Aidan Campbell

Miniature artist, small scale model-maker and traditional craftsman

An example of a concise enquiry that I could give an immediate and precise response to:
"Hi, I'm looking for a sculptor to create a war-games miniature of General Pershing from WWI, dressed and posed as shown in the attached picture. The sculpt should be compatible in terms of height, style and detail with the range of figures made by manufacturer X and so I've attached a photo of some of their figures shot against a ruler for size reference. Roughly what sort of price would you charge for such work?"

An open enquiry I was happy to treat as an introduction to more detailed discussions:
"Hello, I don't know if you can help with this speculative enquiry as I really don't know what is going to be possible. Our museum needs a full size replica of a medieval bone carvers workshop for a new gallery opening in six months time. We've a maximum budget of XXXX and wondered if you thought anything worthwhile could be achieved within the deadline and available funding. If you think you can help I'd be pleased to hear back from you and answer any questions you may have."

A past enquiry with near limitless variables that I could only answer with a list of questions to try narrow down specific requirements:
"Dear Sir, We are an interior design company and need scale models making of some of our previous work to display in our showroom. I would be grateful if you would provide us with a detailed list of costs for such work."

Commissioned Work

The following is in effect the small print nobody actually bothers to read. In many ways it is simply stating what most consider to be obvious points of courteous common sense. However I have put it in writing here for the benefit of those for whom it may not be obvious since years of dealing with a wide variety of clients has thrown up the occasional "misunderstanding" brought about through incorrect assumption.

Commissioning any kind of bespoke art or craft work usually begins as a fairly open ended discussion between client and supplier about ideas and possibilities, though almost inevitably the first question asked is 'How much will it cost?' Ultimately the only reliable answer is that 'It could cost as much or as little as the client wishes to spend.' With any form of art/craft work and model making the quality of execution can often have as much of an impact on cost as subject matter. Furthermore the expectations of different clients along with adjectives to describe quality can be very subjective. As such what one client in one market may describe as basic may still be more than ten times more expensive than what a very different type of client in another market may describe as high quality. Even the term 'museum quality' no longer implies anything about quality at all as their expectations now seem lower than many private collectors. The purpose of the discussion is for the client to explain the nature of what they want making, what style of work they expect, what purpose or use it must fulfil, the type of audience it must impress, the finish or level of detail/accuracy required and to negotiate a balance between the conflicting priorities of overall quality against budget and deadline. I can advise on different approaches, narrowing down costs as we tighten up a brief, with several clients often amending their initial ideas about how their needs can be best met as these discussion progress. Once I feel both parties have a sufficient understanding of each others requirements and constraints I’ll ask the client to fix the budget and deadline for the project, and I’ll then do the best I can within those limits.

In terms of reference material I always stipulate the client is responsible for supplying all written documentation, photographs, concept art, drawings, plans or other reference material to be used in a project. I am quite happy to work from the vaguest of themes and nothing more than a few words given over the telephone, but if it is important to a client that a project includes a certain feature completed in a certain way then they must provide me with clear references illustrating exactly what they require. I will not be held accountable should I fail to include or inaccurately reproduce any aspect of any project the client has not previously given me clear references for. Nor will I be held accountable for reproducing errors in the reference materials clients provide for me to work from. (I had one client commission miniature portraits of her grand-children yet her PA sent me photos of the wrong children to copy!) Please note also; whilst a prospective client's initial enquiry will usually provide reference images or information about core subject matter, it is quite common for the information first provided to prompt more questions about style, size, use, quality/detail etc. that could impact on the best approach, choice of materials, costs or production schedule. Hence the reason I describe quoting on a project as a two way process of negotiation.

With regard to timescale and deadlines I work on a wide variety of projects for a wide range of clients and as such it is quite common for me to have a lead in time before I can actually start a new project. Whilst I will always try to be as flexible as I can with respect to meeting client's deadlines, and have on occasion turned some small projects around overnight as rush jobs, it may not always be possible to take on large projects at short notice. If making an enquiry on behalf of a large organisation it is also worth keeping in mind just how much of any available deadline may be consumed by your own institution convening committee meetings and processing it's own internal paperwork prior to formally accepting a quote and issuing funds to authorise work to begin. In short, I can indicate how long a project may take to complete from the time the initial deposit clears my bank account, but it will be up to you to "sign off" an approved brief, process payment and issue a formal purchase order sufficiently early for me to start a project in time to meet your deadline. (I've had one instance of a finance department that simply forgot to notify me my quote had even been accepted! Nevertheless despite a last minute panic on their behalf when realising their mistake I still saw to it their deadline wasn't missed and they got what they wanted made on time.). Also whilst I understand that a client may need to change a brief part way through a project, it is important to understand this could potentially result in costs/production schedule exceeding previously agreed limits and so a new contract or purchase order may be required. Consequently I usually ask that clients contact me as early as they possibly can.

With regard payment terms, then if you have a short deadline yet anticipate protracted negotiations to finalise a complex brief and fix prices you may wish to consider making a token payment to confirm a time slot in my diary such that negotiations can be conducted without impacting on necessary start dates. Prior to starting physical work or ordering raw materials for any project I require an upfront payment of at least 50% of the agreed total costs along with some sort of purchase order or equivalent paperwork acknowledging that funds have been allocated to pay any outstanding balance within 28days of completion. With many smaller projects or “last minute” urgent work clients usually prefer to avoid the extra administrative hassle and simply pay the full amount up front at the time of booking.

It’s difficult to give any more useful advice here as the very nature of bespoke commissioned work is that every piece is different, governed through the client’s requirements, budget and deadline. However, for those interested in samples of previous projects my commissions gallery has illustrations of a wide variety of my work whilst my testimonials page illustrates both the diversity of clients I've worked for and what they had to say about my work. So, irrespective of whether you are a private collector, a manufacturer/retailer, a large museum/corporation or TV/film production company every commission starts with a first, often rather general and tentative enquiry. My contact details, are here so get in touch and let me know the sort of project you are thinking about.