What would you do for a Klondike bar?

When I first started as a full-time potter, I took every commission I could.  You want a replica of a vessel from National Geographic? No problem! You want a butter dish that holds a whole pound of butter? It’s your arteries! I would grit my teeth and accomplish whatever a custom wanted.  It wasn’t a pleasant process.  There was a lot of complaining on my part.  I think my customers were happy, but the fact of the matter was I didn’t really care. (I know it’s awful.) The creativity I brought to my work had been sucked out trying to fulfill someone’s vision, not mine.

It didn’t even matter if it was something I made, which in retrospect was silly. I had to invest time into accomplishing a form that I wasn’t going to stick with and it also took time away from my “real” work. At the time though I needed to stay afloat financially and did what I needed to do.  I was grateful for the work, really grateful.

Now I’m not saying I’m not grateful for commissions, but I no longer do items that I don’t create on a normal basis.  Sunday at my open studio a customer wanted goblets. I quit making goblets about 3 years ago, so I referred another potter that makes goblets on a regular basis. It’s a win-win.  I don’t feel disdain, the customer gets what he wants, and the other potter gets business.

I also had a request the weekend to make soup bowls with handles, which again I don’t make.  The customer brought in a bowl that she had purchased from another potter and wanted me to copy the design and remake it. I told her what I could create, in my style, and gave her a price.  She didn’t confirm the order, which I’m sure was because it was more than she wanted to spend.

I’m not upset.  I’ve learned I need to focus on my current line, and as in relationships in life, you also need to set boundaries with customers.

What are your boundaries?

11 Responses to What would you do for a Klondike bar?

  1. rams December 14, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    It’s the same with knitting. I’ve always felt sorry for architechts. If you’re not Frank Gehry it’s ALL special orders.

  2. Kathy December 14, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Thank you Heidi !! I have had customers say “I love your work, do you make….?” And then proceed to ask me to make something that is totally not what I do. I also have started to refer people to other potters. My husband looks at me like I’m crazy to turn down work, but I have learned the hard way……you have to listen to your instincts.

  3. Janet December 14, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I really enjoyed your post. If someone approaches me with a commission and I think that it is something that I can make it, I take it on and like you wrote, if it is something that I don’t make or don’t like making, I pay it forward.

  4. admin December 14, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    That’s a great point about architects! Glad I’m just a potter. 🙂 I’m also glad that I’m not alone. You know what is best for you.

  5. Kelly Kessler December 14, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks for writing about this, Heidi; it’s refreshing to have a discussion on commission work. I have potter friends who take custom orders and it works for them. I tried for years to do the same till I realized it was the worst of both worlds – neither I nor the recipients were entirely happy with what I made. The only exception came when artist friends who got my work asked for something in my style.

    Instinctively, I’ve taken the same path as you, handing the commissions off to potters happy to have the work, and we all wind up satisfied with the exchange.

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