Saturday, June 13, 2020

art life pivot -- commissions case study. Pet portrait by Catherine Scartaccini, CS Illustrator

Indie artists need to recover from the loss of income due to shutdowns of conventions and art fairs in this Covid era.

Here's a business plan pivot option.

Now is a good time to look at your commissions market. Are you prepared to do commissions? Do you have a rate? A track record? Can you ship with confidence? Do you have your own contract to present to the client???

Personally, I rarely commission work from an artist. Usually I prefer to buy a work that is already completed. There's always a risk with a commission. Even though you really like the artist's work, they might not render what you have in your mind's eye for the commission. Other collectors prefer to have commissioned work only, since it's more personal and exclusive.

As an artist -- you want to be able to appeal to both markets: Those who collect commissioned artwork (often with a theme that unites their collection);  and those who are interested in finished originals.

How do you want to sell your original artwork to collectors? What are your rates? Payment schedules? Which creative rights to your work are you retaining?

Your answers need to be part of your business plan.

This post showcases a recent commission that exceeded my expectations on all levels. Here's the finished work (artwork photos by Catherine Scartaccini, CS Illustrator

You can click on the images to enlarge them on your screen...

And here's the reference photo I sent her

In the artwork, Catherine put the sparkle in Ripley's eyes. 

The photos and online images don't do the original justice.
When I look at the artwork portrait of Ripley, I don't just see her likeness -- I feel her soul.
Every commission should feel priceless like this.
Pet portraits are prized by collectors. Vintage portraits from the turn of the century, to modern day works -- it's not just the image -- it's the story. Someone loved a pet enough to want an artwork of them. They hired an artist who they felt could capture what made that pet special. The portraits outlive the subjects.
Art is life.

Here is the link on Catherine's website for info on pet portraits:

For the Ripley story, see this post on the blog: 

I've been a fan of the work of Catherine Scartaccini for years now. She's based in Western Australia, but I found her online. (Thank you internet!) She has a degree in zoology and specializes in animal art. I started following her on Facebook. She posts daily on Facebook and Instagram. And she uses her posts to help her artWORK work for her!

She has a brilliant niche market of doing very small originals for a comfortable price point ($75 AUD). She often has a commission list for these. She posts each finished work, along with information on how to order your own. Plus she includes one of the art supply pencils she used on the work. This shows scale. It also reminds/educates followers that the image took materials, time and talent. Brilliant!!
 Here's sample text for the mini-originals:
"Smiling quokka🔸COMMISSION🔸
 Get your pet portrait for just $75AUD! Free shipping in Australia. DM me for details 
Miniature 20mm×20mm illustration. #FaberCastell #Polychromos and #CarandAche #Luminance on #Art Spectrum Smooth Draw and Wash paper."
The Ripley portrait was full-sized (5x7) -- but Catherine also does portraits in her mini-format for the mini-art price.

This previous blog post about Catherine show additional process posts from her:

Video interview with her at Fremantle Markets:

photo by Jeffreys Photography of Catherine at Fremantle Markets

Following "free" art online is fun. Social media sites are making money from this content, but were never designed to credit or compensate the artists who make all the "sharing" and screen time possible.

There is no such thing as "free" art. Art is work. Art is time, talent, materials. Art costs money to produce and put online. Make sure every image you post is also an invitation. Connect with your online followers.

 For larger artwork, Catherine makes daily process posts of these works in progress. She shows the colored pencils she's using. She uses the text of the post to describe her techniques... how she overcomes challenges in the particular work.. how she uses photo references etc etc. These process posts are mini art lessons. Often she is posting finished works that a client has commissioned.

Again -- she is using artWORK she has already been paid for to bring quality content to her social media platform. Plus she is demonstrating her ability to render photo reference with killer accuracy.

Her commission rates are a leap up from the small originals. By using social media, she is demonstrating value. She is making the most of these worldwide platforms to educate her followers. She demonstrates her mad skills. She earns the confidence of collectors.

I started purchasing greeting cards from Catherine's online shop. These early transactions were important "touch points" with her brand. From my first purchases with her, she was prompt with responding to orders... careful with shipping... good with follow-up. It's important, even at entry level orders, to deliver impressive customer service.

Each touch point with a brand builds trust. How do you transition followers from "likes" to becoming clients who support??? You make each touch point with your brand a trust-building positive experience. Clients follow, support, and stay with brands that deliver on customer service, shared values, and unique/valued products.

Building trust between clients and your brand helps give them confidence to invest in you.

I commissioned this work from Catherine as a special gift. It was a bit late for a silver wedding anniversary. It was a bit early for a milestone birthday. As it worked out ---  it all started to come together while the world was falling apart with Covid etc etc etc. The timing for something positive was perfect.

The commission started over a series of emails. There was a clear payment schedule. There was feedback and confirmations about the reference materials. The finished original work was packed with so much care!! It arrived in pristine condition even though the outside of the container got bumped in transit. Not only did it arrive in a temporary mat, the whole portrait was shrink wrapped and packed inside sturdy protective layers.

The care you take in shipping  your work reflects its value to you and the client. "Free shipping" is a myth. Include the costs beyond the materials. Do shipping right and you'll get clients for life. Don't risk shoddy shipping.

For each of her pet portraits, Catherine posts images of her art process, along with a commentary on her tools and techniques. Again -- letting artWORK she's already been paid for be seen on multiple social media platforms.

Here are the photos Catherine shared (6 days of content!) along with her comments:

Day 1
"I'm so excited to share this gorgeous girl with you all. Ripley was my first large pet portrait of this year, back in March, and in a case of perfect timing the finished portrait was opened just today by her owner in the US 🤗 Can't say I'm thrilled with the pace of covid snail mail, but most importantly she arrived safe and sound"

Day 2
"Ripley is sadly no longer with us, which makes her portrait extra special. While I had a lovely big image to work from, it was a scan of a printed photograph, and so lacked the kind of detail that even our phone cameras can give us these days. This is where I can rely on my experience with past dog portraits to work in the details that were missing in my reference photo, especially around the eyes and in the texture of the fur. It was a good challenge, but one that I had the confidence I could execute - which is a must for commissioned work!"

Day 3
"Usually I find pet portraits really easy to 'section off': I work on an eye, then each ear in turn, then the fur between the ear and the eye, then the nose, etcetera. But I was feeling restless with Miss Ripley and so as you can see, the nose - which I'd already started when the last photo was taken - is still not complete yet. Nor is the orange patch of fur on the left cheek.
When I'm anxious, two things can happen. Either I'll get super focused and zoned in with my drawing, or I'll be very easily distracted. I was drawing Ripley when the shockwaves of covid began to hit Australia, and I was feeling distractedly anxious. So I let myself jump around, rather than become overwhelmed with a section and abandon it to scroll Facebook 
😅 when work needs doing, pencil just needs to get on the paper, and sections will find themselves finished as a matter of course."

Day 4
"With each facial landmark, Ripley looks more and more complete. Our eyes are drawn to key features in faces - the eyes, nose, and mouth - and so if I draw them in first even before starting on any fur at all, a portrait will look significantly more complete than if I had done all the fur, but kept those features till last. Since they are key points in reading emotion, it's no wonder. Just wait till the mouth is done!"

Day 5
"Ripley's thick, luxurious ruff takes up a bit more than half the whole portrait, yet it's the part that I will spend the least time on. The long hairs combine to create a fine texture with little clumping, making it relatively fast to render. Unlike the face, where important features break it up and change the direction of the fur constantly, the fur on the neck is reliably consistent and doesn't require as much thinking about."

Day 6
"Ripley the rough collie is complete! This special commission was for a customer who I've been in contact with for a few years now, and it was a wonderful experience seeing all the photos of Ripley, learning about her character and her time in the show ring, and most importantly, finding out what features most capture her spirit for the portrait. Ripley had an elusive smile (a bit like the Mona Lisa, you might say) and very striking black markings around her eyes, so I made sure to give those special attention in her portrait. Ripley is sadly no longer with us, but her portrait serves to regale many happy memories and commemorate the spirit of a beloved friend for her owner.
#FaberCastell #Polychromos#Derwent Drawing, and #CarandAche #Luminance coloured pencils on 5×7" Art Spectrum 210gsm smooth draw and wash paper."

Be business savvy with your artWORK.

I highly recommend all artists to have their own contracts. A contract helps establish clear communication between the artist and the client. It prevents problems by setting out what the terms are for the work, what the deadlines are, what the payment schedule is. When artists can present their own contract -- they start the job negotiation process from their perspective. It's always best to take on jobs with a timeline that you know you can meet rather than scramble to meet deadline set by someone who is hiring you for the job, but might have NO idea what real work is involved.

This previous post has great tips from veteran artist and instructor Tom Bancroft:

Here are some basics to consider putting in your contract for commission work:

1) Payment schedule and time frame for start and delivery.
2) Details about the work (size, medium etc)
3) Copyright assignment. You should make sure the client knows they are purchasing the original work of art only, and that you the artist retain all other rights to the image, including reproduction rights. This will save you future headaches if you want to use the image in a sketchbook or on merchandise. Retaining image reproduction rights in your contract means you don't have to chase down the owner of the original if you want to include this work in a sketchbook or artbook you publish. If the client wants image rights -- that's a negotiation, for an increased price, and perhaps a term if you want to license the rights for a period of time or, for a higher fee, transfer those rights in perpetuity. If the image is based on a pre-existing work (ie photograph), there may be release or assignment clauses to add. Creative rights have value and are worth respecting.
4) any limitations on the use of the finished work.

Having a contract doesn't necessarily mean the client will sign off on it. There may be terms to negotiate. But at least having your contract spells out which rights and terms you are most concerned about and what your expectations are.

Having a signed contract that both parties agree on at the start of the job will help avoid future conflicts.

Start thinking now about how you want to do commissions. Don't miss out on this branch of your business plan.

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