Sometimes we underestimate an oncoming wave thinking we can take it in stride, but then it ends up tackling our sorry butt, turning us topsy-turvy, gurgling and gasping, thrashing our knees on the ocean floor and leaving us coughing up salty water on the beach.
And so it is with life and with art…especially art commissions.
Let it be known that i have not mastered the skill of adequately estimating the time it will take to complete a project. If the skill set involved is basically simple, i think the project will go fairly quickly. i am wrong. i am dead wrong for primarily 2 reasons.
1) just because the skill set is in my wheel house, it doesn’t mean that i won’t still painstakingly labor over every detail. In the case of the mammoth art shown above, that meant using about 9 different hardnesses of graphite to sketch in subtle detail and to block in larger areas of shadow. It meant putting my kneaded eraser to work and pulling out highlights and detail. It meant studying closeups of the kids in the piece to get a likeness….and then working to make that likeness look more UNstudied than i normally would, so it would match the surrounding textures more closely. Add to that the articulation of about 8 gazillion leaves and shrubs…… and skill sets-schmill sets! i was at it for weeks!
2) Size. That’s all i have to say. It takes a loonnngg time to fill 46″x46″ of paper with detail. Yep. It just does.
So, somewhere around my 22nd hour of work on a job i quoted at 12, i began to ponder an article that Tara Gentile posted on Scoutie Girl last week. The article, by Carlos Velez, talked about how we artists, as a community, hate selling our art. i mean, we love “getting paid” for our art, but we hate SELLING it. It’s like selling ourselves, and putting a dollar amount on our souls. (i’m pretty melodramatic sometimes.) Truly, that’s not what a business should be! You’re selling a commodity. Your time. Your talent and training. The art materials. All of it. But somehow it doesn’t click. We can’t be objective about it!
If you’re nodding your head right now and you haven’t read this article, please go do so and then come back to me here.
Now i don’t necessarily think i underestimated my time on this job solely because i was devaluing myself or my work, but i will admit i was nervous that a super high number might give the impression that i thought TOO highly of myself. i didn’t want the reaction to be, “Who the hooey does she think she is!?” And i really did want the job. It was something i could envision from the start, so i wanted to see it through. i mostly think i underestimated because i had no point of reference. i had never done a pencil piece of this size, and didn’t do a very good job estimating the hours it would take. Those doubts about my self worth crept in a bit too, but they weren’t knockin around all alone up there in my noggin.
So, what did i learn? And what can you learn from me?
Well, i’d say that if you’re quoting a type of job you’ve never done before or a size (ahem!) that you’ve never done before, think hard about your number. Double it! You can always refund money if you come in under time. But you can’t (at least i don’t feel i can) announce to a customer who has signed a contract for “x”, that the project will actually cost “3x”! It’s just not ethical, fair, or very nice. It’s like a bait-and-switch scam, and it will give you a bad name. Your reputation is more important than whatever money you’ll lose while learning your lesson.
Second, i’d advise you write a little wiggle room into your contract. i actually already do this. i have a “10% overage” clause stating that i can charge 10%, but no more than 10% of my base quote if i exceed my estimated time. It helps if you only go over a little. But if you botch it big like i did this time (37 hours), you just have to suck it up and do better on the next one.
Last, i’d actually like to add in that you shouldn’t underestimate your client either. Chances are if they appreciate artistry and originality enough to hire you in the first place, they probably value you and your time more than you think! In my case, i’ve been apologizing to my client that the art has taken so much longer than i estimated. i was upset that i was taking more time to get her the work. But she immediately offered to cover my additional time. She offered! Isn’t that amazing? Best client EVER – for sure. i told her absolutely not, for the reasons i mentioned above. But it goes to show that customers can be pretty great. They are already our fans. We needn’t be so terribly scared of losing a sale or an opportunity because the price isn’t right. Of course, it will happen from time to time. But if we really start to value ourselves, others will follow suit and we’ll actually get to spend more time doing what we love.