Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Working Custom - By Karen McGovern

Yep, I'm going there.

I guess I should begin this post with a disclaimer.  What I'm posting is my opinion, so don't get all worked up about it.  What I am posting here is from the perspective of an artist who loves to create and strives to not only please her clients, but strives to communicate and create relationships with her clients as well.  My goal here is to hopefully help prospective clients and anyone interested in working custom with an artist to consider--and appreciate--just what the artist goes through when working one on one with a client.  Just like any relationship, there are moments of joy and happiness, and moments of...well...NOT joy and happiness.

Art is tricky.  It's personal, for both the artist and the client.  Artists are a bit crazy.  IT'S TRUE AND YOU ALL KNOW IT.  We pour our heart and soul into our designs and then offer them up to the universe in the hope that others will see and appreciate our vision.  It's scary and exciting and sometimes overwhelming!  But ultimately, so, so rewarding and renewing. 
 
Some of my favorite custom designs for clients ranging from a retiring art teacher
to a marine biologist, to a young girl celebrating the memory of her Grandfather.
So, you are approached by a client asking for a custom design.  What a thrill.  Creating something specifically for an individual, working one on one.  It's such an honor!  Seriously, when I am asked to create a custom design I am always excited and grateful for the opportunity to interpret someone else's ideas into 3-dimensional reality.  In theory, we work together and create something amazing.  That has happened for me many times, from creating a signature design commemorating a milestone birthday, to creating a design in tribute to a loved one's passing.  Each have been meaningful and inspirational to create. 
 
These types of custom requests are always welcome and give me such joy to make.  BUT....(you knew there was a but) this isn't ALWAYS the case. 
 
From the Make Believe--for the purposes of this post--Client (MBC)--You want a specific design and have a specific idea that you want realised.  You contact your chosen artist and if they accept this challange the work begins.  You asked for blue beads--a specific shade of blue beads.  Not aqua, not turquoise, not navy, not perriwinkle.  BLUE.  What is the big deal?  Why can't you find BLUE beads???  And you want those cool silvery beads you saw in that one design on the aritist's Facebook page that one time you were surfing the Web back in February of 2009.  Remember?  That one design with the cool silvery bead things? 
 
Make Believe--for the purposes of this post--Artist (MBA)--After frantically searching for days through all your old images you find what MIGHT be the correct image and forward it to the client. 
 
MBC replies--Yes, that's it!
 
MBA--Fantastic.  You acquire more beads, supplies, etc. for the design and spend a few days designing, mock it up, then send a photo of the new design to MBC.
 
MBC--Now that I see it again, I don't think the beads are BLUE enough, and those silvery things aren't what I thought they'd be.  Can we go GREEN with GOLD beads instead? Oh, and did I mention that I need this day after tomorrow for MY WEDDING?
 
MBA--Screams and throws their computer out the window.
 
Now, this is make-believe, okay?  BUT, things like this happen to artists all the time.  The saying goes that the client is always right, and you know what?  THAT IS TRUE.  If you accept the challange of a custom design you have agreed to work with that client until the dream is realised no matter what.  You, the artist, said YES.  Therefore, you the ARTIST must produce.  BUT, (this post is full of buts....) you can protect yourself and impart the seriousness of the collaboration with the client by setting up a few rules that MUST BE ADHERED TO by BOTH PARTIES.
 
These policies are for the benefit of both the artist and the client.  The more info you can give and receive up front will ensure a smoother transaction with no surprises (there are ALWAYS surprises, but at least you can say you tried). Gather as much information as you possibly can about the custom request before agreeing to ANYTHING.  Set a time limit.  I tell clients that a custom design will require 4 to 6 weeks to complete NO MATTER WHAT.  If it's finished early, great, but this gives everyone a cushion and space to work.  Require a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit before work begins.  THIS IS REALLY, REALLY important.  At least 50% of the total quoted price.  And, artists, don't agree to something you are not 100% sure you can produce.  Don't leave anything to chance.  If a client asks for a design that includes elements you had five years ago, be sure you can get your hands on those elements today!  If the design will be mostly hand-constructed you may need a higher deposit to cover your time and costs to construct.  Each request is individual and you can adjust your policies accordingly, but COVER YOUR BUTTS!!!  (See what I did there?  HA!)  Finally, upon completion, if for some reason the client is unhappy....well....suck it up.  You can try again, or move on.  You, the artist will have to make that decision, and hopefully this NEVER HAPPENS and the client is so happy she/he crys tears of joy over your creation.
 
Now, for our Make Believe Client--if we could ask one thing, it would be to understand that as artists, we are all unique and interpret art and design individually.  What does that mean?  That means, that while we will do everything we can to make your design a reality, we will do so with our own artistic voice.  Please understand that this is what, hopefully, brought you to us in the first place--our original designs and creative expressions.  It may not be easy for us to create the same exact thing twice.  This is especially true for hand constructed designs.  Gemstones vary,  and getting that EXACT shade, that EXACT stone may be impossible, but I guarantee we will make something stunning anyway if you give us a chance.  We also are not psychic, and ask for your patience when working with you.  We also ask that you undertand and appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into every design.  While many artists hate the idea of time equalling money, we also do not work for free and the design process is a part of the creation process.  That layout we made for you several times to get the desigh just right?  That counts towards the purchase price of the finished work.  Hours and hours go into each and every design, and we love this.  It's what many of us DO FOR A LIVING and we appreciate your support and collaboration.  We WANT to do this, we are excited by the opportunity and we LOVE making an idea appear, solid, 3-D, to hold, wear and cherish.  It is an honor, seriously. 
 
So, bottom line, as artists we must individually decide to accept custom design requests--or not.  If you do, commit to that and give it everything you've got.  Even then, understand the power of the word, "No".  It's okay to turn down a request if you don't think you can fulfill it or make the client happy.  I refer clients to other artists if I think they can do a better job than I can.  Treat your client with respect and demand that they do the same for you.  As I said earlier, these collaborations are a relationship, with give and take and compromise.  They are also wildly satisfying and exciting!  Do you work custom?  Any clients out there with wonderful custom order stories to share?  Be nice, people....we all have horror stories, but I bet the great stories far outnumber the bad.  DO SHARE!!!! 

9 comments:

stacilouise said...

I think a contract and deposit is essential for custom orders. I no longer do them, mostly due to time constraints, but also due to the fact I dont' feel I can charge enough to cover all the extra time that goes into the custom order. I have had too many bad experiences......so, i don't do them. (there is some exception....for people who buy from me often, and know my style, and I know theirs....other then that...nope). I do love the collaborative aspect though, when you have that right connection. and I admire those that take them on, because there is something magical that happens when you help someone else's dream become a reality!

Unknown said...

I think this sums it up. A woman painter.who I admire asked me if I could take some of her old jewelry and repurpose it into new designs. I loved the challenge of this and agreed but mentioned that there was no way I could estimateate the.cost until I looked at.the jewelry and decided how many pieces I could design. She told me that she loved my work and she knew she would love whatever I came up with and handed me a bag of jewelry. She said that these would mostly be for gifts. I designed and made 5 necklaces. She loved them all and when I told her the price for this work, she was a little horrified and said "but I gave you all the beads". I said,"honey, if I commissioned you to make a custom painting for me and I supplied the paint, would you charge me much less?" She understood immediately.

Shaiha said...

The only custom order I have done was for a friend for another friend. Other then being told that she wanted hair sticks, I was turned free to create. Both friends were really happy with the results.

KiKi said...

Wow Karen you sure have hit on some key notes here. I have not been in the business long enough to have a mass of experience with clients. The custom orders I have been privy to, have been very rewarding. On the other hand, I have had several people gasp when I quoted them a price (which is usually lower than deserved, but I'm. a newbie and have yet to master the art of pricing my worth).I do so love custom work and the gratitude for creating a piece. that sings to the clients heart.. Thank you for sharing Karen, you always have great words of wisdom. ....Fran.

Carol Dekle said...

First of all WOW! That cuff caught my eye immediately. What a great statement piece!!!!!

I look at custom orders as a way to grow as an artist, as well as an opportunity to make money. Custom orders cost more because of your time and effort and if the client agrees upon the cost, which you negotiate up front, then they can be fun, profitable and rewarding at the same time.

With that being said, they require TONS of creative energy and effort. There have been times where I have backed away from custom orders due to personal stress reasons or if I feel like I won't meet the clients expectations. So yes, you reserve the right to say NO, at any time during the order, even if that means returning the 50% deposit.

It is definitely a personal decision, that each have to make. The nature of the sandblasting has opened me up to tons of requests for custom orders, and at first I said no, but then later began to take the challenge and have grown and an artist in doing so.

Thanks Karen! I hope your client was thrilled with that cuff! know I would have been!

Cory Tompkins said...

I think one of the most important things about doing custom orders is communication. I like to keep in touch with my customer along the way. I think this helps it not seem so long and they get to share in the process. That could mean a quick email to say "I got the special whatchamadoodle I ordered in today" or a picture to show them my progress. I definitely feel honored to be "chosen" to make a custom order, especially when a bride to be asks me to make something for her wedding day...honored and a bit terrified!

Neena Shilvock said...

To echo Carol - WOW - that cuff is a beaut. I have had too many disasters with custom orders, including clients vanishing on me - but it is still a thrill when someone likes your stuff so much to request a specific design - I fell for it each time in the past - but won't ever again - will take your advice :)

Deborah said...

Great post, Karen!

Before I became a jewelry artist, I worked for nearly 30 years in Graphic Design and related areas. Naturally, I worked with MANY artist/creative types.

My story is about my custom order with one of these who was also a potter. This was in about 1980. Since I loved (still do) to see what an artist creates with near-complete freedom, I placed an order for a cookie jar.

My specs were simple:

1. "Primitive" style (she did a lot of stoneware, earthenware & "texture-y" stuff that I loved.

2. Since I always bake cookies for my own taste (with nuts) and my husband (no nuts), I needed separate compartments within the cookie jar.

She told me later she was somewhat befuddled by my word "primitive" AND by having so much freedom to interpret my piece in her own way.

I was astonished to see her take on it - but delighted with the result. What I got was a miniature Stonehenge - 2 massive columns (hollow), with a massive "lid" of stone connecting them.

It was a miniature Stonehenge, but large enough (and STRONG enough) for a child's bench. It takes both hands to heft the lid off to get a cookie (is that good or bad?) - and I still have it to this day….

sara said...

I really like beading! And I really like the concept of creating interchangeable Jewelry items, especially necklaces and bracelets. What a cool idea!


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