In doing commissions over the years I've learned that there will be times when you'll need to be a mind reader. You will have jobs where a customer will want a Stained Glass window but have not a clue as to what she wants. In that case you've got to tell her. Well, not exactly, you'll have to come up with what she will convince herself later was what she looking for all a long.
You do this by first looking for clues around the house. Obviously your first clue will be what sort of artwork is on the walls - modern, traditional, abstract, representational? What sort of House is it - colonial, ranch etc?
One of my commissions was for a woman with a very nice, very traditional new Colonial Style brick house, the kind you'd expect to be filled with antique furniture from the 18th or 19 century. She wanted two transoms that were just waiting for a couple geometric designs with bevels and antique clear glass - the kind of thing I'd done a hundred times before. But this woman was an artist and had filled her very traditional home with very nontraditional art and although she couldn't have cared less, it simply did not match lines of the house. She was a free spirit and told me that she wanted me to just let my imagination run free, and we did.
What sort of clothes does she wear? Are they bright and cheery or muted and conservative?
I received a call from 2 ladies who wanted me to design a surprise going-away present for the keyboardist of their church. I happened to know the woman and knew that besides music her other love was birdwatching. I came up with a couple of designs I was very proud of. They were variations on an image of a piano keyboard in perspective and as the keys recede into the distance they become colorful and float up into the air to morph into the wing feathers of a bird in flight. I think she would have loved it. but I wasn't selling it to her, I was selling it to these 2 other very conservatively dressed women, and they hated it. I hadn't read the clues. They approved a depressingly ordinary Cardinal sitting in a Dogwood tree.
What sort of person is she - quiet and reserved or funny and outgoing?
I was called by a friend who was a sign painter. She's very high energy, very funny, to the point of sometimes being almost manic and she wanted a transom over the door of her shop. She didn't know what she was looking for but she said that being Irish perhaps a Celtic knot. I had not the least bit of interest in doing a Celtic knot and felt that even though this would fit her Irish heritage it would in no way match her personality and had nothing to do with her business. I eventually came up with an image of a splash of paint in a variety of colors that made an arch across the transom and morphed (I'm really into morphing) into a feminine hand holding an artist's paintbrush. She loved it so much that it became the logo of her business card.
Can't get a handle on the personality of the buyer? Sometimes the clue is hidden in plain site.
Our first big commissions was for a man who had just bought a very large very old home in town and each doorway in the home had a transom all of which had glass that had been painted over. He had no idea as to what sort of design we should use so we set about looking for clues. It didn't take long: every room had a fireplace and on each mantle was a scroll-work that made a perfect Stained Glass motif.
Listen to the customer.
One of my biggest mistakes was not listening closely. We did a bathroom insert for a woman and she was quite pleased with it and said that maybe since it was a very generic geometric type pattern that at some point in the future she might want a more personalized piece. It would be a very large commission and I was excited to get it and so I sold her on the idea of getting the ball rolling. She sent me photos of things she wanted in the piece - her cat, a rock bridge - and I added my own ideas to it. I sent her several sketches and worked up color choices and put in quite a few hours and all the while she seemed very enthusiastic, making suggestions and offering encouragement. All the way up until it was time to get started. That's when she told me she wasn't ready to do it yet. In my eagerness to get the job I had totally ignored the in the future part of her plan.