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Commissions


Mark Strom

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Statements made on other threads prompted me to consider this question.

 

If you are asked to create a particular subject and knowing that you do not have a full comprehension of that subject, should you accept or decline that commission? In my case a figurative work would serve to illustrate this point.

 

If the commission was accepted would you be "cheating the client"? For example let us say the figurative piece I posted was a commission. Some would say that if the client is happy then all is well but is that truly the case?

 

Just a thought I have never approached as I tend to push myself and cannot afford to pass on many commissions. I would like to hear others opinions before I continue on.

 

Mark

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My gut reply is that the client may wish to check out a portfolio of your previous works, especially if you work in a stylized method. If I want a Norman Rockwell, I don't ask Salvador Dali to paint it. My clients usually commision a painting after they've been to my house and saw my works in person. They get a sense of what I do. I get a lot of knife requests based on what people see on my website or MySpace page. (The painting photos suck, I admit). But, Mark, I doubt that the client would accept the finished piece if he or she was not pleased with the work that you did. My problem when accepting commisions is that I'm just backed up as far as knife work goes, so I try to make a point to get back to them as far as timeframes and pricing go. Which brings up another whole subject entirely. PRICING? What do you folks do about that in regards to commisions? Hope I'm not stealing this thread with that question, Mark. If so, then Janel, please feel free to remove anything that you wish of this post.

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Mike,

My question was directed more as an ethical matter or challenge for the individual artist. A great deal of the buying public (including many of those who collect my work) buy what they like, having no real idea about your comprehension of the subject. Their comprehension is usually more limited than mine. If you can sell "pet rocks" with the proper spin put on them then you could do the same with inferior work.

 

As for pricing... It has been my experience that there is no subject that people will dance around more than this. There is also the issue of clients who come across this forum through searches..that puts the discussion into a total different light. As for my pricing, it depends on the work, material, time frame and sometimes what I describe as the aggravation factor. The latter being how much the client wants to get involved and how easy they are to work with.

 

Mark

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Well then, I think maybe this is where the impulse buy comes into play. If the customer likes it and is willing to plunk down the cash, and if they don't put too much brain power into the purchase, I wouldn't volunteer to educate them as to my abilities. Nor would I downgrade them (my abilities), either. It's like trying to get a date with a good looking girl who you feel might be out of your league. Aim for the stars, you might just hit the moon. If you earn fandom, them just smile and take a bow.

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Hi Mike,

 

I won't edit out anything, but if you want to begin a discussion regarding pricing, go for it! We may have addressed it in the past, but that was a different time and grouping of members who were active. It would be good to discuss how we approach pricing. I wish that we could have some business pros with an understanding of what and how we do what we do help us learn beyond our experiences.

 

Hi Mark,

 

Having done only one figurative piece before, "Friends" on my web site from years ago, I accepted a commission for a little human figure. Knowing my need for recognizable accuracy for the subjects and not a resemblance or caricature, I worked hard ahead of the carving to get it right (right enough, anyway). Considering a commission while knowing your experience and limitations, I feel that if one cannot do the preparatory work to learn the needed skills and improve the eye, then a confident "no" would be the answer. It is better to not make something that the client might reject, and you might get stuck with without pay.

 

Hmm, another twist to commissions, does one take deposits on commissions, why or why not, and how to estimate a final cost... is it OK to enter all considerations into this Commissions topic? I have much to learn with so many aspects of this concept.

 

 

Thanks guys for starting this one. Looking forward to some participation with this topic.

 

Janel

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Janel,

 

Most (99%) of my work is commission. Things like the work I post here accounts for almost nothing as far as income. My process usually is as follows.

 

I meet with the client, find out a rough idea of what they want. This includes wood types, finish, subject matter, budget if there is one (if they will tell me) and deadlines. I do 3 thumbnail sketches or concepts for the client at no charge. By this time I know if they will give me the commission or not. That is an instinct from years of commissions. They choose one which I then further refine on a standard size piece of paper. Normally at this point they give a go ahead. They are required to sign off on the drawing. Design time is $50 per hour but if they want a lot of re-workings and are that difficult I will not work for them anyway.

 

From the enlarged drawing I am able to estimate time for carving and development. I give the client the price based on time, materials and whatever profit I need. The price can be based on this method or market value for comparative work. This is covered more thoroughly on the pricing thread.

 

I charge a deposit on all work. The deposit covers at least the design time and materials..usually 33%. If the materials are expensive or I have to purchase specialized tools, a 50% deposit. For all work over $5000 I break the payments into thirds. A deposit of 33% initially, 33% upon the commission being halfway completed and the final 33% on delivery. All deposits are non-refundable upon purchase of the materials, ordering of tools or within 14 days of receipt.

 

Once the first tool hits the wood there are charges for any changes as this causes me to have to refocus and reconsider. I tell my clients that I will do my best to meet their deadlines but the quality of the work comes first. I remind them that if the work is good they will soon forget the missed deadline, meeting a deadline without poor quality work is something they will always remember.

 

Mark

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Thank you Mark. This process sounds well thought out, and covers your work more safely than just saying yes and possibly in the end to be left holding the work from a not accepted commission. I wonder, do netsuke carvers work this way ever? Or any other of the TCP membership?

 

Janel

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Mark,

I can only speak from a limited number of commissions I've been offered. From an ethical standpoint, I have to agree with Janel that lately if I don't feel I'm up to the job, I'll turn the offer down. This feeling has come from accepting several and never being quite happy with the outcome as I generally am when just working to my own design. There's just a pressure I feel (fear they won't like it? will I get it done in a timely manner?) which ruins the 'flow' and ultimately the work suffers. Also, we DO have a certain amount of responsibility to our clients, don't we?

A lot of my thinking on the subject stems from the private paper conservation work I do. I'm much more likely to accept a job of this nature, because the end result is much clearer in my mind and a confidence is there. There are times though, when I don't have the proper equipment to do the job right, or in an economical manner, and I'll pass the work on to another conservator. It's about honesty and the humility to know your limitations. Too much artwork has been ruined by conservators/restorers who get in too deep.

Similarly, I know it's contentious, but too much poor quality artwork is out there, purchased by people who didn't know any better created by people whose skills just weren't there.

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Well daid Doug,

 

My ethical thinking is related to my former museum conservation background as well. My specialty was historical objects, arms and armour, and sculpture. If someone asked me to do something outside of that, I would always refer them to an expert in the field.

 

This thinking has carried over into my artwork. For example, about 20 years ago, someone asked me to make them a sterling silver tea set. I declined because I felt that they didn't really know what was involved, and that someone who was more experienced could do it in 1/4 the time. I ran into this person a couple of years ago, and inquired about the tea set. He still hadn't commissioned it, and asked if I would be interested. Turns out that he was more interested in having me make it than in havibg it made in general. I still said no.

 

Similarly, I did a little creative experiment a couple of years ago, and made a metal-bodied resonator guitar, just for myself. It was copy in form, technology, and measurements of a c1930 National Style O, with a little of my own creative licence. Just recently, I turned down a potential commission for a ridiculously large amount of money to reproduce it. The reason that I turned it down (aside from the fact that I was just too busy and didn't want to make 2)was that I knew the person who wanted it could get what they wanted, a real engraved antique National, at 1/3rd the price.

 

However, having said that, some of my best creative quantum leaps have come from taking on work that was at the edge of what I thought that I might sort of just may be able to do, but really wanted to try.

 

Phil

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I personally do not use contracts. In my entire career a contract was required once by the buyer for two life size sculptures. The buyer was a church building a very large and expensive church. We spent 3 months on the contract, mainly on who owned the copyright and thousands of dollars in legal fees. I passed this fee on to the buyer which to me was wasted money. As we signed the contract I remarked how strange it was that he wanted me to carve an article of faith but had no faith to share in the process.

Most of my large commissions are for churches and I understand all the pros of having a contract. I decided on that day that I will not sign another contract, it will have to be something incredibly special to change my mind. All of my business is conducted on my/their word and a handshake. Of course it helps to keep the client financially invested in the work and nothing leaves my studio without being paid for in advance of pickup or delivery. I trust my intuition and will not work for people that set off alarms no matter how softly they ring.

If I am working on a piece and meet an untimely demise no one will step in where I left off so you lose anyway. Besides that it is all a matter of trust. If I feel I can't trust you then I will not work for you.

 

Mark

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Hi Phil,

I get all kind of strange reqeasts and I find it is best to stay focused on my specialties. When a cleint is asking for something that pushes my limits but is within my field I am sure to inform them of my lack of expirience and the level of quality they may expect. I will do my best, but that does not mean it will look like a masterful antique. I am happy to try though if someone will pay for my time. I sometimes give a lower price for the oppertunity to push my limits.

As long as everyone is willing and informed it is a good. My queastion for you is this. If there were no authentic examples of this instrument left or they were all simply unatainable regardless of value would you reconsider making one?

 

Hi Doug,

You mentioned that there is too much poor quality work out there. To some extent does this not surve a purpose. As long as those artists and patron are evolving along the way it is a learning process, part of the journey to better and great art? It is when we stagnate that it is regrettable. Does not everyone make some poor quality work as they learn? Is there not a constant flow of people getting into art to keep up the supply of mediocore artwork. Will not a portion of them evolve to make better art?

Regards,

patrick

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Patrick,

I think everyone experiences a learning curve. Every artist, scuptor, knifemaker, engraver, potter, that I personally know, who has continued in their chosen field, has improved in their work since I have known them. To me, that measure of their work is where the value factor plays in. If you did an early painting when you were 20 and you paint like an Old Master at 40, wouldn't it be silly to go back and alter your early work, to "improve" it with what you can do now? (Actually Frank Frazetta used to do that, until his wife stepped in). However as far as commissions go, I was approached by a knife company that has the blades, guards and handle slabs commercially produced and needed someone to hand assemble and fit and finish each knife, apply the logo, and put on a razor edge. I was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I can't say the company's name, but I was concerned about whether or not I could match the quality of the pieces that I was shown, using the equipment in my own shop. Well I told the company president that I could, and I found out that I would be the only guy actually producing the finished product. But following the guidelines provided, I found that the pieces weren't up to snuff, and I got real worried that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. I realized that he didn't really understand the processes as well as me, so I just did them my way. He loved the results after the initial learning curve test runs, ( i.e. less than stellar), disappointments. He didn't kick me to the curb, and I rose up to the challenge. Now I tell him how to do it and he has faith that I know what I'm going to produce. I've been doing this for about a year now. I tell him when they'll be ready instead of the other way around, and he's happy to get the goods, because he gets a healthy profit. I get about 10% and feel it's a worthwhile trade. Much of it is a labor of love for me, so it's a win / win situation. All because I took the commision.

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Hi Patrick,

 

Regarding your question "If there were no authentic examples of this instrument left or they were all simply unatainable regardless of value would you reconsider making one?"

 

An interesting question. I actually considered selling my guitar, before making a second, but in the end I coudn't imagine either. I suppose that the answer would lie in who the piece was going to, in that I would be more inclined to reproduce it for someone who would love to play it, than I would for someone who wanted it as a part of a collection. This may sound a bit odd, but I personally am not an instrument maker. I was just applying skills that I had learned elsewhere to a different sort of piece, without any desire for monetary gain.

 

Phil

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Hi Patrick,

 

Regarding your question "If there were no authentic examples of this instrument left or they were all simply unatainable regardless of value would you reconsider making one?"

 

An interesting question. I actually considered selling my guitar, before making a second, but in the end I coudn't imagine either. I suppose that the answer would lie in who the piece was going to, in that I would be more inclined to reproduce it for someone who would love to play it, than I would for someone who wanted it as a part of a collection. This may sound a bit odd, but I personally am not an instrument maker. I was just applying skills that I had learned elsewhere to a different sort of piece, without any desire for monetary gain.

 

Phil

 

I don't think that is odd at all Phil. How much the recipient may appreciate the work is a big factor for me and I suspected as much of you, so I thought I probe a little deeper. Thank you for sharing. These are the principles that influence our work and impact our financial lives. So it might seem like were just talking business to some, but these are still very personal things.

I often get sent pictures of Tsuba that the client thinks is "neat" and wants to know if I can make it how much it costs and how soon can they have it. Often the antique can be had for considerably less than the cost of replicating it. The cost is valid, It is the antique that is bargain when you look at the skill and labor that went into its creation. Not to mention the historical and intrinsic value that maybe present. That path is explored frequently with questions, but it always come back to making something that can't be had any other way. From a simple change in scale, a new motif, or exotic material.

Simple or complex it needs to have some meaning for the client besides just being neat. I am touched by the persons that come to me looking to make a sword with well thought ideas and symbols of there Philosophy or other personal things. If they can express that passion to me it inspires me to express it in the work.

Regards,

Patrick

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