In my early twenties I worked as a florist. I worked for a Greek family who had been florists for generations. It was a successful business and there was always at least four of us designers working at any one time. They ran a tight ship, and I learned a lot about design, life, and Kalmata olives. To this day, it stands out as one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
One of the things that I still reflect on is the relationship between florist and customer; it is always at the rubber-meets-the-road moments of life; birth, death, marriage, illness, love, that people give flowers. It was instilled in us employees to be always mindful of that when doing our jobs.
In a lot of ways, I think pottery commissions (or special/custom orders) are the same.
When customers come to me with their needs, they are saying that a thing from the Mall just won’t cut it. They want something personal, unique and meaningful that embodies what they feel and who they are, and just like floristry, it is usually for a rubber-meets-the-road moment.
No pressure, though.
Commissions get a bad rap amongst makers because they are difficult. Difficult, and inevitably, unprofitable. It’s impossible to charge for the time, research, practise and development that goes in to designing and developing just one piece. And if something goes wrong at any stage (usually in the final firing), its back to square one. I know makers who carte blanche refuse all commissions.
So why bother? This week I had a commission go south. Despite my most fastidious communication, consultation and utter respect for the client, what I presented them with wasn’t what they subsequently decided they wanted. We couldn’t clearly establish why, but both parties were dissatisfied.
A potter friend, looking for the silver lining, asked me what I had learned from the whole ordeal. I replied: “Never do commissions”.
And so, why do I?
Well, I’ve decided after much navel gazing, I do it for love.
I do it because I am a serial optimist who believes in love, believes in honouring the deepest, pithy and often painful human emotions, relationships, and events that connect and nourish us.
I want to relate with humanity in a way that reaches beyond retail therapy and impersonal mass-produced dissonance. And if I can help others do that through my craft, then I gladly do so. Call me a head-in-the-clouds idealist, I don’t care.
But don’t tell my accountant. I’ve just said yes to another commission.