When I work on art commissions I cannot imagine telling a prospective client that “It’s gonna be great! Just Yuge! Believe me!” and then refuse to give any details regarding the project plans. I and each of my gallery owners describe in detail what the client can expect at every phase of the art project being asked of me and when they can expect it. Questions are answered as completely as possible as soon as possible.
The ability to unflinchingly describe plans for a project in easy-to-understand terms, to outline a proposal either verbally or in writing (or both), to answer questions, to give updates and to have “how-we-will-know-we-succeed” goal markers clearly marked is the very foundation of doing business. This is basic business plan/proposal 101 and expected of any person in business.
It is all the more important when the business is creative. Fine art (and all of it’s creative cousins) are notoriously subjective, mysterious and mystical – when viewed from the non-artists point of view. This means that clear communications about plans regarding artistic projects is crucial. If the client can’t understand what you’ll be doing, and can’t explain it to their spouse or to their organization’s board – why would they commission you do do something artistic for their home, office or organization?
Since a certain U.S. president elect has been so vague regarding his plans for the country I’ve begun to think that doing “basic business 101” and doing it well is an art and it may also be a revolutionary act.
So to aid, support and show solidarity with my fellow revolutionaries here are questions I ask myself that influence how I communicate my art project plan/proposals:
Why are you doing it/what do you hope to achieve?
I like to help people preserve, via fine art, the story, the memory, of their life and relationship with their pet; dog or cat. I often say that “I help people tell their stories visually”. When talking with prospective clients I talk about this goal and a bit about how my art-making process works, how I use elements from the real-life of the client and dog. Since I work with a number of galleries many of the clients approach the idea of commissioning me to create something special for them already knowing this about my artwork process.
I (or the gallery) asks what the client hopes to get from my work, about the size of artwork the client wants and what fits in their budget.
What exactly will you be doing and approximately when?
During the first conversation we find out if the client wants one of my ink portraits, which has a more simple project plan/process, or if they want a color portrait. Assuming for the purposes of this blog that the client wants a color portrait then I (or my gallery owners) tell the client that I have a list of questions and a list of photos of their dog (for example) that I will need in order to create a full color portrait (like the color artwork you see here on my website).
Once those questions have been answered and the photos have been provided I’ll take about a month to create 2 designs for their approval. A calendar date for our sketch-approval meeting is often set during this conversation. With the gallery as a mutual point of contact the client answers my questions and provides the photos of their pet. After all of the answers/photos are received (usually within the first week) I set about creating 2 sketches to scale of the proposed finished work along with a set of “color swatches” to give them a tactile idea of my proposed color scheme.
Then, a month later, we meet (me, client and gallery owner) and I show my sketches and talk about the proposal. Sometimes it’s happened that I deliver the sketches to the gallery and the gallery owner conducts the meeting (without me) to get approval from the client for one of the sketched proposals. No matter who makes the presentation/proposal, I take care to label my sketches clearly, with color swatches taped into place so that everything is fairly self-explanatory. I allow the client to take a photo of the approved sketch at this time if they desire.
When doing public art commissions I’ve even included copies of the sketches or (as per request) color mock-ups that the client could then take and present to their organizations board.
When a sketch is approved I provide a date when the finished work will be delivered to the gallery. I set this date far in advance of when I actually think it will be done – because sometimes there is weather that slows down drying time – so I would rather deliver something earlier than a client is expecting it than have to explain why it is late. And I tell the client I’m setting the delivery date out farther than I think it will be finished – and why I’m setting it that way.
Then I get to work.
The gallery is available if the client has any questions or wishes to have updates. As I work photos of my project’s progress are taken. Those are provided to the gallery who shares them with the client. At the end of a project I often use those “progress photos” and write a “how I made this” document that summarizes the entire project.
As you can imagine clear communication of plans and procedures makes the process much smoother for everyone. Clients aren’t left wondering what I’m going to do to them instead of for them.
Here’s a photo of a commission I did some time ago now. The client was very happy with it! It’s titled “Preying for Peas”. That title seems relevant just now.
You can download a pdf “project summary” about the “Preying for Peas” project here: https://sueclancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/aboutpreyingforpeas.pdf