Friday, March 18, 2011

Artists Working with Commissions

Final touches on Loretta's Poppies - a 2011 commissioned work

Our show in AZ, the Celebration of Fine Art, is coming to a close on Mar. 27.  Many of the artists are finishing up commission work to be delivered by the closing.  Others are just finalizing designs on to be completed during the year.

For a variety of reasons, some artists dislike working on this basis, preferring instead to sell only what has already been completed.  Others of us enjoy the challenge and the conversation to balance and coordinate our ideas with that of our client.

What contributes to getting a commission? (And here I am speaking only of private commissions, not public or corporate ones.)

Final touches
Listening is the first and, I think, most critical factor.  We listen for that which impresses the viewer, because, after all, it has to be more than just a “that’s nice” reaction to our work to interest them in a specially made piece.  Each artist has a gut feeling about the strength of his own work.  Is it born out by the viewer?  Or, can you hear a potential problem – perhaps, “I love that piece, but not the colors” or “Beautiful colors! Too big, though.”  There are hesitations to listen for, and tones, and casual comments – “Hmmmmm” and “That would look great in your bathroom, Alice,” and “Good colors, but not so much for the bedroom, do you think, Honey?” or “Hmmmm, not quite.”

So is a positive comment always a positive?  And is a negative one always a negative?  No, to both questions.

Loving someone’s work doesn’t automatically mean anything.  It is, however, an invitation to ask your own questions.  “What is it about the piece that you most like?”  (Appreciate that they may be in awe and inclined to burst out with “Everything!” but encourage them to be more specific.)  Now here is the place where sales books tell you to begin inquiring about their home and “qualifying” them.  I HATE this approach. I’m not a car salesman.  This person who is standing in your booth or studio or gallery is most likely responding to your work on an emotional level.  For me, that is the signal that we have a place where we might relate to one another. Instead of assessing her shoes and asking, “Do you collect original art?” I might ask if she gardens (because she is staring at my garden painting) or “Are you from here?  Are you watching for the hummingbirds to come back?” (because I have some in another piece).  

Take a few moments to find what moves this person, because what moves her in her role as viewer, as potential client, is what may move you, motivate you, inspire you.  A piece of your self, your being, your soul can make a difference in a client’s life.  Learning a bit about who she is as an individual can open the door to the possibility of a long and successful artist/client relationship.  Finding spaces for relatedness connects both ourselves and our art to other human beings.  Relatedness never happens in isolation

Similarly, “Nice colors, but it won’t work,” may sound negative, but in actuality is not at all.  Acknowledging their appreciation of your colors is the open door.  “Thanks – I’m glad you like my colors!  But what is it that won’t work?  I’m always interested in people’s difficult spaces.”  Your interest in their space is personal and caring.  I have had this conversation many times in my career.  Sometimes the resolution I see requires a different kind of artwork, and I am able to suggest artists who might be a better fit.  Often it is just an issue of position or shape or pattern – basic design principles of which they may not have a working knowledge.  It’s a great feeling to see their eyes light up when they see the possibility of one of my suggestions working for them.  And what better way to develop trust but to help in a generous manner without agenda.  If you don’t get the immediate sale, I guarantee that you will see the benefit down the line as they tell their friends all about you and your work.

After you have developed the seeds of a relationship with your potential client, what comes next? 

Instead of announcing that you do a lot of commission work, why not suggest looking at their problem space together – maybe try a few pieces in the space to see what kinds of shapes/colors/sizes might work?  “Perhaps we’ll come up with some fresh ideas – then we can go from there.  I’d love to be part of the solution!”

Artists have good eyes.  That means if we use them, it is easy for us to take in a great deal of visual information, assimilate it, and generate many possibilities to solve spatial and design problems.  Are you approaching commission work with your eyes wide open, or are you just looking for a quick sale – no fuss, no muss?  It’s perfectly ok not to be interested or inspired by collaborating with the client.  If this is the case, just be clear about it within your own mind, be generous – give the client some artist’s names who might better be able to meet their needs.  Be clear about boundary lines –“I can incorporate this idea of yours, but not that.”  

But, if you like this type of problem solving, then enter their home, eyes open to the myriad of details in their surroundings.  Why is the problem area a problem?  Listen to why they think it’s a problem.  Are they looking at your sculptures which are clearly not going to fit into the 4” deep niche?  Should they be considering a painting or shallow wall sculpture instead?  Can you see a place where they might be able to place your large sculpture?  Suggest it.  Perhaps you are a painter and they like garden paintings but have four broad-view garden paintings already in the room.  Suggest to them that perhaps they would like to consider a close up of the iris – one bloom in fine detail – to set off their wonderful collection of garden paintings.  Do you hate the other paintings?  Do not be insincere, but look at their home from their viewpoint.  After all, you are not the one living in the home.  They have paid you the compliment of loving your work.  Respect their other choices.

Listening. Seeing the fun in problem solving. Respecting your audience. That's my mix for getting commission work.  Require 50% deposits and gurantee your work (they will be less anxious and, after thirty years of being an artist, I’ve never had to return anyone’s deposit).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Some Artist's Views On Pricing

Here's a ink to the comments on my blog post that was reprinted in FineArtViews -  This is an excellent site to subscribe to for all kinds of info art-related.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reprint of valuable blog post by Luann Udell via FineArtViews

I found this to be a thoughtful post for both artists and collectors - enjoy the read.  Whitney

Respect Your Collectors Part 7

by Luann Udell

This post is by  Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

Your collectors rely on your artistic integrity

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”  “Always do your best.”  We hear these comments from the time we’re very young.

Me?  I try not to get too hung up with perfection.  Being human means sometimes “good enough” is…well, good enough.

However, I do try to have integrity, in my art and in my dealings with my collectors.

Integrity means you strive to do your best work.  By ‘best work’, I mean all aspects of making, exhibiting and marketing your work, including who you are as a person.

Have integrity in your creative process:  You keep your skills sharp.  You take classes from time to time to update your techniques, or learn new ones.  You will find inspiration in the work of other artists.  That’s normal and expected.  But always strive to keep your own unique vision at the forefront.  Try not to be easily swayed about pursuing a subject or style that’s selling like gangbusters for another artist.  Find a way to make it your own.

You can have integrity with your materials:  Use the best materials for the project at hand.  Unless the art is by nature conceptual and fleeting, make art that lasts, using quality paints and archival materials.  When a collector buys my work, I want them to be assured it will give them many years of enjoyment.  I make repairs to items that get damaged without making too much of a fuss.  In fact, when customers bring back a beloved necklace that’s come apart for whatever reason, I thank them for the opportunity to set things right again.

Have integrity in where your work is exhibited, and how.  Years ago, I had an opportunity to participate in a huge gift show with our state craft guild.  I met a newspaper reporter who’d done an article on me years earlier, who had also purchased a wall hanging from me.  I’ll never forget her look of astonishment, and her words.  “You’re HERE?!  At the gift show??!!”  I explained I hoped to make contacts with buyers and curators from the city’s art museums.  She thought that made sense.  And I did meet those people there.  But I’ll never forget the look on her face.  She thought I was pursuing a path that could water down my vision.  I never want to see that look on a collector’s face again.  I think carefully about where I want my work to be displayed now, and what company I want to keep.

Oh, gosh, I hope that doesn’t sound snooty!  But just as your credentials can be raised by participating in high-quality shows, they can be compromised by your participation in less esteemed venues.  You may hope you’ll be seen as the ‘best artist’ there.  But you may also be seen as someone who doesn’t know better.

Not all small, modest shows are beneath us, either.  Sometimes our participation supports a worthy cause dear to our hearts—a fundraiser show for the Humane Society or our child’s school, for example.  But “dress appropriately”.  Bring work related to that cause, or priced for that venue.

Have integrity as a person.  As a collector, I don’t care for artists who “let their art speak for itself.”  I want to have a relationship with the artist, as well as with the work.  Someone who’s being snotty or snobby, trying to make me feel uncouth or unlettered, isn’t really elevating themselves, in my book.  They are not respecting me as a fellow human being.

Have integrity even as someone seems to be insulting you or your work.  Even if someone says something rude about your work, remember—you don’t have to respond.  So many discussions among artists revolve around snappy retorts we can make to the ‘stupid things’ customers say.   I hate that. “Putting someone in their place” says as much about you as it does about them.  Let it go.  Understand that some people mean well, but just don’t know what to say about a work of art.  Other people in your venue are listening to you, and watching your response.  Show them you are gracious and can rise above the moment.  (If someone is being deliberately rude, a) they usually aren’t your collector anyway, and b) being gracious can be even more irritating for them.  Personally, I like to move such people on to other artists I don’t like.)  (I never said I was I was a better person than you.)

Likewise, deal honorably with collectors.  If you have to lower your prices during hard times, find a way to do it that doesn’t devalue the work they’ve already purchased from you.  (Introduce the prices only with new work, smaller work, simpler work, etc.)  Understand that they want to feel your work is still worth what they paid for it.

If you do commissions, respect that it may be as tenuous and scary for them as it is for you.  You’re afraid they won’t like the finished work?  They’re afraid they won’t like the finished work, too.  Especially if this is their first commission.  Guide them through the process gently, find out what gives you the best results.  For example, some artists find that sending images of the work as you go works well.  Others find that making it a complete finished piece works best.  What works best for you?

Lastly, have integrity as an artist and being yourself.  Take care of yourself.  It’s hard to make the work of our heart and then put it out in the world for all to judge.  Protect yourself from people who are envious, from people who are so damaged, they can not celebrate your work and your successes.

No need to be smug about what we do, either.  Everyone has a gift.  Respect others’ gifts.  But demand respect for yours, too.  Oprah says we teach other people how to love us.  That means we have a choice when we encounter people who don’t love us, or our art.  Know that you and your art have a place in this world.  It’s up to you to do the best you can to make that place for it.

We have a gift.  We are put on this planet to use it.  We have an obligation to share it with the world in some way, whether with the art itself, with what we teach about it, with what we cause we support with it, with the example we set for others.  We have a chance to be a hero, sometimes to our collectors, but also to people we may never meet nor never know.  Someone is watching us as we make our own unique artistic journey through life.  Be that hero.

As a new dog owner, I finally get to say, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

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