Commissions can be difficult. Sometimes you end up spending time on a subject you may or may not feel passionate about. There can be the difficulty in working with random people you don’t know, and worse yet, this can lead you to dealing with unusual people and sometimes crazy situations.
As is often the case, truth can be stranger than fiction…Ohhhhh the stories I could tell!
|Recent commissioned portraits- Mixed Media|
Let’s face it, selling paintings can be a challenge, and we are all tempted to do whatever will sell! Taking commissions…many artists avoid it like the plague, but others turn to commissioned work as a means of expanding their market. Occasionally I do commissions, but sometimes it gets a little weird…
Recently I had an appointment with a client whose pet died. The client dearly loved this pet, and when they sent me initial photos, I got some incredibly poor quality shots of what looked like a squirrel…I thought, “REALLY?!” I began to smell a rat, even as the “squirrel” ended up being something called a sugar glider. Whatever it was, the photos were horrible. The nose was sometimes in focus, or the branches around the animal were in focus, but the rest of the photos were blurry. I began to think this commission was a bit too “out there” for me, but thought I’d reserve judgement. I asked them to send more photo references my way if they had them. The next day they didn’t show up for our appointment. The excuse was that they had spent the morning digging the poor little thing up from the grave! Initially my reaction was mortification thinking they did it to get more photo references…OMG! I found out it was for purposes of an autopsy, but even so…it’s a squirrel, people! I mean… it’s a sugar glider, people! That autopsy probably cost more than my portrait fee! Needless to say, I did not reschedule our meeting, but the photos kept coming. None of them were any good, and thankfully, none of them were shots of squirrel-like corpses! I’m not worried about it anymore. Sometimes crazy, is just CRAZY, and that one crossed the line for me.
Another time, I was commissioned by an “inventor”. He needed help with a conceptual drawing for his new invention: I had never met an inventor before, so I was intrigued. We met in the gallery where I worked (a public place). He said he could not give me much information in advance about the project, due to the strict confidentiality which would be required. Some of his inventions had been stolen before, and he needed to keep it secret until we met. It felt a little “cloak and dagger”, and I thought about wearing my trench coat and sunglasses to the meeting, but decided that he might not find it funny. In the end, all the fuss was about a silly multi-purpose dog tool which would probably inhabit a display at a place like The Dollar Store. It was a back scratcher, massager, detangler, fluffer, flea-picker, tummy tickler, plastic-bag carrier- all in one…yes, that’s right…like the info-mercials on TV. This little thing was going to do everything but run and fetch the paper (unlike other TV promotions- it didn’t come with a cap-snaffler. The client did however, give me another of his inventions as a free gift. It was a grocery bag handle that you could slip through multiple plastic bag handles in order to carry more of them at once. Somehow that little gizmo never really caught on with the public, and he had a few thousand lying around…but I digress ). The client was very nice, seemed normal enough, and was willing to pay me what I wanted for my time per hour…so I found myself illustrating various little gadgets for his doggie gizmo tool. He was going to take my drawings to someone with technical expertise, who would then figure out how to manufacture the product. That was strange enough, until I brought my finished drawing to a meeting for his review. His girlfriend was there, and promptly got mad at him for having shared their “invention idea” with me. They got in a big fight right there in front of me, and she stormed into another room in anger. I couldn’t leave, because he hadn’t paid me yet… AWKWARD! Thankfully, he was basically a nice guy, liked my drawing and paid me…then he ran off to find his girlfriend.
I couldn’t even make this stuff up…
Occasionally I do commissions, and find great enjoyment in doing them, as long as certain criteria are present…
So how can you set parameters for a good commission experience?
First: It helps to have a great client. What makes a great client? My answer: Someone pleasant who has a love for your work and trusts in you as an artist.
Having a client who gives you artistic license is an amazing gift. I’ve been fortunate to have a few of these. Doing so allows me to have free reign in coming up with my concept and executing it. I don’t mind keeping a palette of colors in mind…the reality is that sometimes the painting has to live in a room with a certain set of patterns or colors in place.
Photo referrences can be a huge issue. A client who has lots of photo references, or at least one great reference is really ideal. I personally like to have too many photos, rather than too few. Those clients who have a great idea for a painting may or may not have good photos for you to work from. As the artist, you need to be ready to take some of your own photos when called upon. I’ve had real photos sent my way which were laughable…everything from google.earth shots of locations, to photos of other people’s work! Really?!
A client with quite a bit of time or a flexible deadline is very helpful. I’m not the kind of artist who can always crank out a painting on demand. Sometimes I have to let the project gestate for a while, and then paint when the perfect storm of “opportunity + inspiration” hits. Deadlines can be tough, and I’m sure other artists struggle with this same issue. I teach art classes in Myrtle Beach and will be teaching on a trip in Tuscany this fall. Between work and family, I have a busy schedule, and sometimes my personal painting time is more limited than I’d like. In the end, its about managing expectations. I’ve found, if you let your clients know what to expect, they generally relax and let you take the necessary time required for a good result.
|Recent pet portrait commission- Watercolor|
Every time I send a photo of a finished commission, I always do so with bated breath…hoping that the client will like it…fearing that they won’t, and worrying about THEN WHAT?!
I have to say that most of my commission experiences have been fantastic. I love the challenge, even if it can be difficult. I have one phone message which I received after I completed the nearby pet portrait. In the message, my client (also a dear friend) reacted to the first glimpse of the painting with an utter meltdown. Her phone call message went through to voicemail. I have vowed never to erase that recording! Listening to her brought tears to my eyes, as she literally sobbed with delight and expressed her overjoyed reaction to the painting. (For those of us who are girls, we know this response is the absolute BEST compliment ever!). My goal in art (and in life for that matter) is to be anything but boring, and yet, I always hope to emotionally move someone in a good way when they view my work. Her tears represent “the ultimate” type of reaction for me. When I need affirmation, I just listen to her boo-hooing all over again. She reminds me of why I am doing this…I guess it’s like applause to the performer.
On the other hand, you also have to be ready to deal with uncertainty and ego risks when doing commissions. Once, I sent out images of my completed commission, and didn’t hear back for a few days… talk about flop-sweat! I was imagining all kinds of reasons to explain the silence…none of them good. In the end, the lack of response was due to reasons which had everything to do with my client, and nothing to do with me or my paintings…Nonetheless, it was a difficult few days and my insecurities were challenged.
All in all, accepting commissions is just another avenue for connecting with potential customers and patrons. I donate 30% of my sales to charity and do so because that arrangement helps me overcome my shyness and makes selling worth the risk and the trouble. I like the idea of sending my work out into the world to do some good…kind of paying forward on the blessing of being able to make art for a living and doing this thing which makes me so happy. If my work can make some money, make someone happy, and make a difference in the world, then that’s the best kind of win-win-win situation I can imagine.
I hope you consider doing commissions if you’re an artist. If you are interested in having me paint for you on a commissioned basis, please feel free to contact me…but when I send you a photo of your finished painting…please don’t leave me hanging! 😉
Join me in Tuscany October 2015…there are still a few spots left on the trip. See previous blog posts!
or Join me for Art classes in Myrtle Beach…
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All paintings are copyrighted to Rebecca Zdybel with all rights are reserved by the artist.