Etiquette Q&A: Inquiring about a Commission When You Aren't Sure You Can Afford It

by Terri

Image shows a hand holding a fan of 100 dollar bills. You may want art and not possess this amount of money. We hope you follow this advice.

Image shows a hand holding a fan of 100 dollar bills. You may want art and not possess this amount of money. We hope you follow this advice.

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than the product releases, you’ll know that one of our personal soapboxes is the fair payment of artists. Our friends and family are pretty conscious of it, and most of our online followers already chime in with our ‘Fuck You, Pay Me’ art print when someone talks about working “for exposure” or anything similar.

Occasionally someone will ask us about the propriety of asking an artist about a commission if they aren’t sure they can pay for it. This is a reasonable question. Our answer is yes, you can, but be respectful about it.

Here are some specific ways to approach an artist respectfully in this situation:

  1. Be polite and clear about your limitations

    • State up front that you have an upper limit on your budget. If you have a hard number, say it outright.

  2. Give them as many details as you can about what sort of work you want them to do.

    • Let them know if you are willing to cut back on your request if it means it will be within budget;

    • Tell them you want to hear any ideas they have for trimming costs.

  3. Thank them for their time and consideration.

    • Let them know that you understand that they might not be able to work in your budget and you respect that.

  4. If they tell you no, respect that no. Do not argue.

All of the above only applies to an individual inquiring about a paid commission. You can also discuss the option of some sort of installment payment plan, if that is acceptable to both parties.

Charities/non profit organizations are another matter. If your organization is asking for a donation in kind, then that’s precisely what you should ask for. Never frame it as a job for no pay or reduced pay. Don’t act like you are doing them a favor by asking them to contribute their work (a good match between artist and institution will result in both feeling like they get something out of it; if you feel the need to frame it as a one-way benefit, that’s a warning sign to an artist and it should be one to you, too). Your organization should also be prepared to accept no for an answer without arguing, same as an individual. Unlike an individual, you may also be inclined to pressure the artist by declaiming the virtues of your organization and what a good cause they would be contributing to. Do Not Do This.

In sum, make it clear you don’t think you are entitled to their work, and be respectful of the artist’s boundaries.

So You Want Custom Ketubah Art? Why This Ketubah Artist Recommends Against It

by Ariela

Ariela completes Terri's  ketubah , August 2011

Ariela completes Terri's ketubah, August 2011

We're in Wedding Season, which means that lately I have been fielding lots of requests for custom ketubah work. Some of those inquiries ares for custom text calligraphy to go with pre-existing art, or to go with art from a family friend. Most requests, however, are for original art with a hand-calligraphed text, which is what we're discussing today.

On my first call with prospective clients, the question at the top of my list is always "Why do you want a custom ketubah?" I don't ask because I'm looking to judge their reasons, I ask because the answer tends to tell me a lot about what my experience will be working with them.

If the answer is anything other than "We have a very specific vision for our ketubah art," the next thing I tend to do is to try to persuade them to find a pre-existing print and get that instead. Gone are the days when there were only a very few, cookie-cutter designs and one text available. You can find ketubah art in almost any genre and most artists can accommodate a custom text, too. In most cases, there is simply no need for a custom job.

But Ariela, you say, why would you try to turn away a potentially lucrative commission?

The answer is that planning a wedding is a miserable experience that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. And commissioning custom art is a process that is long, and expensive, with scrillions of tiny details that must be attended to individually. Trying to complete the two projects simultaneously isn't something to do on a lark; you have to really want it to make it worth it. Even if you do want it, it's still no cakewalk. My spouse and I ditched art completely and we still had hours of arguments about the text.

The Wedding Industrial Complex means that working with overwhelmed, stressed clients is part and parcel of the wedding gig. But a wedding vendor can make it easier on their own self and on the clients by helping them to cut out unnecessarily complicated steps. But to do that, you have to figure out what is necessary. Which is why I ask "Why do you want a custom ketubah?"

If it's important to you, let's talk. I love to create things that are truly special to people. But if it's not, perhaps it is time to let go of expectations (your own, or others'), and put your time, attention, and money, on things that will make a bigger difference to you.

Wishing you a stress-free wedding season, as much as it is possible.

Commissioning Custom Work: A How-To Guide

by Terri

Since we appear to have declared September to be Artist's Rights Month, I wanted to do a example* of the commission process gone right.

Full Disclaimer. I am the one requesting the commission from the artist in question. I have been friends with Ariela as well as a handicrafter myself for long enough that I fully appreciate how much work and effort goes into custom anything. I Get It, and tailor my expectations accordingly. 

I knit a lot, and have fallen fair down the rabbit hole of interchangeable knitting needle sets.** As such, I need a case to hold all the various parts so that they don't get lost all over the house. I outgrew the binder that came with my first set*** about two years ago, though I pushed it to its absolute limit. Knowing that other people had success with worm binders, I purchased one from Bass Pro.**** Once I'd overstuffed it with my needles and cables, I realized that I didn't care for it at all. It would work as an interim piece and I would wait until some room in the budget opened up for something nicer.

I happened to come into a bit of fun money due to a survey, and decided now was the time. I approached Grace Fross, of Graces Cases on Etsy. Thankfully, this is relatively easy to do, although you are stuck in a proprietary messaging system.***** I had seen one of her products that I hoped could be adapted to better suit my needs. I also had seen something else that might have worked, and I could show her pictures of that. Both of these things will be important later.

While I opened the conversation with something relatively short, it referenced an existing product and how it might be adapted:

me: Would you be interested in making a $_STYLE style case, but with more pages?
Grace Fross: Both the Standard and deluxe cases have more pages including a page for 2 sets of tips. But if you were thinking of a different layout then we do take custom orders.

Once I knew that a custom piece was a possibility, I was able to further elaborate what I wanted:

me: I was looking for something that can store enough tips for 4+ sets of needles plus cables. I'm willing to pay custom prices. Something with as many pages as a Deluxe, but with the internal layout of the Tips Too.
Grace Fross: We do lots of custom orders in a wide variety of layouts. There are a few restrictions though because sewing machines will only go through a certain number of layers.
Custom orders have a wait list of around 10 - 12 weeks and there is a 20% surcharge. With custom you can select from fabrics I have on hand or supply your own in addition to a layout designed to fit your needles.
me: The restrictions and surcharge are reasonable and understandable. So is the waiting list.

Note the bolded text. I agreed up front to whatever Grace wanted to charge me for her work, before she even quoted me her terms. This might not always be the case for someone seeking a commission. If you don't know what the baseline price is, don't commit like I did. But I had an idea of what the general prices were based on the items in her Etsy shop, and was willing to pay up to half again as much for something that worked for me. Knowing what you can and are willing to spend is an important part of any custom commission. Also note that Grace was up front with the waiting list and pricing for custom work. I was able to make a decision about whether or not I could afford the work before anyone had expended time, effort or money. If I hadn't been willing to pay or wait, I would have responded as follows:

That would have been an appropriate way to end the process. Since both of them were fine with me, I figured that I'd be waiting a while, but I'd have exactly what I wanted. Getting exactly what you want is one of the biggest perks of commissioning custom work. I knew I was on a list, and then when my turn came up, I'd be getting a message and would then proceed with making a custom case. But first, I made sure that money would not become a problem in this process:

me: Thank you for your time. I'm sorry, but I don't think that this is going to fit within my current budget or time constraints.

It is crucial to know what your artist requires as far as upfront money is concerned. Some artists need the deposit as a cushion, others feel awkward about having your money without a product to send you. Communication is key here. 

I was willing to wait as long as Grace needed, but then a message showed up in my inbox:

me: Do you require a deposit?
Grace Fross: No deposit needed.
Grace Fross: If you haven't heard from me by the end of this week, please remind me

That delightful surprise was an important part of an artist's responsibility to communicate clearly. Without that, I would have happily waited, but with it I knew things would be speeding up a little. 

Now I will sing Ms. Fross's praises, as she truly is the Fabric Whisperer. I mentioned that I like purple, and she came up with this gorgeous batik fabric for me: 

Anyone who knows me well knows just how much I jumped up and down when I saw this.

At this point, further snippets of back and forth conversation would just devolve into jargon about what I wanted. Which, again, demonstrates communication. I was able to point Grace to another Etsy listing to demonstrate some particulars of what I wanted. Once she saw that, she was able to let me know that she would try to get it finished soon, but she did have a show that she needed to finish her inventory for. And once again, she checked in with me on the pricing, now that she was able to have precise numbers for me. 

All of these things were laid out BEFORE any work was completed. All told, only a couple of hours in back and forth time were spent (which, had I not gone with this, would have been time not recompensed). And in the end, everyone was happy. I got what I wanted, Grace Fross was paid fairly. And that's a commission gone right.





*I ramble. The post won't be short.

**This was my first set. I have since discovered another company that uses the same manufacturer (cross-compatibility FTW) and am completely powerless in the face of pretty wood.

***Alas, it no longer ships with that binder. Nor do they make that binder any longer. Hence the need for something else.

****Yes, the sort you buy for storing fishing lures. Yes, this means I'll never stop getting Bass Pro catalogs. I've somewhat resigned myself to it.

*****Ms. Fross would like you to know that customers can also approach her via her email address at the GracesCases website

A Cute Commission

by Ariela

Some commissions are easy. Some clients are wonderful to work with. Some projects are touching. And when you are very lucky, you get all three in one.

I was lucky like that recently. A fellow was referred to me who wanted to get a design done with the letter shin, his daughter's first initial. With a Hebrew name, she wouldn't be likely to find her name on commonly available novelty keychains, etc. and he wanted to get a design just for her. As someone else with a Hebrew name who could never get a novelty item off the rack, I was very taken with the project.

He suggested a few design elements he knew would appeal to her - a sun, butterflies, dinosaurs - but left the actual design entirely up to my discretion. These were the result:

Shin with Sun color.jpg

He plans to print them on notebook covers and a tshirt for her. I really hope she likes them!

Custom Ketubah For Sarah Ilana: From Beginning to Completion

by Ariela

I have been working on a custom ketubah commission since January. The bride, Sarah, asked me to keep it under wraps until their wedding so that they could have a big reveal, but as the wedding happened on July 10, I can now share it. 

I've decided to share the entire process, to give you a window into what it is like to work on a custom ketubah. Process is long, so the rest is under the cut.

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