View Full Version : how does one create a proposal for public sculpture?
Hello fellow sculptors,
I am trying to find out how one goes about creating a professional proposal to submitt for a public sculpture commission? I am a realistic bronze figure sculptor but have never applied for a public commission and have no idea what to do or what to include in the proposal, ie,. do we need sketches (if so how detailed?). I am unable to find any resources on the web regarding this process and would really appreciate any tips!
01-08-2007, 04:26 PM
I would like to help but I'm embarrased to say how much time and effort I have put into proposals for competitions in public works, none of which succeeded in winning me a commission.
The balance of the equation is how often I have won private commissions, and a couple of public ones, with a few words and a handshake, and occaisionally a sketch.
From my biased experience a visually glitzy proposal ( which is not my forte )with a poorly concieved idea will trump a well thought out but less "professional " looking one.
Most requests for proposals include a list of required elements. If you are looking at creating a non-requested proposal, then you may want to search through some requests and see what they are asking for.
Thanks for your honest reply. I wish a look at my work and a handshake were enough for public commissions but as you say they are elusive. I'd still like to try to find out what is standard if there is such a thing in sending out proposals.
01-08-2007, 05:51 PM
I would also like to know. I think there are forum members who have got such commissions.
I suppose a well composed bio and portfolio are useful if not necessary. Would maquette, explanation as well as sketches be better than just sketches alone?
For explanation it is best to include the art concept or idea, as well as materials and size.
01-08-2007, 06:13 PM
Call-for-artists fall into two catagories typically:
Request for Qualifications (RFQ's), and
Request for Proposals (RFP's)
Then there are also Slide or Artist Registries that local public art commissions maintain.
RFQ's are when the first round of selection is based on slide portfolios and resumes (previous experience). The Selection panel usually does not want to see proposals for these, though may consider concepts. RFP's are when the selction will be based on both previous experience and the proposed concept, usually with drawings or renderings. Slide registries are lists of artists and examples of their work that are kept on file and reviewed when money comes up for purchases. These are usually smaller purchases (usually 2d or small 3d), often for pre-existing work.
When you download a Call-to-artist, it will list exactly what is needed.
As Glenn says, its a hard nut to crack, with luck as much a part of it as anything. For those looking to increase the visual punch of their RFP's or semi-finalist proposals, I offer 3d rendering services that are really pretty affordable for what you get. Take a look at the projects page of my website
to see the kinds of imagery (still and animated) that can be produced with 3d scanning and 3d modeling. As Glenn also said, as strong presentation can be essential, and a strong presentation of a strong concept can be especially convincing.
Also look at my SERVICES link to see the specific services I can offer. I can scan a rough clay model, surface it in the final materials desired, light it and site it, and show multiple views or fly-by animations. The images below are of a proposal I worked up for Paula Slater for a project she was up for-- she didn't get this one, but she said she came close. This model was developed from concept drawing and photos of her clay maquette (which were also included in the proposal-- she didn't have time for me to scan it so I modeled the figure from the photos of her clay).
Good luck with it,
Thanks for the tips. I was wondering though, why a sculptor would take the time and money to actually make up a clay maquette before one of the sketches was approved? It seems like a lot of work just to get in the running. That being said, if one was to make a clay maquette how big does it need to be? I would want to make one big enough to have enlarged if I were chosen so that I wouldn't need to make another one! I appreciated seeing the scanned maquettes and will check out the web site. I wonder how important it is for a sculptor to have had previous commissions to show in order to get a new commission or can one just show his or her own work.? if they need to see previous commissions it seems like a catch 22; How do you get your first commission to show them if they require proof of your experience as a sculptor capable of doing commissions?
01-09-2007, 09:44 AM
Most of the time, you only start making something in clay if you are a semi-finalist (make it throught he first round), and they pay you a stipend for it. But if its a project you really want, or a subject that may have other applications (say a firefighter's memorial for example), it can be worth the extra effort to improve your chances (unless its an RFQ, in which case they probably won't even look at it). For first round RFP's, they typically want only 2d images.
Most maquettes need to be easy to ship and display in a conference room setting, so that limits the size. Big enough to convey your idea accurately. Its really up to you to decide when it is worth it or not. Remember, to get these commissions, you are competing with a lot of hungry artists-- you have to be willing to put the time and effort even when there is no immediate pay-off.
Unfortunately, many committees want to see previous work that is essentially the same as what they are asking for (in terms of size, materials, imagery) so that they know evactly what they are going to get and can trust you with the large budget involved. I suppose that is why many public artists do the same thing over and over. The expectation is that you develop a portfolio of commissions, first with smaller private commissions, then slightly larger public, and then so on. And to complicate matters, it is very difficult to find outdoor sculpture Call-for-Artists for less than $100K that are not restricted to local artists or that are well advertised. So it can be very difficult to find the first small commissions that will get you started.
And then of course, your style has to appeal to the specific committees or communities that you want to submit proposals to, which is often difficult to discern.
Suffice it to say, if you want to do public art, you really have to want it and be willing to put in a lot of unpaid, unrecognized effort. Because in the end, it does take luck to find the right person who is looking for what you are offering. But then that is true with selling art in general, isn't it.
Thanks for the advice on the maquette , if it has to be shipped and displayed that leaves out oil based clay, which adds yet another expense. How much would a 32" clay maquette cost to have scanned into foam (approximate cost for a fairly simple standing figure)?
01-09-2007, 01:52 PM
There are many factors that will influence the cost, but it would probably start at about $300 for me to to scan a figure of that size. However, the scanner I use has limited resolution (captures about 1/16" detail on the original), which is fine when using the model for rough enlargements or creating reductions, but is not as good when making high resolution enlargements or 1 to 1 reproductions. Other scanning services can do higher resolution scans, but at a higher cost.
The cost of the CNC foam or 3d printing is the other factor. I don't do CNC routering, but instead use a digital/manual method for lower cost foam enlargements. I do offer 3d printing for smaller models (up to about 3') in a very resilient resin-modified plaster. For a 32" figure, it would likely cost around $1000 for the print (but could be significantly more or less depending on the particulars of the job).
The real advantage of scanning is about being able to create realistic images of the sculpture in the final material and at the site (including turn-table animations or fly-bys) for proposals, as well as use it for the rough enlargement later on. I'm set up to be optimized for maquettes of 12-24". Of course, the imaging and rendering costs are separate from the scanning, and that work is charged by the hour.
For those interested in trying out the process, but don't necessarily want to commit the money for an unknown result, I am open to "trial runs" that is for example, scan a model for free and give some preview of what can be done with it, and charge the customer only if the model is used. This of course would apply to first-time customers only.
Just Private Message me and let me know.
01-09-2007, 07:45 PM
From my experience (also with no public commissions after many applications), Brad has given a good run-down of the overall process. From what I have seen, selection groups often have a specific idea in mind even though they can't mention that in the RFQ or RFP. I suspect they may even have a specific sculptor in mind, but need to go through the general process for legal or public-relations reasons.
On the matter of making a specific figure that could be enlarged for the final piece, I’d say that is unrealistic. My indirect experience is that the final piece often evolves during a discussion between the sculptor and the commissioning group, and that a first drawing or even a first maquette (small example) is only a starting point for the final design.
Also, don’t overlook the possibility of working with one or more other artists in submitting proposals. I know this idea doesn’t appeal to many beginners but, again in my experience, I’ve often seen that in successful proposals. The commissioning group may want to “grow” or enlarge the local pool of commissioned sculptors.
01-09-2007, 07:50 PM
Another, very similar thread is active at http://www.sculpture.net/community/showthread.php?p=31536#post31536
You might want to check that as well.
Thank you for sharing your experience Fritchie. If you wouldn't mind me asking, on those proposals you din't get, did you include sketches of some different ideas? I honeslty don't know if the committees even care if the sketches are rough draft showing only one angle or if they need to be illustration quility and show the idea for many angles. This is the kind of info that isn't forthcoming when I email the commission commitees as to what they want. I find it all frustrating. I am sure you are right in saying that it is unrealistic to hope that the first maquette can be used for the final enlargement. I haven't thought about collaboration with another artist on a proposal but I wouldn't have anything against trying it. I will check out the other thread as well.
Thank you for responding, every bit of advice helps!
01-11-2007, 08:08 PM
On a couple of fairly local opportunities (either publically announced or privately discussed), I actually made and photographed small maquettes of oil-based clay or wax. In more remote submissions, and in some local ones, I just submitted concept suggestions or a vitae, as requested or permitted. I find the situations quite varied, according to local expertise or taste.
Thanks for the info. Judging from what I've read from the responses it seems like a fairly common practice to make a maquette rather than simply submitting sketches even though it a lot more work. If you have several ideas for the proposal you can't make maquettes for all of them and that is the problem. I would think ones's chances would increase if they were to submitt more than one option. I use oil based clay and am concerned about shipping it if I had to but wax is too difficult to work with in any detail, at least from my experience, so I guess I'd have to either take photos of the clay or take the chance.
As stated, there are two kinds of calls- one only wants slides of past work, while the other wants you to make a proposal on spec.
The two stage process of picking finalists based on their slides, then paying them to make proposals is certainly more civilised all around.
And it is usually used by bigger, more experienced agencies, who know what they are doing.
But unfortunately, this also means- A- you have to have past work to photograph, and B-the competition is stiffer.
So most people start out on the commissions where you must make a proposal on spec.
I have done lots of both.
I have won a few, and lost a lot- those are just the odds.
I have been on juries selecting public art as well.
Based on 20 years of this, well, since 1978, anyway, I can say that the times when they have already decided on the artist and are just going thru the motions are abot 1/100 of 1%.
As in, almost never.
But the times when they get 3 or 4 really BIG name artists apply for a relatively small commission, and therefore the rest of us are never seriously considered- well that happens a lot more.
So it may seem like its rigged, but really, if Oldenburg applies, (which he doesnt- he waits for them to call him) Oldenburg gets it.
Anyway, rule number one of public art- apply, apply apply.
You cant win if you dont buy a ticket.
Rule 2- keep it simple.
Simple, one page resume, large type.
Simple, one page letter of interest, large type, simple descriptive paragraphs that describe who you are, what you can do, and why you are right for them.
Clean, clear slides of your work.
If you are doing a proposal, drawings that are clean and easy to read help a lot. Text calling out relevant features, but not too much of it.
Its easy to photoshop in a picture of a maquette, into a photograph or architectural rendering of the site, so you dont have to send the real maquette unless they are paying you to do so.
Thanks alot, that bit of information was very informative and helped clarify some questions I had. One question though; Is it always slides they ask for or can one send a c.d. of digital images?
Unfortunately, there is no standard.
Everybody does it differently.
For many years, it was slides.
Most often 20, but sometimes 10, or even 5.
So right behind me where I sit at the computer are over a dozen notebooks, each filled with hundreds of dupes of my best slides.
Hopefully those will become obsolete- they are expensive, fussy, need tiny little labels with 4 lines of microscopic type, and have a limited lifespan.
More and more, calls for public art are accepting digital images, and some are requiring them.
What I have started to do is shoot many fewer slides, and in many cases, no slides at all. The digital images are so much easier to deal with, and online, for around a buck, I can email my image and get a slide in the mail a few days later.
So I shoot almost all digital, and still have slides made of one or two of my best images of each work, for backup.
By the way, have you signed up for CAFE yet?
Its easy, its free, you upload your images once, and then can enter a call in just a few minutes of work.
They charge the agencies to list, so only a few are doing it, not all opportunities out there are listed, but I think its the wave of the future- it used to take me a half a day to prepare a proposal, and then, as I got good at it, an hour- but here, online- 5 minutes.
I am happpy to hear that many call for artists are going digital. I agree that it is so much easier! I have not signed up for cafe and have never heard of it but I will follow your link and look it up. I need all the help I can get!
Thanks so much for telling me about all these things.
I checked out Cafe, great idea. I think you are right about it probably being the wave of the future. I checked out your website too, very cool stuff! Thanks again for the tips.
01-14-2007, 05:39 AM
Here is another site where an artist can register online for art calls or shows. They will email you updates.
Good luck and always:
Jeff (weseye) Wesley :D
Thanks for the link Jeff. I don't know what makes one better than the other but to me they both look very similar, guess I'll have to read the small print!
Cafe is mostly calls for permanent public works- sculptures for stadiums, train stations and the like.
Zapplication is for art fairs- what we used to call craft fairs back in the hippie days- these are 2 or 3 day events where you pay to have a booth, and sell your own work.
While there are a few shows like this where sculpture is actually sold, for real money- the Coconut Grove show, in Florida, for instance- most of the Zapp shows would not be appropriate to try to sell a $10,000 or $100,000 sculpture.
O.k. then it sounds like Cafe is the choice I will go with. Thanks!
01-16-2007, 01:34 PM
Zapp is for artists whom make their own art, but not necessarily limited editions. More like production work. Make a good design and keep making it and sell it until it doesn’t sell and then make something else to sell. Also keep the prices low. Make novelty stuff, decorative art or functional art.
Here is a site where you can sign up for email alerts for public art calls:
Jeff (weseye) Wesley
01-18-2007, 04:24 PM
okay so who has had luck with zapp ?
and im trying to find a website that tells artist of upcoming shows !!!!!!
01-19-2007, 09:02 AM
Sign up at Zapp and read the forum.
Subscribe to this:
And do a search on Google dot com for artists opportunities.
Jeff (weseye) Wesley
Does anyone know of a good standard legal contract form to use when one gets a commission?
When you are working with a public body, generally speaking they give you the contract, not the other way around.
I suppose if you were doing a piece for a private party, like a developer, then you might come up with the contract, but even then they usually have a standard contract for dealing with other types of subs, that they will modify.
I have a whole drawer full of contracts from various cities, states, and developers- some as short as a couple of pages, others over 150 pages long.
There are a few things the artist wants, and then a bunch of things you dont necessarily want, but they do, that you end up with anyway.
Things to consider include:
What each party must do-
For instance, you should spell out what the artwork is, how big, what materials, finish, and so on, and attach drawings, and sometimes material samples.
What it will cost.
When you get paid, and how much- on bigger projects, I ask for as many as 5 payments, tied to progress- maybe so much on signing, so much on finish of design work, then maybe a payment at 50% completion of fabrication, 100% completion of fabrication, and then the balance on completion of install.
Who pays for things like electricity, or footings, or permits, or engineering.
What happens if they arent ready when they say they will be (they never are)
What happens if you default, or die.What happens if they change their minds?
What insurance must you carry?
Do you warranty the work? for how long? (I wont go more than a year)
Who maintains the work? Who repaints, or cleans off graffiti?
Who owns the copyright? Who can make, and sell images of the work? (t-shirts, coffee mugs, or ads?)
Does the artist have to take a drug test to work on site? (it happens- I once asked my employees if they could pass one- one of my guys, long since moved on, said- "I'll have to study a bit first". He passed, but none of us liked doing it).
Some agencies are a dream to work with, others want your firstborn child.
Paul Allen is notorious for being a real tight wad, and even expects you to sign non-disclosure and no talking to the media clauses.
Worst I ever had was a baseball stadium, who hired Bill Gates' fathers old law firm to write the contract- I had to hire my own lawyer, and it took over 6 months of negotiation to reach a contract I could sign- I still didnt like it, but I signed.
On anything over 100 grand or so, I usually fly it by my lawyer- its worth a couple hundred bucks for the piece of mind. Although at this point, I have read so many of the damn things, I usually catch most things.
thanks for the information, it sounds like you are used to dealing with the big players. I am actually needing a type of contract for a private party that will list the hours and costs of each stage jsut to give them an idea of what they are paying for in detail. I also wondered what to do in the case of a
public commission if the poeple commissioning it are not familiar with the process say a group of people that want to commerorate their fellows but had to raise the money themselves and they really have no clue how to handle an artist's contract?
01-28-2007, 07:33 AM
A.J., CARFAC Ontario (www.carfacontario.ca) has a publication called Artists' Contracts: Agreements for Visual and Media Artists (http://www.carfacontario.ca/services/books). Although it is written specifically for artists in Ontario, it may be a usefull starting point.
With any contract, it may be good to get a lawyer to read it over to ensure everything is covered. If you use one from the publication above or find one elsewhere, it will at least save you the time and money of sitting down with a lawyer to create the first draft. If you do go with a lawyer, make sure it's one who specializes in law for artists---being in California, I'm sure you'll have a few available to you.
There are a few more resources listed at:
thanks for the link. I am sure it will be helpful. You are right about lawyers being readily available in California but I like to stay as far away from them as I can unless it's absolutely necessary!
Speaking as someone who had lawyers for both a mother and a father, (actually, my mother was a judge, til she retired to collect art full time)
I can say that they are just people, and not so scary close up as their reputation would suggest.
And guess what- there are actually lawyers who will help needy artists, for FREE! Depends on the situation, of course- and often it is worth paying a lawyer a bit now, to save a lot later.
California Lawyers for the Arts (Santa Monica)
1641 18th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
California Lawyers for the Arts (San Francisco)
Fort Mason Center, Building C, Rm 255
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 775-1143 Fax
I guess that did sound a little biased against lawyers but I really didn't mean it that way. My father is a lawyer and so is my brother but I still don't like to have to deal with lawyers if things can be done other ways. They are great when you need them and I have needed them! It is always best to cover your bases when in doubt so thanks for your advice! That is great about the free lawyers for those in need I didn't know about that.
02-18-2007, 11:47 PM
I've particapated in two, percent for art commission opportunities, I learned alot especially from the artist that were selected instead of me. The thing that you have to consider the most is the concept of a selection committy made up of artist but mostly not artist professionals that have busy lives and careers. To them, you're just another professional caught in a web of institutional intrigue. They weigh many factors that have nothing to do with your submitted purposal. They know little about art and to them it's all so subjective so they go with what they know, experience,status,resume,momentum. If you're Dale Chihuly or Albert Paley, you'll be selected, few questions asked, cause you're the man, you kick ass. If you're not and you are'nt, keep it no maintainance, girl freindly,within budget and within the scope of their expectations . What I learned that was hard to except initially is that I lost to the female vote. I make masculine art that appeals to guys, My competators suggested projects that matched the surrounding decor better in terms of color and content and that's what the ladies voted for. There's no way to know who'll be on the selection committy, or what their aesthetics will be so you might as well be true to yourself and purpose what's in your heart but in the end the character of the committy will assert itself through the vote and that's what the people will get. Public institutions hire numerous strong females who's oppinions count ( they're awesome ) so I'd consult with like minded folks before submitting a purposal. Maybe I'm expressing the warped opinion of a sore loser but it was'nt until I put on my wifes girl glasses that I could see why the winners work was indeed more appropriate than my own. I'm not making a judgement, just saying that a female administrators aesthetic opinion can be a real factor in a competion and that it is a little different than that of the old school all boys club. I went shoe shopping with my wife and daughter today and I still can't understand why they didn't select a pair of all leather, insulated, steel toed work boots. I'm hopeless.
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