What Condition My Commission Is In

Commissions. Some people live for them. Some people don’t seek them out but like to get them. Some folks are fine with doing just a few here and there. And some people have no desire whatsoever to do them. I seem to be leaning toward this last option.

There is nothing wrong with commissions. They are income. They can be challenging, and can often spark new design ideas. In a certain way they can be rather satisfying. They can also be stressful, boring, difficult and a pain in the butt!

I’ve learned to decline commission requests from people I don’t already know fairly well. Friends and family know me, my work, my lifestyle. They know I love the creative process as much as the finished product. They appreciate my designs and allow me free reign in creating their pieces. They may ask for a color (purple, brown) or style (organic, bling), but not specific designs. And I’m more invested in doing the work for them because they are my friend or family.

I’ve tried doing commission work when the designs were dictated and I just can’t do them. I don’t like my creative self being reigned in – it’s frustrating for me. I end up procrastinating, not liking anything I make for the customer, and resenting them for putting constraints on me and myself for accepting the commission in the first place.

As an aside, jewelry repair is in the same category for me as commissions. I’ll do them for family and friends, but that’s all. If a customers asks about repair work, I offer the name of a local jewelry store that does excellent work. The customer is usually fine with this deflection because while I have declined the job, I have offered a solution.

Would that it were so easy with commission work. I’m very hesitant about referring customers to fellow artists for commissions. I’ve had some not-terribly-pleasant customers, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone I knew. In fact, I had one this past summer, which is when I decided to stop taking commissions.

She wanted some simple charms, but the designs she wanted bordered on copyright infringement. I explained this to her and offered some other designs. She didn’t like them. She wanted me to come up with more designs. She didn’t like those either. She was stuck on her original ones, which I would not do. She also didn’t like that the additional design time was impacting the final price. She was getting very demanding, calling me several times a week.

I wanted out.

During this time I had lunch with a friend and fellow jewelry artist. While chatting, I shared my commission conundrum. We puzzled over what I could do, and then she had a brainstorm that offered the perfect solution.

A local university has a nationally recognized art school. The metals program in the school has a ‘job board’ for students looking to supplement their income and learning experience. Members of the community can submit commission requests, thus allowing students to get ‘real life’ experience and income for their efforts. Because they are students, prices are well below what a professional jeweler would charge for the same work.

That was my solution! I was so relieved to hear about this I paid for my friend’s lunch as a thank you. That evening, I emailed my customer to explain that I had far too much on my plate to give her project the focus it deserved. I recommended the metals program job board as an alternative, thus declining the job while offering a solution.

How about you? Do you do commission work? How do you handle a “commission gone bad” – or have you been lucky enough to have avoided one? I’d love to hear how other folks feel about commissions and how they handle them. Maybe in the future I’ll reconsider. But for now, I’ve decommissioned myself.

Katie Hanrahan

About Katie Hanrahan

Making jewelry is my passion. Metal clay is part of that passion and a favorite tool in my toolbox. Each day in my studio I try to challenge myself in some way, to push myself to sharpen my skills, think outside the box, learn new techniques or experiment with new materials in order to grow as an artist. I am part of an artists collective called The Screw Factory Artists and you can see some of my work on our website www.screwfactoryartists.com.


What Condition My Commission Is In — 9 Comments

  1. Oh, I’m totally with you, Katie! When more commissions turned out bad than good I gave it up, too. I just don’t like trying to build someone else’s designs, because I’m the artist, after all! And I know what you mean about those picky customers.

  2. I decided from day one of my jewelry business that I would not be doing custom work. I don’t like the idea of being required to bring someone else’s vision to life. For me, this comes from over 30 years as a graphic artist– where my job was nothing but bringing another person’s vision to life!

    • You are a wise woman, Evelyn! At first, I was flattered that people liked my work so much they wanted me to make something for them. Now I’m over it!

  3. Well, I’m an engineer first and a jewelry artist second. I have no particular style, so I welcome commissions. It’s more of a chance for me to challenge myself with something new (which is my style, everything new! 😉 ). I would not entertain copyright infringement, but building a customers design, I am comfortable with. I’ve had no troubles with the few commissions I’ve had, and I welcome more!

  4. I hate doing commissions. It is just as you said, Katie, I resent the customer for putting these constraints on me, and I get angry with myself for accepting the commission. I won’t do them anymore for customers I don’t know.

    That said, I have three customers that I don’t mind making custom stuff for. They are very good customers (meaning they buy a lot of stuff throughout the year), and they don’t give me a lot of parameters. In fact, the reason one of my best customers loves me so much (besides the fact that I make fabulous jewelry), is that she can call me, give me some color and style guidelines (edgy for her sister, or more conservative for her mother), and then I deliver the jewelry to her at work. Sometimes I have several ideas for her, and I just make a few different pieces and she selects what she wants. She always buys extra for herself, too!

    I don’t know why it works with her, but it just does. Maybe it’s because she tells me something like, “I need something black and white. Do whatever you want.”

    But I have had customers ask me to do something completely not my style, and I really struggle with that. In fact, I just finished what will be the last one of those!

    • I’m the same way, Laura. When I have a customer who is also a friend ask for some earrings that are “dangles, purple and with some bling,” I can deal with that and like you, I will make up several styles for them to choose from. They often buy more than the one they asked for so that works!

  5. I’ll accept custom orders that are closely based on my existing line. If they want a different combination in a cluster necklace, or a different shape in my coral texture, I will oblige. Anything truly custom is politely declined.

    I did several custom pieces a while back. I ended up re-making each piece several times, to get it just right. Needless to say, I lost money on those pieces, and I was distracted from developing my own lines that can make money for me for years to come.

    After thinking long and hard about the dynamic of custom work, here’s what I came up with. When I make a piece and offer it for sale, the customer can see the piece and the price. She decides if she wants to buy, based on having all the information she needs to make that decision. When I make a custom piece, I fret continually, wondering if it will be good enough, or will fulfill the customer’s vision. I’m simply not comfortable with that dynamic, and I don’t like losing money.

    Thanks, Katie, for addressing this topic. I’m happy to know I’m not the only one. I would love to hear from someone that thrives on custom work.

  6. I have done a couple of commisions that have gone well but am learning that I’m not much into them. I have a return customer that wants me to design a charm bracelet for a friend of hers. It is stressing me out a bit. I am learning that I like just making stuff and selling it that way. thanks so much for your insight on this.

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