First of all they are an exercise in problem solving. Creativity can still flourish with constraints because an artist must within set parameters. This is not to say that commissions are easy. Quite the opposite! They challenge us on a whole other level. Commissions also afford us an opportunity to work in collaboration. In their exploration out west, photographer Henry Jackson and painter, Thomas Moran teamed up to capture the views of their expedition for the US congress. I have found that when I do commissioned work it becomes a collaborative process with the client. If it is commissioned portrait, I first get to know that personality of my subject and how best to represent it. For other subjects, I spend time understanding what is important to them in the composition. We explore these ideas through a series of preliminary sketches. Not only does this avoid misunderstandings in the final paintings, but it gives the client a peek into the way I approach the composition of other paintings. Finally, commissioned work is an opportunity to make another person happy. Artists have skills that can be used in service to create a lasting memory of a treasured pet that has passed or to capture the spirit of a beloved child. Our images become a part of their home and their lives, and oftentimes take on a special significance.
There is a danger of doing too much commissioned work. It is critically important to balance it with paintings that explore the artist’s singular voice with no end in mind. These paintings feel more like play… and that is an essential quality in art!