Patrick Gracewood has been creating art professionally for thirty years. He believes his greatest success is surviving the ups and downs of the industry while growing as an artist.
As a sculptor, Patrick is influenced by the ancient worlds of Egypt, Assyria, China, and Japan. Each sculpture starts with a drawing, which is transformed into a relief sculpture that is not only enchanting and breathtaking to gaze upon, but has the ability to withstand the tests of time.
Today we’re fortunate enough to learn Patrick’s secrets for taking on commissions.
Alyice: How far was it in your career, as a sculptor and relief artist, before you began taking commissions and how did it come about?
Patrick: As a relief sculptor, every time I complete a job I’m out of a job. So it was only natural to take on commissions. Offering commissioned sculptures for private clients helped stabilize my work flow.
As a professional sculptor, I’m there to help solve a problem. No difference from working with private clients.
Alyice: Some artists are nervous about commissioning pieces for fear that their work won’t meet the client’s expectations. How did you get past such a fear?
Patrick: You never get totally past the fear, but I’ve developed several reality checks to reassure clients and to make sure we are on the same page:
First, I interview my clients in their homes and discuss their dreams, expectations and budget for the art. I tell my clients that we are creating this art together and that their input is critical to its success. At the meeting I usually get an intuitive feel of what would suit them best.
Then I do several pages of sketches that explore what the art might look like, and we go over the sketches together. My clients can then begin to see what the sculpture might look like and pick the solution they like the best.
At that point I draw a full scale image—a finished rendering that they must approve. The same process takes place with developing the clay model. At each stage, my clients see the progression and approve it. This gives them both involvement and control. Once my clients approve the clay model, no more changes are allowed. The artwork is then molded, cast, and patinaed.
By the time they approve the clay model they have a very clear idea of what their art will look like and we’ve developed trust in our communications. When they see the finished bronze they are delighted.
Alyice: Some artists are also nervous about commissioning pieces for fear that the client will decide the piece isn’t up to par, even though the piece has met all the client’s requirements and is one of the artist’s better pieces. Any advice on handling a situation like this?
Patrick: Only had it happen once, when the client wasn’t pleased. I met with her to hear her concerns and review our communication. She wasn’t able to articulate what disappointed her so it was impossible to know how to respond to make it better. I found out later that she was terminally ill and thought it might not have been about the art at all.
Alyice: Some of your projects require large amounts of material and loads of creative time. How do you go about pricing such pieces, when the work hasn’t been completed and the materials have yet to be purchased?
Patrick: I know what my contractors charge (mold maker, steel fabricator, installation crew) and I have my hourly rate once I’m working.
Some materials, clay, plaster, are not expensive. Other materials like bronze and mold rubber are very expensive. It depends on what the project needs. The hardest part to quantify is the thinking time, which is research, the library, making many drawings. That I guestimate.
Alyice: What are your top five tips for artists who want to increase their sales by taking on commissioned pieces?
Patrick: I actually have six tips to share with your readers. They are:
1. Be very clear in your communications, and be damned good at what kind of art or art service you offer before you even think of taking on commissions. Commission work is not for every artist.
2. Think things through from your client’s perspective. Do your best to make it as easy as possible for them. You may be nervous but remember—so are they! They are taking the risk on you and your art.
Part of your art job is to make it easy for your clients. Remember that one of the reasons they hire you is because they see you as the expert. You have to put away that neurotic part of you that doubts and be honestly confident in your abilities.
When you’ve successfully completed the project, the art’s installed, the check is cashed, the clients are happy, be sure to take that doubting part of yourself, along with your friends, and celebrate your success.
Oh, and remember to follow up with your clients, and send a thank-you note telling them how much you appreciated working with them.
3. Figure out a series of reality checks that work for both you and your clients to keep communication very clear.
You’ve got to be able to help your client visualize the art you’re going to make. It could be in the form of cardboard models, drawings, your previous work, sketches, or other computer graphic programs. The clearer you make each step, letting the clients know what to expect, what and when you will deliver it, the easier it is on both parties.
4. Depending on what it is you are offering, find other people who would want that too. For example, another artist saw some of the bronze sculptures I’d made of dogs and began offering smaller less expensive dog portraits in clay. He went to dog shows, breeders, etc. and is quite successful.
5. Document every step of your process, especially if you’re interested in commission work. You may know how you make your art, but no one else does!
I use the drawings from earlier commissions to show new clients how the process works—original sketches to final drawings—and then I add photos of the finished artwork installed. Having a hard copy of your process is invaluable when you’re talking with new clients.
It’s so much easier because it takes the stress and focus off of you, the artist. You can point to the art board and share your enthusiasm of how great it will be for them to own a work of art just like it.
6. Make sure you get your work copyrighted. Avoid any misunderstandings early on by having a very clear contract that spells out what you will provide and what the clients can expect.
Be certain to get permission to have your artwork professionally photographed when it’s installed. Most people want to be supportive of artists they commission but some collectors are very possessive of work once it’s in their home. It becomes their art, not yours. That’s when having your work copyrighted is important.