Commissions - Points to consider.
The following is in effect the small print nobody actually bothers to read as, in many ways, it is simply stating what most consider to be obvious points of courteous common sense. However I have put it in writing here for the benefit of those for whom it may not be obvious. Years of dealing with a wide variety of clients has inevitably thrown up the occasional "misunderstanding". As such I would encourage you to read the following and ask your forbearance and forgiveness for its lengthy nature.
Commissioning any kind of bespoke art or craft work usually begins as a fairly open ended discussion between client and supplier about ideas and possibilities, though almost inevitably the first question asked is 'How much will it cost?' In short folk want a rough idea of costs to know if it's worth spending time talking about an idea in detail. Since the expectations of different clients along with adjectives to describe “quality” can be very subjective, without discussing a lot of the details the only reliable answer is that 'It could cost as much or as little as the client wishes to spend'. Consequently whilst everyone says they want “high quality” what one client may consider to be “high quality” may only be a tiny fraction of the work and cost of that which another client may consider to be “high quality”. So when it comes to quoting a price for any form of creative project the level of detail and style of execution can often have as much of an impact on cost as things like subject matter and size/scale which clients first focus upon. In light of this, although perhaps not the most helpful initial response, I usually start any discussion about costs by saying that I’ll simply tailor a project to do the best I can within the available budget and deadline.
If a prospective client requires a detailed quote with absolute and fixed costs they must provide me with a suitably detailed brief. Please note; whilst a prospective client's initial enquiry will hopefully provide some information about the core subject matter to be reproduced, it is quite common for this information to prompt more questions about style, size, use and/or quality and detail of the end product required, all of which could impact on the best approach, choice of materials, costs or production schedule. So, whilst most initial enquiries include a few words describing the subject matter they are wishing to replicate, a full brief will also need to include concept sketches/scale drawings/photos of each component part comprising the desired subject matter. Furthermore it is necessary for the brief to indicate the level of detail or quality of craftsmanship expected in the end product, something most often accomplished with photos of other work of a comparable style and by listing key features to be included in, and those features judged minor enough to be excluded from, the finished piece.
In terms of reference material I always stipulate the client is responsible for supplying all written documentation, photographs, concept art, drawings, plans or other reference material to be used in a project. I am quite happy to work from the vaguest of themes or just a few words given over the telephone using my own subject knowledge and creativity to fill in gaps in a brief. However, if it is important to a client that a project includes a certain feature completed in a certain way then they must provide me with a proper project brief and clear references illustrating exactly what they require. (I have had clients looking for assistance with "pre-feasibility concepts" where we actually wrote contracts acknowledging that they were unclear about exactly what they ultimately wanted me to do for them, and where I was to experiment with different interpretations of a loose concept to help the client agree a proper project brief they could commit to.) I will not be held accountable should I fail to include or inaccurately reproduce any aspect of any project the client has not previously given me clear references for. Nor will I be held accountable for reproducing errors should clients give me inaccurate reference material to work from. (I had one client commission miniature portraits of her grand-children yet her PA sent me the wrong photos to copy!) Preparing a detailed brief prior to making a first informal enquiry can be time consuming for a prospective client, particularly those commissioning work for the very reason they are unfamiliar with the complexities of what's involved or needed in order to make what they want for themselves. Consequently most initial inquiries usually work backwards from a few ideas about their intended use, audience or market along with their available budget and deadline. This information can be used to help me outline how I could best meet the project's needs and avoid making all manner of recommendations which may ultimately prove not to be cost and/or time effective.
With regard to timescale and deadlines I work on a wide variety of projects for a wide range of clients and as such it is quite common for me to have a lead in time before I can actually start a new project. Please note that I am a self employed artist hired by clients because they like MY style of work. Consequently I do not have employees I can allocate to a project to speed it up. I will always try to be as flexible as I can with respect to meeting client's deadlines, and have on occasion turned some small projects around overnight as rush jobs. However it is always beneficial when clients can allow a generous deadline with some flexibility. This is becuase it may not always be possible to take on large projects at short notice, a situation exacerbated by many clients under-estimating what constitutes adequate advance notice. As such please note that I can offer slightly better prices to those private collectors willing to accept a somewhat open ended delivery date that enables me to temporarily set aside their work as and when needed to squeeze in more last minute corporate commissions with fixed deadlines. (I've had one instance of a museum finance department contacting me in a panic days before an exhibition opening having forgotten to notify me months earlier that my quote had even been accepted.)
If contacting me on behalf of a large organisation or acting as an intermediary agency representing a third party, please consider how much of your own deadline may be consumed by your own internal adminstrative processes, meetings and committee based decision making. That is to say; With a rough idea of the complexities of a project I can indicate how soon after receiving a deposit payment that I expect the work to be completed. However, it will be up to you to sign off on a project brief and release that deposit payment sufficiently early for me to order and take delivery of the raw materials needed such that I may begin practical work in time to meet your deadline. (I've had one advertising agency book time in my diary to sculpt portraits, yet two months after the first of their self-imposed deadlines had expired they were still asking me to shuffle my diary as they hadn't yet agreed whose portraits. Then there was the archaeological museum that after months of endless indecision about different ideas, execeded their own deadline without ever committing to starting work on anything. The irony of their excuse/apology seemed lost on them in that they claimed that they had run out of time having not had enough advance notice of a one thousand year anniversary to plan a commemerative exhibition.)
From time to time I am contacted about repairing, modifying, completing, up-dating or otherwise working on projects begun by other people. Occasionally it can be much more difficult to advise upon costs or timescales for such projects compared to those started from scratch. There may be many hours of labour needed simply to identify and resolve "unknowns" in pre-existing work and learn enough about them to judge how "progress" can best be made. In such cases clients may need a flexible budget and timescale along with an open mind regarding how far backward a project may need to go before being able to assess how to move forward. (I'd illustrate this point with one client who contacted me saying he had just bought a very expensive model at a very cheap price becuase of its poor condition. His regular restorer had told him it wasn't viable to repair and so he wanted to know if I could restore it for him instead? The model exhibited evidence of multiple accidents some of which had damaged previous crudely executed repairs capable of concealing a multitude of additional problems. Consequently my initial assessment was that I could not reliably advise about costs of restoration without first stripping, cleaning and dismantling the model to fully assess what I would be dealing with. That the time/budget needed even for this preliminary investigative work would be difficult to reliably estimate in advance. However, based upon gut instinct, I advised that his limitted budget was likley inadequate and that it was probable that if started we may discover that repairing the model might prove to be economically unviable; that is to say it might cost more than simply buying a new model straight from the original manufacturer.)
Whilst I understand that a client may occassionally need or wish to change a brief part way through a project, it is important to understand this could potentially result in costs/production schedule exceeding previously agreed limits and so a new contract or fee may have to be agreed. Consequently I usually ask that clients contact me as early as they possibly can to discuss potential commissions and keep in touch throughout a project if their needs are changing. A related point worth making about progress and planning is to say I'm always happy to provide updates and photo's of work to keep clients informed during lengthy projects, and should they wish they can arrange to call in to my workshop on the Wirral peninsula to offer feedback in person, but please note where I am based. (I had one potential client tell me although they'd been impressed by my portfolio and what I felt I could do with their budget, they'd ultimately offered the project to somebody else because they felt the logistics wouldn't work if using a Bristol based model maker:- Given that I live and work 200miles away from Bristol and have never had any connection with the city, this surprising statement left me wondering why, if they believed this, they'd approached me in the first place?)
With regard payment terms; Prior to starting any physical work or ordering raw materials for a project I usually require an upfront payment of at least 50% of the agreed total costs along with some sort of purchase order or equivalent paperwork acknowledging that funds have been allocated to pay any outstanding balance within 28days of completion. Alternatively with simpler/quicker/cheaper projects or “last minute” urgent work it can avoid the extra administrative hassle by simply asking for the full amount up front at the time of booking. With complex and/or longer term on-going projects I am happy to discuss other payment options. For some clients I have worked for fixed monthly payments more akin to a regular wage from an employer, or alternatively taken a modest payment for an initial trial piece prior to committing financially to the bulk of a complex project. Every client's financial cirumstances are different and I am open to discussing alternate payment schedules, however I am not a credit agency willing to accept deferred payment for my services. (So for the collector that assumed I would be happy to develop, manufacture and retail an obscure new product line derived from his ideas and sketches, and do so based simply on his promise that I would find enough extra customers as to recoup MY upfront expenses, well that's not how I work.)
Finaly, if you will permit some very cynical observations. I am aware that most large organisations have formal processes for putting work out to tender. I am also aware that, however morally questionable, such institutions occassionally ask for quotes when preferred or "in-house" suppliers may have already started working on, or have completed, the project in question. Consequently asking outside contractors to tender becomes a purely administrative exercise in retrospectively fishing for "uncompetitive quotes" to legitimise decisions that have already been implemented. Anybody with a genuine desire to commission bespoke work will always be willing to discuss possibilities and provide information to help find better solutions to meet their needs. So if prospective clients contact me wanting a formal written quote but won't make the time to actually answer any of my questions about their project, it is usually a pretty clear indication that it isn't going to be worth my time preparing that quote for them. Conversely it can be equally clear when so called prospective clients are "too willing" to repeatedly engage in discussion about all manner of ill-focused, elusively vague and rapidly evolving notions they can't properly articulate, all without ever asking the prices of anything in particular. If you are simply trying to elicit original creative solutions for your own staff to execute, or expecting free instruction on techniques or technical matters you don't understand, then be honest about the fact you are really looking for a consultant or tutor and we can agree a modest fee for my advice. I readily accept and understand that not all enquries do lead to paid work and that many folk just need some brief initial advice to gauge if their ideas are going to be economic or practical to pursue further. So whilst I'm always happy to have a quick chat about a project you may be considerring, such discussions do need to be about assessing the practicalities of paid work. (So for the person that contacted me thinking that I make things for others just for my own entertainment, well I'm afraid I do expect to be paid for my time and effort!)
It’s difficult to give any more useful advice here as the very nature of bespoke commissioned work is that every project is different, governed through the client’s requirements, budget and deadline. However, for those interested in samples of previous projects my portfolio has illustrations of a wide variety of my work whilst my testimonials page illustrates both the diversity of clients I've worked for and what they had to say about my work. So, irrespective of whether you are a private collector, a manufacturer/retailer, a large museum/corporation or TV/film production company every commission starts with a first, often rather general and tentative enquiry. My contact details, are here so get in touch and let me know the sort of project you are thinking about.