It is a funny old life running a craft business. One minute you are twiddling your thumbs praying for an order to come in. The next minute you have so many orders you wonder if there is enough time in the world to complete them. One of the things I struggle with the most is taking craft commissions.
Pros and Cons of Taking Craft Commissions
On one hand, it is hugely flattering that someone loves your work so much that they want you to make something especially for them. It also presents you with ideas, and new directions, that you might not have come up with yourself. You can suddenly have a whole new product line – because if one person wants that thing – chances are others will too.
On the other hand, commissions are a massive time drain. More often than not, it requires making an entire pattern from scratch. They can take hours, if not days, longer to puzzle out than your usual product line. Chances are your customer has asked you for a price up front and as the minutes tick by, you realise you aren’t going to get anywhere near an hourly rate for your time.
Then there is the pressure. There is nothing that makes me sweat quite like knowing that something I create has to be just so. That the picture in my head has to match my customer’s or one of us will be left frustrated and disappointed. I don’t love working under pressure, but I do love making people happy. Taking craft commissions for me is a weird combination of agony and joy. Sometimes for my own sanity, I have to say no.
The Benefits of Hindsight
The reason taking craft commissions is so tricky is that until you actually try making something, you don’t really know what it is going to involve. Here are some of the previous craft commissions and the things I learnt from them.
Variations of Existing Products
This pink and purple fish was one of my most recent commissions. This is my favourite type of bespoke order. In effect, it is a variation of a product already in my range. I had these colours in stock. I didn’t charge any more than I usually would for a No Fuss Fish and it took me no more time. Since it was commissioned for an Easter gift, I got the additional benefit of future marketing ideas. The customer was happy, I was happy. Win-win.
The rainbow fish are now such a staple of my product range that it is hard to imagine a time before them. In fact they came about because of a commission from the contemporary mixed media artist Stephanie Block (If you love rainbows too, do check out her work). These continue to be one of my most popular designs. She was happy, I was happy. Another win-win.
Daisy The Cow
Daisy the Cow is an interesting one. It was the first time I had ever considered putting an animal that was static into a jar. Daisy was commissioned as a teacher’s gift which was great as she gave me more marketing ideas. But she also took me a long time to work out. Making her small enough to fit in the jar was a headache. Her markings were all handpainted. She was a popular design but I could never really charge enough to justify the hours she took to make. I could make eight fish in the time it takes me to make one cow. She used to be listed on my Etsy shop, but I have since retired her. I do plan to write up the pattern at some point, so it is not a complete loss, but sadly Daisy wasn’t a great success either.
Clover The Dog
Clover the dog was another entirely bespoke request. She was based on a customer’s dog and I was working from a picture. So there was the pressure of not only making a pattern from scratch (that would fit in the jar), there was also the pressure of getting it to resemble a much loved pet. I’m not going to lie, it was a stressful experience. I took a few more dog orders before I stopped completely. Ultimately Clover fell foul of the same problem as Daisy. She took too much time and I charged too little. Financially she didn’t make sense. I will write up the pattern for her though, at some point.
Just Say No – The Moral of the Blue-Tongued Skink
There are times when you should just say no. Even before I started making the blue-tongued skink, I think I knew that. But I relished the challenge, I thought it might be fun.
Trust me, it was not fun.
This order came at a time when I was already busy, and in hindsight I shouldn’t have been taking bespoke craft commissions at all. But craft being such a fickle business meant that I was reluctant to turn down the chance to make hay while the sun shone.
My first attempt was too big to fit in the jar, meaning I spent a whole day making something completely unusable. Then I spent a second day reworking that pattern to make him fit. I also had to paint him to make him look like the photos (he was another beloved pet). Finally, I had to find something that would fit in the jar for him to sit on, which took several trips to various shops. In materials alone I barely broke even; without throwing time, stress and pressure into the mix.
None of this was the customer’s fault. The blame was all with me. I should have said no.
Are Craft Commissions Really Worth it?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you whether you should or shouldn’t take craft commissions. What I would say is that you shouldn’t always say yes. When I get a bespoke request now, I ask myself if it is worth it. That is not just a financial decision. Sometimes it depends on how many orders I am currently working on. Or whether it is something I have always wanted to make.
There are certain things I always turn down. I won’t make animals unless they are fixed in a jar, as CE marking is not something I can commit to right now. New bespoke designs during November and December I have to turn down as I am too busy with Christmas Markets and keeping my regular shops stocked. I have learnt that if an order is going to cause me stress and worry, it is better to say no.
However, I will always try to accommodate variations of my current designs. And I am always open to suggestions, even if I don’t always take them. If you would like to contact me to discuss your ideas, please do so at hello[at]edenreborn[dot]com or send me a message via Etsy
If you have had an interesting experience with craft commissions, whether as a customer or craft artist, do let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading!