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Cross posted from DeviantArt: Thoughts on commissions - Tactical Ninja

Sep. 30th, 2013

01:08 pm - Cross posted from DeviantArt: Thoughts on commissions

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A couple of people have asked me about taking commissions lately. I have vaguely entertained the idea once or twice before, but when people specifically started asking, I had to consider it more seriously. So in order to get my mind straight about it, I thought I'd try to express my thoughts.

It's flattering. Hell yeah! *fistpump* Someone thinks my work is good enough to pay me for it! Eeeee!

It's terrifying. If someone's paying me, they expect professional quality stuff, and I see all my mistakes as glaring faults.

I live in New Zealand. This means that in order to use the authentic materials that make my work stand out, I often have to import (or pay a premium for someone else having imported it). Maille stuff is an example. So, my materials cost is probably higher than for someone living in the US for example.

I love making things and I love the challenge of being presented with an idea and having to work out how to make it reality. When someone else is coming up with the idea, I get the added bonus of unknown and unexpected challenges.

I used to do commissioned pencil portraits and I was horrible to myself about a) deadlines and b) their imperfections.

The idea of making something and having it not fit people scares the crap out of me.

I make stuff for my friends as gifts all the time. I'm no stranger to sizing from a distance or making custom stuff for people who aren't the same size/shape as me.

When you give something to a friend they love it even if it's not perfect. When someone pays you, it has to be perfect.

Hehe, I see a theme developing here. Yep, I'm a perfectionist. That's why my work is good. It's also why it's slow, and why I'm so hard on myself when it doesn't come out how I'd hoped. And these things tie together to make another quite big issue:

I have no idea if people would be willing to pay what it's worth to have a perfectionist make their thing.

I've tried really hard to come up with a suitable rate for this kind of work. I see it as artisan-level skilled labour, kind of like custom art on a car might be. So I looked that up and it seems that ~$50 to $120 an hour is the going rate for that.

*watches as anyone who was considering commissioning me bails for the hills*

So let's take the lowest rate for that and halve it. $25 an hour is less than I can make shearing sheep, and quite considerably less than my day job. But I love making costumes and props, so let's run with that and use an example.

The Grey Warden outfit cost me ~$1200 for materials. *gasp* I know, don't tell my Mum, mmk? But yeah, I had to ship in a bunch of stainless steel maille from Canada (Over $100US just for shipping), and using authentic materials like leather (over $500) etc etc blah blah.

And then there's the time. I spent on average 3 hours a day for 30 days on this costume. Actually it's probably more but we'll use that for the sake of easy maths. So that's 90 hours at $25 an hour, and we get $2250. Plus the $1200 for materials.

So the Grey Warden costume would be $3450. And then I'd have to ship it to you. It weighs 10kg. I checked, and to ship that to say, San Francisco using Fedex, that's between $290US and $350US. So our grand total for the Grey Warden outfit, to your home, is *fanfare*

$3800.

And now there's nobody around at all to listen to me going "Hey guys, most folks working at this level get twice as much per hour!"

So my conclusion is that although I would theoretically like to take on commissions and would be willing to work at a cut-price hourly rate because I love what I do, the fact is that the practicalities are prohibitive for all but the most dedicated folk,and the bottom line is..

Well, it's a lot of money. I dunno. Would you pay that for a cosplay made by a perfectionist with OCD that lives on an island in the middle of nowhere?

I wouldn't.

So yeah, that's about where my thoughts on commissions stop. Although, I guess I would never be swamped with requests at that rate, eh?

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From:rivet
Date:September 30th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
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Holy crap, that's a lot on materials and shipping. I kind of assumed that we were mostly looking at your embodied skill and patience :/
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2013 12:27 am (UTC)
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My embodied skill and patience don't stretch to making my own scales and rings yet. ;-) Mostly because then I'd have to set up a metalwork workshop and that would be more than the cost of shipping stuff from Canada.

Same deal with leather. There is no other material that has the properties of leather. If you use vinyl it doesn't look or work the same, and that difference costs. Can't afford to set up my own tannery, etc.
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From:pombagira
Date:September 30th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
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yeah matterals here get very expensive..i remeber when they must of used up the last container of craft fabric, cause its price per metre rose substantially in about a week and i was all like O.O well feck...

so yeah.. materials .. cost lots..which probably means i should charge more for what i make.. yeah.. we will get there..:D
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)
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Yeah, and working out material cost is different for you too, because you make several items with one purchase of fabric whereas I can detail one costume and get a pretty accurate cost for it before actually buying anything.

Luckily for me, the Cullen outfit will be considerably less expensive.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:September 30th, 2013 04:01 am (UTC)
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For a one of a kind commissioned work I think that's very reasonable.

Also, if your clientele is US, then it's $US 3150, which doesn't look quite as huge ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
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It's true that I have no concept of what people are prepared to pay for such a thing. Hmm.
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:September 30th, 2013 11:38 am (UTC)
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I often wonder how people who sell medieval or larp costumes on ebay can get their cost for material back, let alone live from the margin. I'm a quick and dirty worker when it comes to larp costumes. My view on it is "if you don't see it from the outside, why bother?" So my inner seams are usually really nasty and ugly and all that. And I use zippers if I can hide them. And still, doing all that, I put a lot of hours into a costume. When I see a similar costume offered for under 100 bucks I wonder what the person earns by the hour, not even counting materials at gross margin prices.

If you want to take commissions (because you want to create stuff and would be bored if you couldn't), you may want to consider it a hobby and not charge anything much for labor time. Then again, some people pay a lot more for larp maille and armor than what you figured and if people WANT to pay you for it, then why not take it?

I sometimes offer to make one or the other piece of clothing or prop for a friend and then just ask for the material price. I earn too much on my day job to make a reasonable offer to someone who wants to pay me for work, too. :)
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
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When I see costumes for cheap on sites like eBay I tend to assume that either they are made from crap materials or the quality is very low, and that the person making them is probably an outsourced worker making an hourly rate that wouldn't feed someone living in my country.

My problem with taking commissions on hobby for a cheap rate is that then I undercut people who are trying to make a living from it. I'm happy to work for nothing or materials cost for my friends' gifts, but when it's an on-demand service I feel that I should charge enough to set a cost benchmark that provides a decent wage for the 'industry'.

So yeah, I'm kind of thinking yes I would take commissions, but only from people who are willing to pay the price for quality.
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:September 30th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
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I've gotten some stuff from hobby seamstresses and it was high quality for the price they gave. They didn't outsource but they certainly had a terrible hourly rate.

Last week I gave my old winter coat to the seamstress here because one of the inner seams broke. She took 10 bucks to fix it. She opened two more seams and then fixed all three, which would have taken me an hour and a half, and probably took her an hour or so. That rate sucks, but it seems to be normal...

As I said - if people are willing to pay the high price, why not? Or if you do it for a friend, then any low price is reasonable, too.
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From:jolteons
Date:September 30th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
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In my opinion, it wouldn't hurt to put it out there and then see if anyone bites. If no one is interested in paying, no harm done!
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
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This is true. At $25 an hour, it'd never compete with my day job so would never be anything more than a sideline anyway.
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From:laughingmagpie
Date:October 2nd, 2013 05:21 pm (UTC)
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The other day, after a busboy at a hotel rather cavalierly handled my Jareth cape, I spent some time thinking on the replacement cost of my cape alone: about $250 in materials and $700 in labour at minimum wage in this province (which is the lowest in this country at $10/hr).

Whenever the question of commissions come up, the answer for me boils down to anyone willing to invest over $1000 in a good costume tends to be the sort of person who is willing to make their own. (Also, there's the whole anxiety of getting it to fit at a distance, fulfilling expectations, etc, that I'm not sure I want as part of my hobby).

However, there seems to be more opportunity to commission for pieces and to trade a bit between those who have particular skills at, say, leatherwork or resin casting or fabric printing or corset-making.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 2nd, 2013 07:42 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I remember working out what the Enchanter's Staff (my first one) would be worth at $10 an hour, and it came to like $1200. Although I'm a bit faster now.

And yeah, I can't think of anyone who would want a detail-perfect Grey Warden suit, who wouldn't also be willing to have a bash at making one.

I get the feeling that people would commission props though, like the staffs. But they take more work for their size than a whole costume does, so they seem even more expensive, bang-for-buck wise. Hm..
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From:pundigrion
Date:October 23rd, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
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Along with the pricing problems, I found it wasn't as enjoyable to make things "as a job" as it was just puttering about either no matter how much I love doing the craft at hand.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
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It's probably the case with most hobbies - when you have to do them, some of the fun dies. People are so contrary..
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