There's an elephant in the room, and it is doing serious damage to the art market that has helped our fandom thrive. If you've been in the furry fandom any length of time and commissioned art with any real frequency, you probably know what I'm about to talk about (you're either an artist who's done it, a commissioner who's been on the receiving end of it, or both). If you're new to the fandom or are passing through my blog from outside, it's something you might not be familiar with.
The vicious cycle of emergency commissions
There is a practice among some furry artists that has become all too common. It's not something done by all - or even most - artists, but it happens often enough that just about anyone who commissions art with any great frequency has encountered at least one artist who's done it. It goes something like this:
The artist takes a full workload of commissions, charging clients up front, just as they normally would.
The artist spends the money from those commissions - not necessarily even in an irresponsible way; they may be paying bills, buying a few nice things, whatever. However it's spent, it's spent.
An unexpected (and usually urgent) expense arises. Out of desperation, the artist reopens for commissions and takes on more work, despite already having an unfinished set of commissions awaiting completion.
The unexpected expense is covered (often just barely), but the artist now has much more work to do and much less time to do it.
At this point, things usually diverge along one of two paths:
Path A: The artist pushes hard - so hard that they burn out. They may have completed all the owed work, but are now in the dangerous position of needing to take on more work to cover their regular expenses again while they are truthfully in no condition to take on any work at all.
Path B: The artist completes the work as fast as possible without burnout, but takes so long due to the workload that they have to take on even more work just to cover their regular, recurring expenses, so their queue gets longer and longer.
From here, things start to get messy, because this is when an artist feels the most pressure, and extreme pressure can make even the most level-headed people behave in unpredictable ways. Whatever the case, the artist usually ends up having to take on even more "emergency commissions" to cover financial shortfalls, and it just turns into a vicious cycle of unsustainable financial practices.
Just to be crystal clear here, I'm not at all suggesting that an artist should never take commissions to cover unexpected expenses. I'd be a hypocrite if I did. I've certainly had to do it before. The problem isn't artists taking on more work and working harder to cover shortfalls; the problem is artists taking on more work than they can reasonably handle. And when you're dealing with a crisis that's eating up extra money, what you can reasonably handle may be less than what it would normally be - a fact that artists often fail to take into account. The reason that's a huge problem is because a lot of artists melt under that pressure and throw in the towel, walking away from a bunch of owed work and taking their commissioners' money with them - that's a scam known as ghosting.
Ghosting: when an artist just gives up
This cycle of taking commissions to cover expenses while still owing work that's already paid for (effectively treating commissions like interest-free payday loans) is immensely draining. It wears down an artist's morale, causes anxiety spikes, and just generally turns up the pressure more and more the longer it goes on.
Artists who get stuck in that rut have long queues and tons of work piled up - and because anxiety and pressure have a tendency to kill creative moods pretty quickly, this often (though not always; some artists do work well under pressure) causes the artist to work even more slowly, which exacerbates the problem even further. Because of the stack of work and the artist's slowness to complete it, commissioners eventually start messaging the artist asking for updates.
This point is often where the most serious problems arise: the artist might show an update on progress, they might say something like "I don't have an update for you, but I will try to show you something soon" (possibly even giving a specific date), or they might not respond at all. The longer they take, the more update requests they start to get. Requests for updates begin turning into requests for refunds. At this point, even if the artist has been responsive and communicative, they begin to dread getting messages and avoid their messengers, or they open them to clear the unread notifications but don't answer, or they start to "phone it in" and give empty promises. They settle into a steady state of this radio silence (or static in the form of those empty promises) - sometimes sporadically completing work, and sometimes just not working at all.
However you want to describe it, the simple fact is that at this point, for all practical purposes, the artist has become insolvent. Basically, they've started to deal with it by not dealing with it: out of sight, out of mind. If the artist has led people on long enough, a lot of commissioners are now past the payment processor's dispute window and therefore have little recourse. It's possible to take the artist to court and get a judgment against them, of course, but that rarely works out in anyone's favor; the average price of a furry art commission is far less than a court case is worth when you take legal fees, travel expenses, and all other factors into account - not to mention the fact that if the artist has no money to pay the amount of the judgment, which is often the case, it's all for naught anyway. I know of one person who was scammed and successfully got a judgment, only to discover that getting the court to actually enforce that judgment is even more difficult than getting the judgment in the first place, and that was for a roughly $2000 fursuit commission. The average cost of a furry art commission is somewhere in the neighborhood of $80-150 (likely not even enough to cover the cost of a train ticket to whatever legal jurisdiction the artist lives in). TLDR: If an artist "takes the money and runs," there's often little to nothing that can be done about it.
How artists ghosting hurts the furry fandom
Furry artists ghost people. A lot. I myself have been ghosted by more than one artist, on more than one occasion. The simple truth is that it is a rampant problem in the furry fandom, and it is doing tangible damage to the fandom's art market. When artists ghost their commissioners, it hurts everyone involved.
It hurts the commissioner most obviously, because they've put in a usually sizeable amount of money and have nothing to show for it. $80-150 may not be much from a "take them to court" standpoint, but to someone who works for low/minimum wage ("suspiciously wealthy furries" are not as abundant as the memes would have us believe, but that's a topic for a whooooole other blog post), it might well represent more than a full day's work.
However, it also hurts the artist who does the ghosting. Furry artists live and die on their reputation. An exceptionally skilled artist can often get away with a lot, but the community's goodwill isn't infinite towards anyone. Artists who damage trust end up on warning blogs like Artists Beware. They get called out and dragged on Twitter. They get fewer people recommending them to potential clients. By ghosting their clients - for whatever reason, desperation notwithstanding - they are hurting themselves as much as anyone else, because a broken reputation is an incredibly hard thing to recover from, and each time they break that trust, it gets harder and harder for them to continue selling those commissions, which puts them in an even bigger bind that they can't recover from.
Worst of all, though, it hurts the entire art market for the furry fandom. I've had loads of people tell me, "I've been ghosted so many times that I just don't commission art anymore." The problem is so pervasive that it's hard to find anyone who hasn't been hurt by it at one point or another. No one commissions art without being excited about it. They love seeing someone's vision of their character, and when they see an artist whose style they like, they get a thrill from thinking about what the artist will produce for them. When the artist not only doesn't produce anything but also takes their money and disappears, that's one of the most discouraging things that can happen to a furry. When it happens routinely, it's no wonder they lose interest altogether and stop trying to get art.
How to avoid getting ghosted or scammed
The unfortunate truth is that there's no foolproof way to avoid getting ghosted; even well-established artists have often fallen into the trap of the "emergency commissions" cycle that leads to ghosting - and that "emergency commissions" routine is by no means the only reason why artist might ghost their clients; it's just the one that I have seen the most often. Inexperienced artists sometimes don't know their own boundaries and make irresponsible decisions, and of course, the furry fandom is no more immune to con artists than any other interest group. There are, however, a few things you can do to protect yourself and a few "red flags" to watch out for when you're commissioning an artist.
Ask to see the artist's queue. In 2023, there is frankly no excuse for an artist to not have a public-facing queue. I keep my own right here on my website, but any artist can use a free service like Trello or even just a Google spreadsheet to show the status of their art schedule. If an artist isn't willing to let their clients see their current list of commissions, that's a sign that they aren't going to be completely transparent about the process, and that they may not be as communicative as they should.
Require the artist to commit to a specific deadline. If an artist isn't willing to tell you "the art will be done by [date]," don't commission them. Let the artist set the specific date, but do require them to commit to a date - and make sure the deadline they give is within the dispute window for their payment processor (for the overwhelming majority of furry artists, including myself, that's PayPal, whose dispute window is 180 days from the date of payment).
Request an invoice. You should avoid commissioning artists who aren't willing to use an invoice unless you've commissioned them before and trust them. An invoice creates a digital paper trail that you can keep for your records in the event of a dispute. Never commission an artist if they ask you to send payment as "friends and family" on PayPal or ask you to use Cash App, because there are no buyer protections on those options. Sometimes inexperienced artists who don't know better use those options to avoid paying the transaction fees, but scammers also deliberately use them precisely because there's no buyer protection attached to them.
Ask the artist about their refund policy. Don't commission an artist if their policy is "I never do refunds." That one should go without saying. It's one thing if they don't offer refunds on specific things (for instance, my sketches are nonrefundable because a sketch is a one-off for which there's not much of a "work in progress" stage - but even in those cases, my policy is that I'll still give a refund if I've missed the deadline), but for an artist to say "no refunds ever" is not only a major red flag, but also a highly unethical business practice.
Research the artist before commissioning them. Look at their Twitter feed. Look at their Furaffinity page. How often do they post art? If there are long gaps in between posts, that's not necessarily a bad sign, but look at their journals and tweets to see if it coincides with one of those "emergency commissions" loops. Search for them on Artists Beware - if there's an entry for them there, read it to see what the dispute was/is and whether it's been resolved. When you commission an artist, you're hiring them. Commissioning an artist without researching them first is like hiring someone without a résumé; you might get good results, but it's always a gamble.
It's unfortunate how often artists in the furry fandom ghost their clients; it's just as unfortunate that so many furry artists are in the dire financial straits that lead them to do that - especially since it doesn't have to be that way. Furries are generally very good at taking care of each other. When people ask for donations, there's usually no shortage of people who will donate or boost the funding drive. And if you're a furry artist who has ghosted your clients, you can recover. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the stack of work you've piled up, but it's not impossible to recover - it's difficult, I'm not going to sugar-coat that, but it is doable. If you're behind on work, doing something is better than doing nothing. Don't let "perfect" be the enemy of "good." If you're a commissioner who's been ghosted one too many times, I hope you'll see this and know that there are good artists out there who will deliver what they promise. The furry fandom lives and thrives on its art, and however the topic of this blog may have soured you on getting art for yourself, don't let it stop you from looking for those trustworthy artists.