View Full Version : [Award Winner] How to get commissions and get paid to map.

06-04-2010, 10:19 AM
This is not a standard tutorial. Instead, this will cover ways that I have found to be useful in getting my first map commissions. This is certainly not unique, and I know others have found separate routes to this. I wholeheartedly encourage them to chip in with their tips too.

1. Create a portfolio

To get work you need to be able to show that you can do the work required. In fantasy cartography there are 5 types of map: indoor encounter maps (dungeons), outdoor encounter maps, town/city maps, regional maps and world maps. Ideally make sure that you have an example of each that you feel is the best that you can do. On the other hand, you can always pitch for just encounter maps, or just regional maps. It narrows your market, but it reduces the number of pieces you have to prepare.

Put the portfolio up somewhere. You can create your own website for this - or an easier solution is to use a site like DeviantArt or CGHub. I prefer CGHub becuase I find it more directly geared towards fantasy art and has a nice portfolio interface.

2. Get your work out there

This is one site for discussing maps - but most people here like making maps and aren't going to commission you. You can and should keep an eye on the mapmaking requests forum here, but also post your work elsewhere. Here are a few places that I've found it useful to create a post with my work. I update the post whenever I have something new to show. Don't post rubbish, and don't bump your thread without good reason. If you only post your best stuff then people browsing will get a steady trickle of your good work and will be constantly reminded of your name. When they need a map they'll think - ah, that guy ont he forum had some good stuff. I wonder if he's free?

Here's my list of useful forums:

You'll see some familiar faces on those forums :)

3. Do everything that you can get your hands on

Initially, take up everything that you can manage (and be realistic about what you can manage). Indie publishing is small and friendly word and people know each other. Make sure that you do a good job on each project, are courteous and get the work done on time. If you do this people will enjoy working with you and your name will get spread around. You'll find people start contacting you because of what someone they knew said and you'll start having to pick and choose commissions. Don't worry about the pay to start with. Your initial commissions are likely to be low paying jobs or free work. They are still worth it as they'll give you practice working to a brief. You can make mistakes and not feel too terrible about it and find your feet. As more people start asking you to do work, then you can put your rates up until you find the point where you have just enough work to keep you busy.

There will be people who want something for nothing. It's your choice whether to work for them or not. If they are private individuals then the benefits are slim. However if it will result in your work being more widely seen then it might be worth it. I was approached to do a core art pack of tiles for maptool for free. Now I've got a lot of (free) value out of the program and wanted to give something back. It also means that my art is seen by all the users of maptool - which is an audience of people who need a lot of maps. That was an easy one - I did it.

You can also send your portfolio to people. It's worth looking for small to medium indie publishers and sending an email with a link to your portfolio, or five (downsized) portfolio pieces in the email itself. For advice on this I'd recommend reading the blog of the AD for D&D:

That's how I started picking up commissions and if it works once it should work again. I'll let others chip in with their thoughts now.

06-04-2010, 10:47 AM
Thanks Torstan, that's a good "tutorial" if I ever seen one. Especially since you're "educating" competitors - duly repped and rated and all that stuff :)

06-04-2010, 12:15 PM
That's a great post, Torstan, thanks a ton! (And as someone just learning to use MapTool so that we can play on it this weekend, thanks for those tiles as well!)

06-04-2010, 04:17 PM
Fantastic and very selfless post! 5 star / compass rating from me....this deserves to be an award tutorial!

06-04-2010, 06:12 PM
Getting people to part with money is one of the hardest things to achieve and that goes double for the RPG industry. I found most of what your saying just generally applicable too. If your having a hard time getting a job of any description then just skim and checklist the tut. I will rep and rate as well.

06-04-2010, 11:18 PM
I've got a website with my maps and services (gamer-printshop.com), an online private portfolio, and several Map threads on EnWorld, Iron Crown Enterprises, ConceptArt, Talkgraphics (Xara website), RPGNet, DnDAdventure and a couple others. I actually think participating in Monthly Challenges here, whether I won them or not has gotten me work. I have gained three clients through the Map Request forum here at the Guild. I've gotten three clients through Iron Crown Enterprises forum, including Iron Crown Enterprises. In some cases I have no idea how many of my new clients are finding me - probably one the above, but clients are now contacting me directly through Email, these days.

But lately, I've been looking at becoming the publisher to create my own work and "commission myself". Consider this, most publishers can't afford many maps, though I have had commissions up to seven maps for a product, in most cases its one to three maps. For my first adventure, I have 12 maps in it - a number most publishers can't afford, so my products will stand out over the competition and look really professional - part of my goal.

Also I've been coordinating with various publisher connections I have and forming publication partnerships, where I am nolonger the commissioned illustrator, but a publishing partner. While the pay is not as immediate as in commissioned work, the amount of return is infinitely higher getting an even three way, or two way split on profits. My first publication has earned me $500 so far, and I have an $800 investment, but that's for 4 different products, and the $500 profit is just the first adventure (my investment has been in commissioning artists for cover and interior illustrations.)

Another thing to consider, as a proto-publisher, in some cases, I have exchanged services for work I need done - maps for trade. I have about three clients that I owe maps for their upcoming projects. Rather than pay for writers or MapTool programmers (for example) I just traded in maps down the road. So in some cases, maps have become a currency to pay for other work I need.


06-05-2010, 01:24 AM
Yes, never under estimate the value of a good barter - you can often get at much better "price" when no money is exchanged. And that goes for everything, for instance: in my garden I have had 6 inches of soil taken away and 6 inches of prima soil putten back on, and had a truck deliver 12 ton of gravel for some areas ... lot of money it would have cost me, but I've made a logo for the local farmer/truckdriver who helped me and he'll probably need some businesscards and stationary too (I hope) ... so I'm bringing my bill down :) Also getting ligthing in the garden done by an electrician who needs logo, business cards and a brochure.
And in addtion to that - don't under estimate the power of a good gesture either, in the profesional printing business it is amazing what you can get done with a six-pack or a nice bottle of wine when you go to the back door ;)
I've published some cool magazines these last years and I hope to start as rpg-publisher next year (have to save some money first - yep the real stuff), and I do hope to be able to reward the (hopefully) contributing writers and illustrators with more than maps, if not from the start, then later on :)

06-05-2010, 04:31 AM
I would add the following:

Step 0. Have at least a little talent and realize that you have to back it up with hours and days and weeks of practice.

Step 4. Never give up.

Other practical advice: Don't expect to turn a profit for a long time (if ever). Don't do it unless you love it.

06-10-2010, 05:26 PM
I just read this thread. Thank you Torstan and all who have added on to it.

I am in the first baby steps of this whole digital art world and may or may not continue along the path, however, it is nice to have a little guidance. I want to express my appreciation for the help because I appreciate that in same cases it has taken a long time to get all this together. You have certainly given a step up to those who wish to go there and I for one just have to say, "THANK you, very much!". Shows real class on your part.

So now it's back to squeezing out the time to build up my portfolio since I can't yet afford to do this full time.

06-10-2010, 06:36 PM
Doesn't this Guild just rock?


Aval Penworth
06-10-2010, 09:11 PM
Also, broaden your market. There probably aren't that many RPGers willing to pay top dollars for maps. But if you can appeal to the general population you are more likely to sell stuff. Maps of real places in a fantasy style might sell better than made up places.

Hand Drawn LOTR style, comic book style, anime or cartoony ISO style maps of university campuses (back of the orientation guide) or shopping districts (flyer or local sign) might sell because they are fun and useful. Even a map for the local school fair showing the location of the stalls might generate a few dollars.

Some businesses might like to have a clever "how to find us" map on their brochure.

As a photographer I always wanted to do artsy, unusual portraits. I got to do some great work...I even got a few $10k commissions, which was great for the ego... But it was bog standard family portraits, corporate head shots and weddings that regularly paid the bills. So what I am saying is that you might do better taking work outside the purist fantasy mapper channel, so you can get paid, build your skills and get to keep doing what you love.

06-10-2010, 11:32 PM
Good point, Aval ... my first semi-paid commission has come in the form of one of those actually; my cousin has offered some of her home-made wine as payment for an 1800's-style map of the Caribbean.

06-11-2010, 01:12 AM
Doesn't this Guild just rock? :)

YES it does :)

As a photographer I always wanted to do artsy, unusual portraits. I got to do some great work...I even got a few $10k commissions, which was great for the ego... But it was bog standard family portraits, corporate head shots and weddings that regularly paid the bills. So what I am saying is that you might do better taking work outside the purist fantasy mapper channel, so you can get paid, build your skills and get to keep doing what you love.

Yep, definitly not art paying the bills here, the closest I get are creating logos - other than that its stationary, flyers, brochures and a teaching gig now and then. But that (and my wifes income) makes sure that I can do art and still keep the house ;)

06-11-2010, 02:47 AM
My daytime business is 2me Studio, Inc. a family owned digital printing, graphics, sign shop for a small midwestern city, because of the local economy it has seen better days, I don't really niche serving such a small population maybe 50,000 across five nearby cities, with competition. Normally it pays for itself with some profit and have been doing that for 16 years - though its a "family business" nobody else in the family can do any kind of graphics, so its all me really. Gamer Printshop sprung from it 3 years ago, and basically the same shop after hours, though this too has never made lots of money, though it pays much better than cartography.

While the mapping gigs are fun, challenging and grants me pro cartographer status, it doesn't pay anywhere near everything else. This is the reason I've been expanding to publishing and other avenues, while continuing to do commission, now and again. Of course its more because I love to do it than the money, but I have to try to better the income stream if I can.

Two Publication Projects I'm Involved in:

One, I'm building a trio of adventures for a dark feudal Japan-like setting for Pathfinder RPG, which though I published the first adventure back in October 2009, it is currently in the process of a professional upgrade by Rite Publishing and some of the staff of Kobold Quarterly with a hopeful re-release on or before Gencon 2010. Plans are to follow with each adventure a month apart. However, it might also become a patronage project which might delay release a bit longer, so that its completely paid for before actual release, then I will follow with the second and third adventure.

Hope to release a setting handbook that introduces new classes, reflavors base classes and include a 50 monster bestiary. The setting is called (for those who don't already know) Kaidan: a Japanese Ghost Story. All of this will be published as an imprint under Rite Publishing, though I retain 100% ownership.

The second project has also seen some delays, but is a three partner project, where I design a single mapped area that follows a specific theme, with supporting material in the form of NPCs, organizations, new classes, new feats, new spells, new magic items, intended as a drop-in piece to any existing campaign or adventure as an add-on complete location, almost a mini-adventure, but really a Lego set of RPG elements centered around the map that GMs can build for themselves as complete a location as they require in their game.

It is intended to be published as an OGL/Pathfinder/4e product. (Tilt should appreciate that last part!) with an original goal of a monthly product, but development has been slow due to more personal situations with the other partners, but its moving forward as well. Though I am the cartographer of course, I am the partner in charge of the Pathfinder development, as well as participation in the overall product. No idea, myself when release will occur. One cool marketing aspect, since the project (tentatively called Legacies) is since its more a bunch of parts that can make a whole, thoughts are posting some of those parts on other blogs and RPG websites, link built into the main product, so cross promotion by larger entities, such KQ brings traffic to them in support of the total project - more free advertising.

New Website and Ongoing Battlemap Tile Set Project (just me):

Finally, I'm building a new website with blog, forum, gallery with slideshow, ecommerce site, news site and other possible features called FreeRPGmaps.com where I plan to create two of mostly my digital photo realistic style every week a post as a free PDF download whole or sliced, color and grayscale, with varying grid types, planned for every Monday and Thursday morning (CST).

As mentioned on other threads I have a product I developed three years ago, a geomorphic map tile set that come as four double-sided printed tabloid size laminated maps, called Endless Terrain Battlemaps. From my Gamer Printshop store, this item has sold more than anything else. I know its original and different than any other map tile set, though currently only available as laminated 100#, not heavy board stock. The only two ETB sets I have in my inventory is Heavy Woods and Swamp.

I plan to give this product more live by creating a new terrain set every two weeks for the next two years (at least). The two free maps offered for two consequetive weeks will match the terrain of the currently offered Endless Terrain Battlemap set. I'm hoping to get the site operational by the weekend (it will still need work, but I can get it operating to do its job for now - I will need help for that... hint).

My First U-Tube Demo Video...

This Saturday, I'm planning to shoot a Hi-Def U-Tube commercial 4 to 8 minutes long demonstrating how the ETB sets work, what they look like, in use with miniatures, showing a printed version of my first intended free map, which I will give the same geomorphic edges at the ETB sets, thus can work directly with them - like a cool fight site, that the ETB sets serve as crossing some wilderness to get there. For the first time I will show myself in the "flesh" and speaking (!) to worldwide gaming community. After shooting it will be edited, given titles, music, some effects. So another first for me. [I will post a link to the U-Tube demo in the Industry News forum and everywhere else, when its uploaded...]

Maybe this should be better as a blog post, but since we're talking getting professional, I thought it might worthy to post this here.

This is my current status, as far as publisher/cartographer - I look at it as the next step, if doing map commissions alone is a start in our field.

Wish me luck!


06-11-2010, 03:00 AM
Well GP, we did see you in that newspaper article you shared with us a few months back. :) Still, I look forward to hearing more and seeing your video.

Good points on expanding your market base as well. It's worth thinking about. It's sort of a given that making a living as an artist is pretty rough unless you can just blow away everyone else. Digital seems to be even tougher.

06-29-2010, 05:30 PM
Awesome guide, but I doubt that many of us will take this past the hobbie stage. At this point I don't see myself doing pro maps within the next few years, even though I have heavy exeprience with photoshop and some drawing skills. I will try to build up a portofolio though:), just in case.

07-01-2010, 10:59 PM
One small piece of advice to add into this wonderful thread. Always get paid. Always charge something. The payment can be in the form of barter, it can be a dollar it could be lunch it could be something, but if someone pays you for your services, you can use them as a client reference and not just a friend you have done some stuff for. Hell, right now to build my character illustration portfolio I am doing 5 for $.01 for friends. Building up volume and quality that way.

The other point that I am not sure has been beat on as much as it should is that you should only put YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST WORK IN YOUR PORTFOLIO. If you see any mistakes or issues with the map, take it out of your portfolio and fix it before you show nit to anyone else.

07-02-2010, 02:25 AM
I am doing 5 for $.01 for friends. Building up volume and quality that way.

I'll take 500 then - thank you *lol*