To date, probably my most successful venture in terms of actually getting money to artists, Portrait Adoption was started in 2004, largely due to the coding efforts of the lovely Jennie Seay.
It was an unusual idea: offer exclusive portraits that were already finished, instead of making people commission work and deal with the risks and hassles of handling money between unknown artists and clients. Clients receive an exclusive print, a signed certificate, and the only un-watermarked digital image available. If they can't find what they want, they can submit a description and see if it inspires an artist - or in many cases, several artists! There's no upfront cost to a client - they only buy what they've already seen and fallen in love with. It's low risk to an artist, because they can turn around and put that work up as a general adoption for someone else.
When it opened in 2004 at adoption.ellenmilliongraphics.com, there were about two dozen portraits by just Jennie and myself. Within a year, we had dozens of artists and hundreds of portraits - and the adoptions to prove it was a viable idea! Submitted Descriptions (a client describes a character and as many artists as are inspired tackle artwork for them) turned out to be a great idea with a particularly high adoption turnover.
Here we are, four years, two webpages and our own domain later, and we've got 95 current artists from around the world (with work actually available, or adopted), 617 portraits available, 283 have been adopted (which is a darned good adoption rate), and 10 descriptions are in our queue. Our site has nifty features like wishlists and search functions that allow you to search by price if you're on a budget. Customization is available!
Artists enjoy a private forum where they can post works in progress for advice and encouragement, without risking theft, and they can price their work at prices they want and deserve - while drawing and painting pretty much what they want to. They can rest assured that they're being represented fairly, politely and professionally, and that their work will look hot because it's printed to the highest possible standards.
What customers have said about us:
"If you are thinking about submitting a description or contacting a PA artist? Do it. I have worked with tons of artists over the years I have roleplayed. PA is the /only/ artist organization I can grant the 100% satisfaction award to." ~Akeyenka
"I can not agree enough. I currently have a character commission out and have had one completed in the past that resulted in three fantastic versions of one of my online RPG Character. My overwhelmingly positive experience the first time on all levels definately led to me submitting a second description.
This is a fantastic website for any one who, like me, loves comissioning art and seeing their character come to life at the hands of a skilled artist without the worry of dealing with someone who might rip you off or disapear." ~mandaann
"I've seen it both ways, commissioning artists that never panned out and finishing + handing over commissioned artwork that I never received payment for! I wasn't sure whether PA would be worth it or not, but considering "giving it a shot" meant no financial obligation, I gave it a shot...Ellen's communication with me was so excellent, and the interpretations I received were so fantastic, that I became an instant PA addict." ~lespritescalier
Coming up in the (near!) future: better functionality for submitted descriptions! Better search options! Updated banners! Believe me - four years old is still just a toddler... we've got a great journey ahead of us.