Friday, December 19, 2014

Commission Tips part 2: Expectations

This commission tips post is all about understanding the clients expectations for the job.  There will be a lot of tough love in this post.

JJ blogging, fourth Article Friday post, with a bit of a hiccup there, and so far so good.  Let’s see how everything goes in the next seven weeks.

First up: Painting Expectations.

You’re a commission artist and you have your first real client, or a couple of clients and things are going great.  Then you are contacted by a customer that wants you to paint a model(s), band, horde, army, what have you and they send you a pic like this:

But you paint like this:

Notice the toe stuck in the base.

And they want to hire you.  Well you’re at a crossroads.  Damn tough crossroads if you ask me.  Do you think you have it in you to paint at that level?  If you don’t you lost a client and money.  Nevermind that there are fewer pieces of your work out in the world being a walking-talking advertisement for your commission business.

Some will say they can and certainly try their best.  Others will say they can’t and won't take the job.  Others still will give it a go.

Breaking down each scenario above.

  • Say they can.  So the client wants you to paint above your current skill.  Now you have their models and hopefully first payment for painting.  You're stressing out and sweating bullets.  Reading techniques online, asking friends and watching youtube furiously.  You really want to paint the model to the clients expectations and get cash for the job.  Yet you're finding that you can't paint to the level of detail they expect.  You've printed off references pics they sent you.  Matching the reference material to the model your painting there's a problem.  The paint job on the model isn't cutting the mustard.  Now you're sinking and soon you won't be able to see the top of the pool.  Trouble times ahead.  Dragons Be Here.  My suggestion is to admit defeat and communicate that to the client.  That'll be a rough conversation.
  • Don't take the job.  If you're aware enough of your ability to not take the job you're way ahead of the ball.  Might be best to refer the client to a friend or someone you know that can paint to that ability.  If done correctly you can make two close contacts.  One with the client for being a stand-up guy who is honest and wants to help others.  Other the referred painting buddy who now knows you're sending business his way.  Someone may reach out to him wanting a different quality than what he's used to and may return the favour.
  • Give it a go.  This is the best option in my opinion.  Instead of saying you can't paint to the expected ability and not taking the job.  You've decided you want to give it a go to see if you're up for the challenge.  It would be prudent to communicate that the standard they are expecting is above what you normal paint, and that you want a challenge.  Encouraging words like 'Really love this opportunity to challenge my painting skills to a level I've been aiming for quite some time' can be exactly what the client wants to hear.  It'll show your enthusiasm and dedication to painting. 

What I can say with experience is that if you don't paint like another you will never be able to please the client.  In my specific instance a client wanted me to paint like James Wappel.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to provide a Wappel level paint job regardless of the client's micro-management.  This taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

  • If a client provides reference material of another artist.  Clearly communicate to them that you are not the artist they provided.  You can paint your interpretation of the reference material.
Fortunately I haven't encountered another client asking me to paint like someone else.  Should that happen again I'll let the potential client know and that my style isn't the same as the reference material.

This brings up another sad and rather disappointing point.  Options.  People love options.  They love options so much especially if they are going to order the same food they always do after looking at the menu.  We like to think we aren't affected by events upstream.  That things aren't predetermined for us.  Yet we willing adhere to a system we purposely rally against.

What's worst is when you provide options to a client.  Two models, one light other dark and the client chooses the lighter scheme.  Then after praise about how good the models are turning out they cancel the commission because it deviated too much from the original scheme, yet the client chose the lighter option.  Yes clients can change their mind.  What they can't do is accept responsibility for changing their mind.  We as commission artists have to bear that cross for them.  We have to be the adult.

Let's move to another expectation that can be made of the artist: Deadline.

This can be rough for the client specifically.  After all someone is hiring you to paint their models and they want them back as fast as possible.  Unless you've been commission painting for many years and are able to paint a complete army in two weeks, Brandon from GMM studios.  The time the client expects to get their 2k point army may be outside or your ability.

There has to be a bit of soul, or ability, searching before stating a deadline.  You will need to take a look at your schedule and find out when you can paint and for how long.  Then you'll need to know how long it takes you to paint something.  Last thing you want is to commit to a deadline and only be done with a third of the models when it arrives.  This is dangerous and potentially deadly to your commission work.  It could undermine the confidence the client has in you.  Which in turn could cause them not to send you anymore work and talk poorly about your inability to meet the agreed deadline.

Being aware of how fast you can paint will be useful in determining how long it'll take you to finish the commission, and when the client can expect to have the models in their hands.  Knowing the commission will take far longer to complete than what the client wants helps you now so you'll avoid embarrassment later.  Plus the client will be informed that you can't paint a 2k army for a tournament next weekend.  Or a highly detailed HQ for a game the next day.

Knowing your ability and how fast you can paint something will be tremendously helpful when determining a deadline with the client.

There's a point to be made that a client should know that the artist isn't up to the task before hiring them.  I wouldn't go to McDonald's expecting to get a 10 oz medium rare sirloin steak, or go to a Best Buy store and expect them to have online prices like Amazon.  However we can't work with one person's opinion.  Client's habitually wear rose coloured glasses and are outstandingly, sometimes purposefully, unaware of the commission painting business.  We need to know and accept that some of the clients expectations are beyond us.  Communication is like sunlight in these situations.  Its the best disinfectant.

The next post will be a continuation of this theme with a very specific point, Communication.

slainte mhath


  1. Interesting topic though I feel this is more a problem for the buyer and not the artist. All the time these days we see jobs being outsourced more and more. Why? It's cheaper. (Not better.)

    If you have a gallery that honestly showcases your ability as an artist and a client asks for something beyond your capabilities, the polite thing to do is to confirm they've seen your work but still offer to take the job.

    So you're the call center in India or the factory in China - major companies choose to outsource to these locations all the time. They're not necessarily happy with the final product, neither are the customers of these companies, but they keep doing it because the price is right. There's a good chance in this situation that you're asking for less than the competition because you're not the master class painter and the client is looking to save money. As long as the client signs off on your current ability, then they get what they get.

    1. Dave, welcome to H2Lat40k.

      Excellent comment. Cheaper is the motivating and primary goal for a lot of things in our current age. Not sure how customers started equating cheap with quality. Makes me think of that cap of someone arguing the price of a handmade item based on just materials. Which leads to another topic. It is truly shocking to learn what customers think of workers time.

    2. Thanks! And yes, always gets me too how little people value our time. Even fellow painters. I have a buddy that does graphic design and he gets so frustrated with all the people that really do think that he should make them logos for free because they feel the promotional value of people seeing his works / adding to his portfolio is worth it.

    3. Dave, only someone in the same boat as Zab and I understand this. You're right. People value our time so little it is ridiculous. Mind baffling when it is other painters as well.

      Yeah, payment for your time is exposure? Bullshit. If the clients were celebrities or huge companies with outstanding PR and sales teams maybe. Usually its a small local business wanting to step on the backs of others to make themselves into something of note. Destroying the ladder steps underneath us makes the fall that much more painful.

    4. My friend (as a web designer), calls it "magic wand" syndrome. The individual doesn't appreciate the time invested, because they have no idea how it is done, it's just "magic". Thus they have no understanding or even a tiny inkling of what is involved or required.

      I ran into the same type of things a decade ago, when I was a furniture designer. Clients couldn't comprehend why it would take hours and hours to render out designs on the computer. Then scoff at what I'd charge. I have the utmost respect for anyone in the creative industry making it on their own because of that.

    5. Magic wand syndrome. Very accurate. Stealing it.

    6. I think it even gets worse when you are dealing with the digital era, because of all the ads and commercials. "Oh look, this crappy photo is made beautiful with photoshop!"

      You may enjoy

    7. Excellent point.

      Thanks for the link. Looks like something I will enjoy.

  2. I'm always shocked by clients that don't realize that to paint a display level army would cost thousands of dollars and take months to paint. Commission painting isn't big business, its a niche market and getting a deal usually means the artist taking a hit.

    1. Had that issue with a client. Gave a beginning quote and he said that was a bit more than what he was expecting. The amount of time it would take to paint an army was also longer than he wanted.

    2. What I don't get it is someone asking to "paint like this artist". They could have just gone to that artist and asked them. James does commissions. My guess? They went to James, and cried at the quote.

      "I'll just have someone go copy this rembrant, should be cheaper"

    3. That is exactly my thought of what the client did. Jim gave him a quote he clearly wasn't expecting. Hence his response to me of my quote being higher than he thought. Can only hope he went to Jim for painting.

    4. I honestly think that...
      1) James doesn't sleep.
      2) James can time travel.
      3) James can had to slow down his videos to 1/10th speed because he's so fast.

      Him and Brandon should have a speed contest. It would probably rip a hole in the space time continuum.

    5. 40k buddy of mine, and fellow author on this blog, Nate said he was talking with Jim's partner Cathy at Adepticon last year, I think. She mentioned that Jim doesn't sleep. He's constantly doing something with his hobby.

      Pretty sure he performed some time travel during our dinner. Definitely with you on him having to slow his speed down.

      Now that is something worth considering. Quite funny.

  3. Excellent article - as a person who does commission work, I completely understand.

    My work is not known for its finish quality, but more for its creativity (I do complex basing, conversions, challenging magnet work, special effects, etc.) and I do everything I can to communicate what I won't do (I would say can't, but its more so the time it would take is more than anyone can afford).

    Now, regarding "paint like this" ....not all people are wanting a specific artist's work duplicated - they are often interested in specific aspects of it.
    You have to ask - for example -
    * is it the color palate you like?
    * is it the type of shading and dryburshing?
    * Are you wanting a specific type of highlight or shadow work?

    For instance, a while ago someone showed me a picture - but they were not interested int he specific paint job - just liked the OSL on the model (it was very well done).

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, davethegamer. It is great to see so much support from fellow commission artists.

      Beginning to learn how to communicate to clients what I won't do. Also beginning to figure out how to make commission painting more profitable.

      That is excellent advice for any commission artist. Performed that with the client mentioned above. However my take on it wasn't working out. I'll happily admit that there was much room for me to grow with the style he wanted. Worked on a model recently with that style. So far I think it has improved a lot. More to work on though.

      Now I wish the client did what you mentioned with your OSL story. Would've reduced a lot of stress on both sides.

      Thanks again. You're welcome.


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