% up front just to get started. First come first serve essentially. The remaining 50% is due upon completion. That way I am at least reimbursed somewhat for my time if the client decides not to buy the original. I will make exceptions for return clients and people I know and trust. I also barter for other goods/services with people if I want/need something and the prices are about the same.
7. What are some major do's/don'ts?
Hmmm, not sure what to answer here. One thing I learned the hard way was to do the entire drawing without showing the client at least a rough sketch first. I had to redo several drawings because the owner wasn't happy with the orientation of the drawing or didn't like something like the shape of the eyes. So now I ALWAYS show the client the rough sketch first while it's still easy to erase. Although, I have to admit, sometimes even that isn't good enough. I can show the client the rough sketch and they approve it. Then I do all the shading and they suddenly decide they wanted the eyes bigger or smaller or the animal positioned differently. That can be frustrating. Also, I know of many artists that will turn down commissions if the quality of the photograph os poor. I have yet to turn down a commission, but let me tell you, it is not worth it to take on a commission if the photograph is bad. I have spent WAY too many hours "trying" to capture the animal just right based on a very crappy picture and the owner has something in mind that the photograph doesn't show. It is ok to turn down a commission you aren't comfortable with. I have yet to follow my own advice in this respect.
8. What is your time frame from the receiving of payment/reference photos to sending of the finished product?
I "try" to produce quick turn around, but in all honesty, with having a full time job and other obligations in life, my drawings can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete depending on how many orders I have, my job and life in general. I just try to be as honest as possible with people about these factors, but I encourage them to check in with me on progress updates, though I typically send updates periodically anyway, just as a courtesy. If there is a deadline, such as a birthday or Christmas, I do the best I can to meet those deadlines and will be completely honest from the start if I feel I can get the job done in time or if there is even a slight chance I won't have it finished before the deadline. In fact, I think I am going to add that to my web site, that I can't always guarantee when a drawing will be completed.
9. My personal work right now is not always consistently good, is this considered a major problem in I shouldn't do commissions? I wouldn't expect anyone to pay for something I myself was not happy with.
I don't think inconsistency should discourage you from giving the commission thing a try. That's why you want to start with low prices and using less expensive materials until you become more consistent. I definitely wasn't super consistent when I started out. And just remember, even the most accomplished and consistent artists can't make everyone happy 100% of the time. You will encounter high maintenance clients at some point. Looking at your art samples, I think you are ready to give it a try.
I know that was super wordy, but I hope it helped. I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say. That's what I love about this forum.