You read correctly. This post is in listicle form. Maybe it's a concession to the new ways of writing, maybe my job is getting to me (where I read a VAST amount of listicles) or maybe, just maybe (probably not) this post deserves its numbered (bulleted) format.
Before I begin, I'd like to give a little background. Any associated art that goes here is not actually from the commissioned project itself. I can't actually show the art publicly yet until I get the OK to do so. This is okay and pretty standard for illustrators so no complaining from me allowed.
The fact that I can't merge the art and this article is actually a boon. Many of these lessons stem from unfortunate experiences that have turned into lessons because experience means nothing unless you learn from it. But I don't want the image or feeling to be that this was a terrible client or a terrible commission. It's very much the opposite. I had SO much fun working on this project and the lessons learned came from my own mistakes and shortfallings as well as a lack of discipline where I should really have known better.
Anyway, these lessons are in the order of which I remember them, so expect a jumble.
- Use a contract
A contract is important because it gives you a failsafe. You can set determinants such as pricing, timing of pricing, what is delivered, and most importantly, a kill fee and a revision fee.
A kill fee and revision fee gives you language that protects you from doing work without getting paid. If a project is cancelled, there should be language in the contract that still gets you paid, up to a certain percent, for the work that was already done. Even more importantly, a revision fee allows you to charge more money if your client is consistently asking for changes. Again you can charge for the extra work you're doing when it starts getting beyond what you scoped out.
Scoped out? What are these words, this biz-talk? I'm supposed to be making art here aren't I? Not necessarily and it's important to know how to work with others when people are paying you to make art. How is this all done?
- Scope out your project
I tried to do this but failed and mostly due to one big understanding. My client wanted to commission me for a series of posters featuring a few characters but wanted to start with one just to feel things out. I originally thought I would only be creating a character poster and all my communications were with that in mind, including my estimated time and my fee, among other things. When the contract was signed and I was to start, my client reiterated what was expected and it turned out to be a poster with ALL the characters in one poster.
I looked at my past emails and there was nothing I could specifically point at where I could defend what I thought the project would be so I just took it on the nose.
I recommend being absolutely clear on what the client wants before any contract is signed as then you know what they're expecting and you can deliver on good terms without any surprises
- If you have stages in your project - have clear delineations
My problem was that I didn't clearly state when I was in what phase and also I asked for too much feedback. I kept going back and forth with the client, creating a precedence where the client would keep asking for small changes that didn't seem like much but overall, they amounted to a large amount of extra work. I partly went to a final phase and left some aspect of the painting still in the refining rough sketch, which made for an awkward timing in regards to when the revision fee would come in place.
This is part of a larger process in the way I work. If I work for myself, it's not really a problem, but when it comes to working for a client, it's much more important to work in phases. Before going to final, I should have a clear sketch where all the elements are accounted for and maybe have some color blocking in. Either way, it should be clear.
- Know when to push back
By the end of the project, I got paid what I asked for, and I spent a few extra hours on the project to the point where I started to feel a little bit of frustration. But like I said, I can't blame the client - if I was more specific in my process and clearly defined things even in a way as simple as saying "I'll be going to the final phase now, any revisions will incur a fee as the contract states" (or perhaps saying the same in a friendlier way) I could've saved me some time. I'm not bitter about anything that happened - I had a blast working on the project (which I'm dying to show everyone) and for the next project, I know what to do. Hopefully this will give you a few things to think about before starting your next commission.
Thanks for reading