Doing commission work can have its issues. I don’t really mind doing it – in fact I like it, but I certainly wouldn’t want to have it as a main source of my income.
Lately it seems that I have had several people ask me to do special orders for them. Since I am all over the place these days and not pressed hard under many deadlines, I made an offer on these jobs and took them on. I think it is a nice change of pace for me and good practice to do some things that I don’t normally do. I like the variety in work and I also like to be able to help someone who is otherwise stuck in finding a person to do their project.
The first job I did was for my friend Bernie. He had called and asked me if I would do some lettering for a sign he was making for the nearby church. Apparently the church had a new reverend and he needed a sign with his name on it. Bernie stated that he wanted the lettering to be done in a simple font – about 2.5” tall and he didn’t need anything fancy. All he needed from me were the letters cut from 1/8” plywood and painted black. He would do the rest.
Over the next week, I spent a day or so working on the sign. I don’t believe that I did it all at once, as I first had to draw the lettering, and then cut it out. I kept track of my hours and all in all with drawing, cutting and sanding it took a bit over five.
When I saw him last week when we went to the camp, I brought him the finished lettering. When he asked me what I owed him, I didn’t quite know what to tell him. Usually for work like that, I charge somewhere around $20 and hour. I know that may seem like a lot, as I used to charge a lot less for custom work such as that and Bernie is the one who told me that I needed to charge at least $15 or $20 an hour for my work. After all he said, it was custom work. Where else would they get such a thing?
I had a hard time however, looking at the small pile of lettering and asking $100 for them. After all, this was Bernie and he has helped me a lot by letting me use his shop tools when necessary. (I do pay him for that too each time we use it) He told me that he was certainly going to cover what I charged him in the cost that he would bill them, so I decided on asking $40 for the job. I thought that was fair seeing as it took me the better part of a day to complete.
On Thursday when we were in town we stopped by to see him and Ellen just to say hello. While we were there, the lady from the church came over to pick up the sign that he had finished. Bernie went out to the shop with her to give it to her and he returned to the house several minutes later. When he came in, we asked how she liked it and he replied that she didn’t take it. We were dumbfounded.
At first we thought he was kidding. But soon it was apparent that he wasn’t. When we questioned him as to why, he told us that she said that it was too big and she wanted the sign to be only three inches tall. The bad part about this was that SHE had brought him the piece of wood that he was to put the lettering on and told him that was the size she wanted. The wood she had brought was at least five inches high. I was really angry.
The woman was the wife of my former land lord when I lived in Digby. Even though they own over 15 properties around town and are very wealthy, she is notoriously cheap. A couple of summers ago she commissioned me to design and print some brochures for her church. After doing so and printing the 300 copies she suggested (they were double sided color printing and tri-folded – which I had to fold) I called three printing places to see what pricing they had. I took the LOWEST price of the three and divided it in HALF and came up with a price for her. I didn’t even charge her for the actual layout or computer work. When I emailed her that they were ready and told her how much she owed me, she hit the ceiling.
“I thought you could do it for almost nothing?” she actually said to me. “I am donating this to the church!”
Well, at the time I was really struggling financially and barely had enough money to buy food and I had to take whatever jobs I could, but when I dropped them off to Bernie’s where she was going to pick them up, I told him that if she didn’t pay the full amount I asked for them, then I wanted him to throw them into the fire and burn them. I would rather see them burned then give them to her under the circumstances. She did wind up paying and I vowed to never do another thing for her again.
So here I was feeling bad for Bernie for getting roped in by her cheapness once again.
It’s people like that who leave a bad taste in your mouth with commission work. I know you are supposed to get money up front, and I guess we all learn the hard way because people sometimes surprise you and can’t be trusted.
I have had better judgment with doing commission work since then, and I have done some nice jobs in between other things that I thoroughly enjoy. Some of you may remember the little bears that I made for the volleyball team in Ohio last fall. That was a fun job and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I also do some drawing for a man who lives about 50 miles from me and makes beautiful plaques. I have never met him yet, but whenever he needs something, I always try to fit it in no matter how busy I am because not only does he appreciate it, but he is fair and pays me what I ask. It is a good relationship.
I also had a request for a sign that I spent many hours drawing last year and ultimately the customer refused it. It wasted a couple of days for me and I was quite disappointed that I spent so much time trying to please him when he just flat out had no respect for my time. It left a bad taste in my mouth once again.
But recently I took on a couple of jobs ‘just because.’ I am doing some lettering for a customer and we are bartering for something beautiful that he makes. This job was fun because he is very easy to work with and is a fellow woodworker that understands the time and effort that goes into making things. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the lettering overlay pieces for him and it was a fun job, although it was one of the hardest lettering things that I have cut to date.
In cutting the letters yesterday, I had just about finished when I broke a letter. I had a wonderful day of cutting and felt right on top of things and was sailing right along on my scroll saw. The letters were quite small and I used a font that I thought would look very pretty but it made the work really delicate. When I finished the lettering part, I took the piece out and I promptly broke the bottom of the ‘t’ in the word August:
There was nothing that I could do but cut it over.
On the bright side, I was really enjoying the cutting and it was one of those days where I almost regretted that I was finished. It only took about an hour and a half to do and I just continued on and was able to complete the piece without incident the second time. I should be able to ship the pieces out tomorrow after I package them up today.
I have one more commissioned job to do to clear my slate, and that only entails drawing. I began working on it last night and should have it finished by today. Then I can get back to my own designing, as the next deadlines for my wholesalers are in a few weeks. Hopefully, you will see a flurry of new projects from me during that time frame.
Commissioned work can be a good thing, but sometimes it means taking a risk. Although I enjoy doing it from time to time, I wouldn’t want the type of business where I had to count on it on a daily basis. I like being able to pick and choose which jobs I accept and I like that I don’t depend on it for my main source of income. It is fun and satisfying though to help out on occasion and make things that are truly appreciated. Once in a while, it can be good.
Have a great Monday everyone. Enjoy what the day will bring.
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"