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.