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Design/Bid Charges


Mark Strom

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I have just recently completed a complex and lengthy proposal. Usually I do not charge for design or bid work as it is usually short and simple. The project is not in my usual area of carving and larger than I normally work. This commission proposal took quite awhile and at my usual hourly rate amounted to a $700 process. Granted that if I get the commission this is a small amount and is figured in but if I don't I just gave away my time and money.

 

I do have a normal process for commissions but this did not quite fit into that method and I was caught off guard by requests for further information at the last meeting. To be honest there was also the fear of losing the commission by charging for that much time...a ridiculous idea in hindsight. Charging would only prove me to be professional and send the message that my time was valuable, it would also have eliminated any fishing expeditions from the potential clients. Confidence and sound business practices sometimes evade me.

 

My question is...what are your policies concerning design time and bid work? Do you charge for it or not? What is your reasoning behind your method. Would really like to hear other ideas and approaches to this dilemma.

 

Mark

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Thanks Mark, for starting this discussion topic. Best of luck with the outcome of the bid/proposal.

 

Unfortunately I have not figured out how to include this step into negotiations for a commission. Consequently I have suffered in this past year, when three commissions or agreements to do a specific piece for the client resulted in no sale, or canceled while being worked on, or indefinitely postponed. My design time is added to the overall price of the piece, which is determined by the hours involved with completing the piece. That means I lose when the sale is not made. Not a good way to do business.

 

Prior to last year, I took no commission work, except one piece for a proven client. I will gain by the discussion of this topic, and by re-reading the other conversations in related topics which occurred in 2007 on TCP.

 

Janel

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I did receive the commission and sometime in the near future will be spending 5 weeks carving outside in the cold windy winter of North Carolina.

 

I must admit major surprise that Janel and I are the only people on the forum that have problems in this area. There are others on this forum that take commissions or simply price their work for sale...is this not part of the process? Is it not ever a problem? I know most artist do not think of themselves as business people but if you are selling your work that is what you are while you are selling it. You aren't standing there thinking you should just give the piece to them, you want something for it!

 

The business thread on this forum has the least amount of topics and the least amount of comments. Post a thread here and you can hear the echoes of the keys on the keyboard in the void. My career long aggravation has been that I have had to learn all my business processes the hard way. Consultants that know how the art/craft market work are rare. Normal business practices cannot always be applied to our work. Why is it that Artist/crafts people that are willing to discuss these problems are just as rare? We are all in the same boat here. This forum is filled with advice, opinions, tutorials, resources and references for processes and procedures....except when it comes to the business end of it all.

 

For people trying to survive from their art, making it is the easy part...making a living from it is what is hard. Just asking for some friendly opinions or ideas here to make the "making a living" part easier. Anybody out there?

 

Mark

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For people trying to survive from their art, making it is the easy part...making a living from it is what is hard. Just asking for some friendly opinions or ideas here to make the "making a living" part easier. Anybody out there?

 

Mark

 

Hi Mark,

 

In my experience "making it" is the hard part... selling is easy... the trick is to make it good enough that folks want to buy it.

 

Regards

Clive

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Clive,

Guess I need to relocate to your side of the world!

I should re-phrase that and say selling enough of the work at a fair price to make a living. If selling was that easy just because the work was good then there would be less people on this forum that had day jobs. Good work does not necessarily translate into a good living, at least not here in the US!

 

Mark

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Guest ford hallam

Hmm, I must agree with Clive on this one, although I would rephrase his basic premise;

the trick is to make it excellent enough that folks have to buy it
:rolleyes:

 

I remember an odd situation that taught me a number of valuable lessons. This happened about 10 years ago.

 

I was keen to move from concentrating almost solely on restoration work and spend more time on my own stuff. The contemporary netsuke scene was very active at the time and as there seemed to be an appreciative audience I thought I'd travel from the UK, where I was living, the US to see for myself. It was suggested, by someone who's opinion I regarded well at the time, that I attend a particular, high level, craft show in Washington. I took a couple of items along in the hope of selling something to at least cover the expense of getting there.

 

As it turned out the event was not at all the sort of scene that would have had any sort of awareness of netsuke and even less of what it was I was trying to do.

One of the pieces I had with me was a silver bowl kagamibuta with the design of a hare. This had been generally well liked by quite a few people prior to coming to this event but I'd not had a chance to present it to any real prospective customers.

 

During the week or so that I was there it was suggested that I show this particular piece to 2 different ladies. One indicated that although she really liked the piece she collected cat designs and could I make her one with a kitty on it. I declined :blush: The other couldn't understand what it was and "needed" it to have a pin on it so she could wear it as a brooch, again I declined :o

 

After this inauspicious start my own work remained in my studio and was generally unseen. A short while later I suffered a serious illness which started in 2000 and lasted for about 2 and a half years. All the while the hare kagamibuta lay unseen in a drawer in my studio. Things were pretty difficult financially, my youngest son was born at the worst stage of my illness, (well...at least not everything was broken ;):blush: ) and a sale of anything at that point would have been a real bonus but I had no clue as to who to approach.

 

Subsequently, some 5 or 6 years after first visiting that craft show, I was approached by the curator of a major collection of antique Japanese metalwork who sought my advice with regard to storing the collection. I was invited to visit them in America and when I mentioned that I had in fact also made some work myself I was asked to bring some examples along.

 

They fell in love with the hare kagamibuta and another that was in iron and showed a partial view of the the head of the Kamakura Buddha. My efforts were finally rewarded, with a very good price and a genuine appreciation of what I was doing.

 

On the strength of this response I have made about 20 of these rather esoteric little objects. A further 4 joined the first 2 and the remainder found there ways into other receptive collections. I feel that I have explored that particular format and area of interest well enough now and have probably made my last kagamibuta, well at least for the foreseeable future. :o I am now developing other formats and interests which will inevitably lead me to some very different audiences. This time however, I will trust my own judgement as to where to place my work and look more critically at why something doesn't sell.

 

Sometimes it just isn't good enough, the audience may actually just not like your aesthetic, your subject matter may be odd or simply "not right" ( as far as they are concerned) , they may just not get you or what you do.....or they may be cheap ;)......or they might just not like you :blink:

 

Ultimately though, we can't force our aesthetic, or sensibilities, on our prospective audience. Therein lies the rub, finding the right audience, and one that is prepared to agree with you on your evaluation of your own work, both in artistic and monetary terms.

 

Anyway, apologies for the obscure ramble, not sure if it illustrated any great parable but I'm alone at home with no-one to talk to....so you'll have to do ;)

 

Keep chipping away fellas, and lasses B)

 

Namaste, Ford

 

p.s. I've just discovered that there is a limit of 10 smilies on a post!

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Clive,

Guess I need to relocate to your side of the world!

I should re-phrase that and say selling enough of the work at a fair price to make a living. If selling was that easy just because the work was good then there would be less people on this forum that had day jobs. Good work does not necessarily translate into a good living, at least not here in the US!

 

Mark

 

Hi Mark,

 

While I might live in England, 95% of my work is sold in the US to American collectors.

 

To be brutally honest I don't think the majority of the work on this forum is good enough for its creators to reasonably expect to make a living making the stuff. That said... (as I dive into the bomb shelter :rolleyes: ) therein the reason why the commercial side of things isn't discussed much.

 

Regards

Clive

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Charging would only prove me to be professional and send the message that my time was valuable, it would also have eliminated any fishing expeditions from the potential clients.

 

Aloha Mark,

 

In my opinion, I think you answered your own question. Freebie design and consultation may be useful in a budding career, but a mature, established artist should project a professional approach. Architects, attorneys etc. usually have a one hour, no charge, first-time meet. That allows a no-pressure look-see for both sides as well as an opportunity for the artist to show his/her portfolio and determine the feasibility of proceeding further. Preliminary costs, including the cost of design can and should be discussed, at that point. That is usually a good starting point to plan an overall budget. If you don't work that cost in early in the process, it will be left out.

 

Considering the work of architects or interior/graphic designers (the closest analogies that I can think of), they are reimbursed for concepts, plans and even locating suitable materials. They don't even do the work. So, just because the artist/craftsman is the whole show in one, why should they not be paid for that part? The efficiency of designer/craftsman is a whole hell of a lot better. Those other professions charge upward (here) of $90-125/hr and some goto $300 or better.

For the artist, there are several ways to go:

1) a flat design fee, based on past experience and the first meet, for a straight forward project. It should cover time to plan, design, drawings and locating whatever is needed to pull it together (such as tools or materials). Provide a tangible, such as drawings or samples. You will be glad that you did.

2) a deposit that is a little more advanced than the fee. It would be something to draw on if you have to move fast to lock in some hard to obtain material. Running back to the client to get a draw while six other guys are breathing down the supplier's neck is too stressful and statistically like going to Vegas. :rolleyes: And buying it on your own dime, hoping that the client will come through, will guarantee disappointment eventually. (My adventures with koa, which has gone up to $60/bf, is the example.)

3) a deposit, with periodic statements, for complex projects. Any balance remaining, by mutual agreement, would be applied to the actual project or returned if they decide to go somewhere else for the work. This approach asks you to accept the designer hat and let go of your "baby" if that's what the client wants. At least you got paid for it.

 

We have many millionaires here (top five state in the US) who commission work. I've lost track of how many times myself and my compadres have designed something, only to have it taken elsewhere. I've learned not to let that happen anymore. To just let unbilled design and setup time eat into your cost lowers your profit; you will be making less than your business plan predicts. An additional benefit is to weed out non-serious clients. Believe me, nothing will get you angrier than to find out later that you were set up by a client who always had someone else in mind and just used you to cover lesser design talent.

 

Finally, the artist/craftsman must be a professional about all of this. After all, someone is entrusting you with money. Flakiness and an amateur approach does not cut it. Keep your word and leave the prima donna at home. Be as honest as you can; if you are out of your comfort zone or in uncharted waters, tell the client or be prepared to return some funds. At true client will show their colors and usually stick with you. In the end, your reputation is your most important asset.

 

Hope this helps. Got to go. I literally just got an email from a potential client who just received a full blown Art Nouveau church doorway with silver hardware and French art glass, who does not have clue as to how to install it. Don't tell anyone, but neither do I. Not yet. :blush:

 

KC

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Guest ford hallam

Hi Mark,

 

sorry, it seems I helped hi-jack your thread, although to be honest I was responding, as I believe Clive was, to this bit;

 

Just asking for some friendly opinions or ideas here to make the "making a living" part easier. Anybody out there?

 

I don't think I have anything particularly helpful to suggest in response to your initial question but for what it's worth.....

 

I think that if one works as a craftsman/ woman then charging for the hours one works is perfectly reasonable. If your customers don't recognise the value of the design time then perhaps this aspect needs to be broached prior to accepting any work that will require a lengthy design and consultation process.Whether you feel comfortable detailing preparatory work or rather working it into your hourly rate is another matter.

 

On the other hand if you work as an artist then I think it is simpler. You charge what you think you are worth and/or can command. No hourly rate involved.

 

Perhaps some of the other professionals out there has some more specific "formulae"

 

regards, Ford

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This is the first time that I have seen this thread.

 

Well said, Karl, and good to hear from you again!

 

For me, the cost for all my work is based on a flat hourly rate, regardless if it is for design, sculpting a model, carving or casting. Since the initial design phase is where the whole artwork is rooted, it makes sense to me to charge the same rate. After all, im most of the largest studios, this design phase is what you are actually paying for, as a client. The actual art "work" is often carried out by carvers or sculptors that are employed by the artist, following the original design concept.

 

And Ford, Your anecdote about the lady who wanted a kitty still has me laughing.

 

Many years ago, someone approachd me who wanted a large coat of arms carved for a golf and country club. He had seen the polychromed sculpture that I had carved hanging in the reception of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, as well as one that was hanging over the entrance to another national institution nearby. When he realised that I had carved both, he decided that the club "needed" to have a piece of my work. When the discussion came down to my price, which it inevitably must, I explained to him that there would be a cost of about 2,000 in materials and about a month's work. After a long pause he said " so this could be about $5,000 then? After another long pause, and an explanation of how much my hourly rate was he asked " so, do you know anyone else who could do it?"

 

A couple of years ago, after having developed a bit more of a name for myself I suppose, I had a similar conversation that started off on the same tone, but when the subject of price came up, the response was "oh, is that all it is going to cost us?"

 

Phil

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I think that if one works as a craftsman/ woman then charging for the hours one works is perfectly reasonable. If your customers don't recognise the value of the design time then perhaps this aspect needs to be broached prior to accepting any work that will require a lengthy design and consultation process.Whether you feel comfortable detailing preparatory work or rather working it into your hourly rate is another matter.

 

On the other hand if you work as an artist then I think it is simpler. You charge what you think you are worth and/or can command. No hourly rate involved.

 

Ford.... I agree entirely!!!

 

(Jesus... thats sounds soooo scary... :D:blink: )

 

I'm reminded of the famous court case between painter Wistler and the art critic Ruskin... (It goes somehing like...) when asked how he could possibly justify charging x amount for a painting when it only took him x amount of time to do.. he said.. that it took him x amount of time to paint but 20 years to learn how.

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On the other hand if you work as an artist then I think it is simpler. You charge what you think you are worth and/or can command. No hourly rate involved.

regards, Ford

 

Aloha Ford and Phil,

 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but getting that deposit into your account is the trick. :D Accounting for your time is up to the individual, but rare is the artist/craftsman who can command clients to drop a check on the table right off the bat. (I am reminded of supermodel Daisey Fuentes, who said "I don't get out of bed for less than $10,000.")

Might it be that an artist of high stature, known for a certain genre, can deliver whatever he/she sees fit...with costs rolled up as one, big number? Oppose that to a potential client who has certain goals and wants to be involved in the design process. (We have a saying out here, "It's a hundred an hour or a hundred fifty if you help me.")

I guess what I am saying, crudely, is that at some point, their money has to become your money. The earlier in the process that happens, the smoother it goes. A mercenary attitude, but I am what I am. :blink:

 

KC

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Guest ford hallam
that sounds soooo scary.

 

Clive I'll not mention it again if you promise not to either :D , our reputations will be ruined :blink:

 

Karl, there is nothing mercenary about your attitude in my opinion, you offer a product, or a service, and you expect to be paid, simple. and I love;

It's a hundred an hour or a hundred fifty if you help me.
:D

 

Namaste, Ford

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Most artists and craftsmen usually charge a flat fee for their completed work. Those of you that do commissions obviously need to refigure your pricing structure to cover costs and transportation, lodging, etc. I don't think that a "one - size - fits -all" approach will cover each and every one of our needs. All colleges offer business education and many offer said information for artists as well. Virginia Commonwealth University has this tidbit for prospective art students:

 

Current Freshmen in Art Foundation:

University College academic advisors empower students to become increasingly self - directed in their educational planning. Freshmen are responsible for meeting with their academic advisor no less than twice a semester.

 

 

Advisors are here to:

 

Help students define and develop realistic goals

Identify special needs

Match students to available resources

Help students plan course schedules and clarify prerequisites

Monitor progress toward academic success and career goals

Teach students to maneuver within the academic system

 

To schedule an appointment with a University College Advisor call 804-828-UNIV.

 

I realize that all of us working stiffs have a lot on our plate, but this might be the real way to go. Contact an educational facility and ask an advisor for resources. Evening and weekend classes and even online classes are available. I chose VCU as an example because (besides being local) it is a world class art school (among other world class subjects, i.e. medicine, etc.).

Just my two cents worth.

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I just cant get my head around this hourly rate of way of thinking? :D

 

.... but ultimitely it seems to me if you think like a tradesmen, you just asking to be treated like one!!

 

Just how do you put a hourly rate on moments of inspiration? (... timed in nano seconds?? :blink: ) More importantly... do you really want to be giving that sort of message to the collector??

 

A while back here was a number of threads concerning the nature of the artist and craftsperson... doesn't this thread highlight the difference between the two?

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Aloha Clive,

 

Didn't mean to stray from the subject. :D Whether you are an hourly craftsman (no shame) or an all inclusive, big number artist, the point that I was trying to make is that the client must realize that the process has begun. Going back to Mark's story, I believe that he was saying that he was deep into the design process before he thought to weigh his involvement. I don't know about others, but if I bypass incoming inquiries to focus on a project, and the potential client pulls back with no intention of reimbursement for time, ideas, thinking, direction, whatever...I won't be in the biz for long. Worse yet, if they drop out mid-project. (Refer to Janel's canceled commission from last year.)

 

In a rarified, cloistered world like netsuke collecting, where most or all of the players are known to each other, I would think that all parties would want to avoid public airing of a failed commission. (I could be wrong.) For me, it's "Show me the money". It's big, bad world out there and whether it's about a tradesman's schedule of payments or an artist's fee by reputation, one has to declare "You have my attention, now you have to keep it."

 

BTW - In talking to my craftsman friends, I like to use this analogy. A craftsman's value is usually tied to an hourly rate. Whether $10 or $1000 per hour, they will only go so high until they hit a ceiling, a line. Cross over that line, and now you are an artist. Add zero's to your price at your discretion. My personal goal is to cross that line. :blink:

To restate the obvious, you charge what the market will bear. Time input is irrelevant at that point (consider some contemporary art). A search of history will give some good examples of commissions gone good or bad. Da Vinci, Mozart, the Impressionists, Frank Lloyd Wright (Falling Water in 5 hours), Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Pollack. In each case, the artist had to come up with...something. Those that were disorganized or acted in bad faith paid the price.

 

Mark

Sorry for rambling off track here. I am currently struggling with these very same issues. I hope I've addressed some of your questions.

 

KC

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"Just how do you put a hourly rate on moments of inspiration? (... timed in nano seconds?? ) More importantly... do you really want to be giving that sort of message to the collector?? "

 

I sympathize with your scentiment on this, Clive, however one must have a means to explain to a client, in terms that they can understand, as to how you arrive at a price. Otherwise, the artist will come off as flaky or off-the-wall. The client does not recieve a bill, with a description of hours spent, but at least they can understand where the quote comes from, and of equal importance, how much work is involved. After all, all true professionals, for example the medical and legal professions, base their fees on a hourly rate, which they calculate based on their overhead, plus what they consider their time to be worth. Why shouldn't the artist follow suit?

 

I believe this is most appicable to the design process, since I can often spend two or three weeks working full-time on a design that may 1 1/2 months to 1 1/2 years to realise in three-dimensional form, with assistants.

 

Phil

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I agree with Phil and the points he brings up are the exact reasons that I have a hourly charge and design fees. I also have clients that have commissioned me for multiple works. How do I explain the difference in price from an "inspired and successful" piece and a "less inspired and less successful" work? At least with an hourly charge there is some possible legitimate argument. I am rarely asked what my rate is and it is not listed on any invoices or documents in my papers or studio. Clients rarely asked how I arrived at the price but if they do I have a legitimate explanation.

 

Several years ago my shop went through a flood. I wanted to approach some institutions for loans to rebuild with. They all wanted a business plan to explain what I do, what I charge, how I sell and most importantly a projected income for the next 12 months. They could care less about my inspiration, whether I was an artist or craftsman or whether my work was art or not. They sure as hell were not going to buy the "I price it for whatever I think it is worth or whatever I think I can get away with". The business plan really opened my eyes as to what income I really had, where I was making it and how. In the end I was able to rebuild on my own using the plan to modify my business to be more profitable and plan ahead with the cash flow chart to make purchases.

 

My fees never go below that hourly rate but the rate does go up as explained in the pricing thread.

 

Finally concerning being a tradesman, artist or craftsman. I could care less as I see honor in being any of the three. One thing I certainly see is arrogance in proclaiming myself an artist. I am treated according to the professionalism and confidence I project. All my work is inspired whether it is art or craft. My income will not change regardless of which name I choose to call myself or my work. I will let others debate the finer points of what is art vs craft. As long as I am able to carve every day and support myself and my family that is more than enough.

 

Mark

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