Sunday, November 23, 2008

Commissions and The process

On commissions
I once had someone say in shock when I said I don't do commissions " but don't you want to sell your work?" I said "but you are not wanting to buy my work you want to buy my services to create something for you." The thing is I am not selling a service (more power to those who can), I sell the results of what I do as an artist.

The Creative Process: What I DON'T do
1. hum! twiddle thumbs, I'm bored, I will go and paint or something, anything.
2. I should do something, Oh I know, a flower painting, that will sell.
3. I need to create anything, whatever to sell in the gallery
4. I will paint anything for a buck

The Creative Process: What really happens
1. OMG that flower is gorgeous, I must paint it, I wonder if I can.
2. I love that bird shape, wonder if I can do it in felt (I love hand sewing).
3. Oh that will be an interesting challenge (as in the "my documents please" piece).
4. OMG, that scares me, I must say how I feel, how do I say it.
5. OMG that paint colour is YUMMY! I have to play with paint.
6. OMG that yarn is YUMMY, I must knit it or use it.
7. OMG I have to photograph that.
8. OMG her hair is gorgeous, I must paint it, I have to paint it, can I do hair.
9. hum I wonder if I can do something fun with records or crushed cans

Many people seem to be under the illusion that the end product is everything, but for me it is the process that is everything Yes, there is a pleasure at being able to convey something in a particular piece, but that isn't the driving force. The driving force is the passionate need to express something that has moved me.

I don't mind being asked if I do commissions.
What I mind is the umbrage/disdain as if I am supposed to want to do it and it is somehow a personal slap in their face when I say I don't do commissions.
If you love/like/enjoy my work it is because I paint from the heart
don't then turn around and ask me to paint for a buck
and then
get in a fricking snit
because I say
I don't do commissions


Philip said...

My sentiment exactly!

By the way, would you care to take a look at my painting Independentista - I would welcome your opinion - good or bad!

JafaBrit's Art said...

thanks for dropping by philip. would love to come and see your painting.

Undaunted said...

I love your explanation of the creative process! You really are a true artist at heart.

I think it's important that your subject moves you, whether it's a commission or not. (and I think commissioned work can still move the artist if it's a subject they love)

This is an interesting subject, and has really got me thinking. I know someone who seems to paint just for money, and she has no respect for her own pieces. Maybe that's why? Whereas I don't really care if no one wants my paintings, because I quite like them in my own home (even though my paintings are very simple), and I handle them very carefully.

JafaBrit's Art said...

Undaunted, I think we just have to trust our artistic instincts and not feel bad when we don't tow the line. I know a lot of artists who LOVE doing commissions and some find them a challenge in the way I find creating a piece for a special exhibit a challenge.

As for just doing art for money, it isn't my thing, but I think even if the person you know doesn't respect her own pieces, she is at least getting some joy in creating a profit?

Casey Klahn said...


I am in the same place, vis-a-vis commission refusing. I never saw a better explanation for why.

Undaunted said...

Well... no because she doesn't make a profit! It's all a bit topsy turvy - it seems to me that she doesn't value her work because she's only painting to make money, but because she doesn't value her work she either gives it away or sells it off really cheap just to get rid of it!

I'd love to see her get really passionate about a piece and put her heart and soul into it.

Undaunted said...

Sorry, I'm not sure if that sounded a bit off. I'm just genuinely confused by her view of her own art and the reasons for doing it.

Lana Gramlich said...

I totally hear you! Another question I hate is, "how long did that take?" As though years of training & practice had NOTHING to do with the process!

Gesa said...

Hm... nice one! I have a friend who manages a visitor shop and tends to think a bit in sets of three and postcards sell well, Gesa, why don't you do sets of threes???
I may end up with sets of three, but they are - as you say - the result of a OMG... I wonder if...

self taught artist said...

power post :) in fact the last two are. nothing to add, it was THAT good :)

Connie said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Peace & Love.

Elisabeth said...

Excellent...I agree wholeheartly. Back when I was painting full time, someone asked me if one of my paintings came in blue.

A true artist works from the heart not the pocketbook. I am a firm believer in: Do what you love and the money will follow.

Thank you so much for sharing these succinct thoughts on commissions and creativity.

David Howard said...

Obviously, you are nothing like Damien Hirst then.

painter girl said...


JafaBrit's Art said...

"Obviously, you are nothing like Damien Hirst then."

No David LOL! Not at all! although I wouldn't mind picking up a bit of his marketing skills so I could sell all the paintings stuffed under the beds and in the closets LOL!

Hiay Elizabeth, thanks for dropping by. I once had a woman ask if I would do a family portrait, but can I not do anything weird to them in the painting. I wonder why she thought that, hah! hum! errm! la di da di do!! maybe because most of my paintings are weird and I am NOT a portrait painter LOL!

I like sets Gesa, they appeal to me when I see others have them and I like doing them sometimes.

Thanks casey, wasn't sure it was a good explanation, but it is the best I could come up with.

thanks connie, self taught artist.

Philip said...

Many thanks for the review! I really appreciate it!

By the way (again)I agree with all you say about commissions and think it sets out my view exactly. The only thing I would add is that I CAN'T do commissions. The odd time I have done it they turn out crap and I don't regard them as a piece of my work.

JafaBrit's Art said...

I know this is terrible philip, but I go into some kind of resentment mode and don't like or enjoy what I am doing. So I would say, yes I can't do them either.

Philip said...

Resentment mode? Yes, I am glad that you said that because it's how I feel too. This is why it doesn't work for me as I feel resentment the whole time I am working - it's as if I have been asked to paint a bathroom as far as I am concerned. I don't think that the word resentment is too strong at all. It's the core of it for me.

Incidentally, please feel free to make any constructive comments you wish about any of my work. I would much rather that than a whole load of sycophancy. Since I don't stick to one style especially I feel sure some of my work is a bit unhinged! The worst I might say in reply is "what a fucking liberty!".

Judith HeartSong said...

yes, Yes YES! In order to "stay in business" and buy those supplies that make creating our art possible, we sometimes end up doing pieces or projects that can create a log jam of ideas in the studio.

I need supplies because I must paint and create, it is what I am on a basic level.

I am lucky that the commissions that I accpet (and the large scale murals I have painted, like the one at the National Zoo in DC) have been projects that I have been allowed to groom and design... so they have been things that I want to do.

Earlier in my career I felt the need to do everything that I was asked to do.... I am now very discerning and say no a lot more frequently than I say yes.

My favorite thing to do is a painting with no planned destination that I am painting purely because (like you said) I loved the flower or wondered if I could accomplish what I saw in my minds' eye.

Really good post!!!

JafaBrit's Art said...

Judith I think that is wonderful that you have found or chosen commissions that feed your soul and pay. I suppose that isn't too different from getting a grant for an art project. I don't mind getting a grant if it means I have total free reign.

How cool you did a mural in the dc zoo. I have to go and see a pic of it, do you have it on your blog?

Top Bird said...

Insightful post into your creative process - fascinating! xx

cynthia said...

I love this post and I hate special orders!

I'm about ready to cancel a wholesale order for pottery because it feels like homework and has sapped all the fun out of playing with clay for me. I will also be canceling my association with the wholesale site and have taken my work down. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

JafaBrit's Art said...

You had to try it though cynthia, and now you can concentrate on other avenues.

W. J. St. Christopher said...

Hey, JB, I loved reading your post, and all the responses!

My art is my livelihood, and, of course I sell it for money -- but I never create it for money. The need to create was burning away inside long before money came into the equation.

Being a digital artist, I'm not above shifting a piece to "more blue" if the buyer wants that -- but only if I know "more blue" will be absolutely fabulous! I'm very comfortable saying, "No, sorry -- that just doesn't work for me." The request has to fall into line with my vision, not vice versa.

Consequently, I've only done one real commission, for a great lady who said, "Whatever you want, sweetie. After all, you're the artist!"

Oh, yeah!

Lynette said...

Doing a commission is the most stressful thing I can think of doing as an artist. Your list names all the reasons why too! Great post!

Lola said...

very nice words. i also love the painting with the dark haired lady, it is beautiful. 8)

JafaBrit's Art said...

hiay lola, the dark haired lady is my daughter :)

wj. I can see the joy in what you do :)

thanks for dropping by top bird.

sarahelizabeth said...

yes i feel the same way. your thoughts are well-put!

ann storer said...

Right on, woman! It's good to see someone stand up for what they do, and how they do it.

...I, on the other hand, am eminently for sale, and would be thrilled to get a commission, lol. But I totally get what you're saying.

JafaBrit's Art said...

I will keep you in mind ann if anyone is in need of commissioned work :) I am always happy to refer people.

Michelle (artscapes) said...

Great post!
It adds a little perspective - it also makes me realize that there are some commissions I would like and others I don't. I universally said no until someone approached me with something I love to do anyway. Then I said I would look at it. It actually felt OK! Occasionally there are all the right reasons!

I am positing your list to the wall in case I start to forget again... :)

thorngren said...

I am wondering if since I paint for a living and look forward to commissions, that I am not considered a true artist by all these responses. It disturbs me that artists get so wrapped up in calling themselves artists. If you are then you are whether you sell or not.

JafaBrit's Art said...

"I am wondering if since I paint for a living and look forward to commissions, that I am not considered a true artist by all these responses."

I don't think so thorngren, you enjoy them and that is the crux of it. You have to enjoy what you do as an artist. I don't think it is about selling or not, but what motivates us as artists and if we enjoy it. Many love the challenge and the joy that comes from commissions, many do not. I don't really see a right or a wrong.

I would hate to think you have picked up the wrong message rather than just seeing we all are moved differently and we should respect that.