This post is longer than the first and there will be a few longer than this one in the series. Each is broken up into lessons I’ve learned. Not all were learned quickly. This particular lesson was one that will stay with me forever and it is in three major parts. Actually none of these lessons learned will be hard to forget anytime soon, but this one, in particular, is one that will stick should I ever decide to do custom orders online for strangers again. Not bloody likely to be anytime real soon … hahaha.

When I started making the prototypes, I wasn’t certain what, other than gold mirror, she was interested in but I wanted to make sure I could use the prototypes in the future if I wanted to so I wanted to use something less customer specific. First mistake.

Grout color was something I thought would make the most impact as the gold was all the color added to these. While this is absolutely true, I decided to go with a neutral color in grout for the prototypes because I decided it really didn’t matter what I used. Not asking the customer what color she had in mind didn’t seem like a big deal. Second mistake.

The most important thing I reasoned, was to have the customer decide on the cut of the glass she wanted for the gazing balls. Triangles or squares.

two 6 inch Styrofoam balls and a few sheets of pre-cut square tiles

I was paying for this on my own. I was assuming I could use them in the future and not thinking about much else other than trying to be as frugal as I could be, which was also a mistake I learned, I decided to go with the 6 inch spheres because I could afford those and the glass needed was minimal. Besides, I reasoned, I didn’t even know if I had the job and I could definitely use these in the future if I didn’t. Being frugal is never a wrong move when making art but when you’re making something specifically for a customer, an exact replica in size, color and design is absolutely the way to go. Keep this in mind if any of you ever decide to do custom work. It matters and makes an impact on the customer to show them exactly what they’ll be getting if doing duplicates.

Once the tiles arrived a week later, I went to work cutting them down into a smaller size.

I cut each of the 1 inch tiles 4 times to make them the size I needed

I feverishly spent a little over a week cutting up tiles in both triangles and squares. I was almost possessed with the whole process and every free moment I had around helping my daughter take care of her home and the kids, I spent scoring, breaking and then nipping gold mirrored tiles. All I could think about was that perhaps I had finally crossed over to the better side of life with this one job. How nice to think maybe this one order would change everything wrong in my life. What that ultimately did was put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself before I even knew if I had this job.

The days flew by as I worked on the triangle sphere first. It is by far my favorite design for one color with something like this. Easy to glue down and easy to fit into nice cohesive spaces, I finished it fairly quickly; I believe it took about a week but it could have taken less time. I put it aside to grout and went to work on the second one.

Working on the square sphere was so much more challenging than the triangles. I hadn’t realized how much more glass it took to make them. It made sense, of course, because I was filling up the same amount of space but with smaller pieces.

I got almost finished with 1/2 of this one when I ran out of gold mirror. I had a decision to make and after looking at the dangerously close to negative bank balance I pulled out the recycled silver mirror I use in almost all of my work and always have handy and finished up the squares.

During this process, I wasn’t in the moment at all, something I now work hard to do. I also kept thinking it really didn’t matter what these prototypes looked like. I was dreaming about the jobs I could get in the future. By the way, at this point, I hadn’t actually gotten THIS one yet. Third mistake.

Also, I just wanted to get it done quickly so I could start in on the big job of making 10 gazing balls if I got the order. At that point I was pretty sure I would since I said I could do it for the amount she had available.

Off-topic but related thoughts: I tend to rush through my mosaics when the fever hits. I often wonder who takes over when this happens and have always said it’s the muse. Now, I no longer believe that to be true … the muse wants me to take my time and enjoy the flow to its fullest extent. I, on the other hand, used to believe I HAD no choice but to rush. I’ll explain more on that thought a little further down.

When I shared that info regarding how my muse takes over during a talk I gave last year, there was someone in the audience that said: “you are smart enough to get out of the way and let it happen”. That’s true enough, I really do disconnect and allow whatever is happening to happen. Like automatic writing with stained glass and dish shards, I suppose. Something literally grabs hold and pushes all rational thought out of the way to get the mosaics made. It used to amaze me sometimes when I would stand back hours later, exhausted, looking at what I had created. My body dirty from adhesive and grout, unable to stand up straight for a minute or two, fingers bloody from glass and shards that bite back and in front of me is usually at least 3 new mosaics ready to be grouted. I actually used to think it was a good thing until I started looking at the final product with a more critical eye. I did this fever pitched mosaic work often and almost always in one afternoon. Quite recently I went through this same process using dish shards and wasn’t all that pleased with the results because I didn’t take my time or consider any sort of design or flow. I’ve grown and learned to slow down and take my time.

What the fever pitched work used to do to me, it will still do. But I will no longer allow myself to rush through it. I believe that my fear of losing the train of thought is what prompted me to go quickly in the past. I didn’t trust the muse enough to remember what I was doing if I were to stop. Not trusting the creative instinct or the process it takes to find it was a huge thing to learn about myself. I can trust it all and be confident that it will work out just fine. The muse has helped me create some amazing things when given the chance to slow down a bit. It’s a matter of trust. I completely trust her now and my thought process and my hands are in her capable ones, always and forever.

Okay … back to the gazing balls saga …

After finishing up the square cut mirror sphere I grouted both and shared photos with the customer through my flickr photostream.

After seeing all the comments on flickr, the customer went with the triangle one. That pleased me as it took very little time to make the prototype. I knew, in no time at all, I’d have the whole 10 gazing balls made.

Lesson Two (a three-parter): Never rush the prep work; work slowly and deliberately; share one finished product at a time.

What I did wrong was allow the customer to see a smaller version of what she wanted and through photos instead of in person. Even though the initial contact and chats were done through the internet, something should have been established, early on, that the prototype would have to be viewed in person at some point before the work began.

What I learned: Because I had duplicates to make, what I should have done was to make one in 12 inches in diameter, in triangles and then one other prototype in squares in the grout color she wanted and send them to the customer. Time was a factor and it would have taken longer to do this, especially since I had no clue what to use to get the spheres at the 12 inches with the money I had available to me, but if I had done these steps, telling her the cost of each one – including my time, then from there a decision could have been made. And I’m thinking she’d have said they are great but I can’t afford 10 of them and that would have been the end of it.

If I had done it that way, this would have allowed her to see what they looked like in person. This is a huge thing for a custom order. They NEED to see it. If it were in front of them, that would have been a good indication how long it would take to make duplicates and what they would look like.

Side note: The cost of each one using the materials I WANTED to use would have been established up front. My inexperience and low self-esteem in general kept me from thinking I could and should set a price for my time, be realistic with material fees and shipping too. After doing the math including the things I should have had instead of what I did have, (way after the project was rejected, I figured this out – a really biggie as far as mistakes go) the total for one sphere at 12 inches using the correct sized Styrofoam ball (12 inches), gold stained glass mirror sheets (not pre-cut tiles as was requested by the customer who is someone who doesn’t mosaic at all but liked the look of this particular mirror), other materials (plaster cast strips, thin set, adhesive, grout) and my time which should have been set at $15 an hour for 9 hours per sphere minimum (not an unreasonable hourly rate and actually low for most custom orders) came to $285 per ball. Her budget was way off and not reasonable at all, but I didn’t know that because I didn’t do my homework or the proper prototypes to get an idea as to costs. The total budget for the entire custom order including shipping should have been a little over $3,000. A reminder: she could only give me $1,000.

I’m not sure this would have even worked having never done this before and not trying it yet but to protect myself and the prototypes, I should have attempted to have her sign a legal contract BEFORE shipping the samples out to her, along with a bill payable before shipping (reimbursed once the mosaics were returned) to pay for the prototypes should she not return them. Sort of like a pre-nup. I’d have made sure she had time to look them over but I’d have also made sure the document speculated that the prototypes should be returned to me within a certain amount of time or I would keep the money. This may sound unreasonable or unusual to ask for money for prototypes or it might not, but sending a mosaic or any art, no matter whether it is a prototype or a finished product to someone without some money involved up front could have resulted in never seeing the mosaics again and my being without compensation for the materials and my time.

This kind of thing makes working on custom orders through the internet a very risky ordeal. And just in case you’re wondering, I no longer do custom orders for online customers. I only do them for family and close friends now. I have learned if I know the person, I do a good job for them. I believe I must have that personal connection in order to “read” what they want. Psychically being in tune with a person and knowing what they like/dislike is a gift I’ve had forever. It now makes so much more sense to realize if I know the people even just casually, I can give them what they want when it comes to making a mosaic for them. Some friends have even said that I figured out what they were saying they wanted without actually telling me much at all other than perhaps a color or a specific style. This works for me and makes it possible for me to give mosaic gifts and do small custom orders.

Because I had literally no money I really couldn’t do what my gut was telling me to do. I ignored the nagging feelings that I was going about this whole thing all wrong. I know better than to ignore my gut – it’s never wrong – but I wasn’t thinking clearly or rationally at this point in time, mostly due to having to move, packing up a 3 bedroom apartment mostly by myself, trying to work with my lawyer and a very angry apartment manager and so on. I was not in the right frame of mind to be working on a custom order.

In spite of all of that, I was hired for the job with a written contract I wrote myself (new lessons were learned there and that will be in a future post) and 1/2 of the budget deposited in my PayPal account. Time to really get to work!

After searching online for days, I noticed that 12 inch styrofoam balls were a) hard to find and b) very, very expensive when I did find them. I had to figure out something to do, to build up smaller, affordable spheres to 12 inches in diameter. But how??

I had no idea that the research and development part of this order would take 6 months. And in the end, again I have to say, had I just listened to my gut when I made the prototypes (which could be the real lesson here) I am positive I would have had the summer free to pack and get the personal crap taken care of maybe not any smoother but in a less stressful way because the customer wouldn’t have been able to provide the money needed to give her what she wanted.

A family member said it would have been good at that point to say, you can have spheres at 8 inches in diameter for $1,000 but no larger. If the customer had thought about it and then decided one way or the other – perhaps going with a smaller sphere, I could have done a much better job in the end.

Parts Three and Four will be dedicated to the R&D adventure that took months to finalize.

To be continued …

Stay peaceful.

©2012 Cindy White, EarthMotherMosaics