Over the past 9 years I have learned a lot about working with my clients and I offer up a few tips here for other artists. Every artist has to develop their own business model and their own strategy for working well with their patrons. I hope something here may help someone, or stir new ideas.
#1 Remember that the client is always right.
I learned this little jewel in retail and it still serves me well. Yes, you as an artist are the one with an art degree, and maybe you are the one with years of experience behind you. That may all be true and nice and dandy. The thing is, as soon as you agree to do portrait commissions you have hopped straight from the elitist world of "fine art" and you are now in the murky waters of "commercial art". I am not saying that the two art worlds do not overlap and intertwine. The thing to keep in mind is that as a portrait artist your own personal tastes and preferences may on occasion have to take a backseat to that of your clients. You are creating artwork that must fit their lifestyle, their interior design aesthetic, and sometimes their budget. With that said you still have the ability to guide your clients and work with them in making good design decisions. Some of my pet portrait clients have never worked directly with an artist before and so they are often quite open to my creative input. By also being open to their ideas I make the entire process more fun for them and allow their own creativity to come into play.
#2 Listen well
Communication is everything. I find that simple e-mails are great to get started on a project and yet once a portrait goes into design revisions I really need to have a personal phone call with my clients so I know that I am getting to the heart of what is not yet working. Too often I skim through reading e-mails and I can miss an important item that someone may have mentioned and I often can misinterpret what has been written in an e-mail.
#3 To proof or not to proof?
Most clients love a proof, or in the case of Art Paw they love seeing a set of proofs. If you choose to send a client a proof you must be ready to do some tweaking on request. That is too often the nature of proofing. I know of one artist on-line working in traditional media that provides a proof and the client can either choose to accept it or ask for a refund. If the artwork is rejected it goes up for auction and other dog lovers can bid on it. She then donates a portion of the proceeds to charity. I actually think this is a brilliant way to work, and if I were to ever start working in oils I may adopt this approach myself.
#4 Project Reports
This goes back to communication and this is an area I am always trying to improve on myself. If you have a busy studio and you are juggling well over a dozen clients a month you will find that sending out project reports once a week will keep folks in the loop and let them know that you have not forgotten about their commission. I have even seen some artists use their blogs for this and that seems to work well for them.
#5 Ask your clients to help you
OK the project has been delivered and they are thrilled ... now ask your clients to tell their pet loving pals about you. They probably will anyway, but I do make a point of asking folks to spread the word about Art Paw.