Most artists have a love/hate relationship with commissions, because they create a threesome- the artist, the artwork and now the client.
If you know my work only from facebook, exhibitions or magazines, you may not realize that I have done a lot of commissions. I have created so many portraits over the past 25 years that I don’t even know how many I have done. At first I think- “whoo hoo! I can get a sale before a painting is even created!” But then comes the stress of trying to please not only yourself, but the client too.
That’s why some artists HATE commissions. It is hard enough to create something meaningful, beautiful and accurate without the stress of “creating for money.” So some artists flatly refuse to do commissions, especially of children. And I am talking big-name artists here. They will only paint adults that can pose for them from life. Well, that is a noble cause, but as an artist, it will not keep my bank account in the black. Some families will never set foot in a gallery to purchase a painting of, say, flowers, but a painting of little Johnny? They will throw money at you.
Painting difficult, wily, 3-year-old children has made me a better painter. Why? Because there is really nothing harder to paint. Period. Painting a commissioned portrait for the first time? Welcome to the big leagues. Painting a child? Welcome to the near-impossible.
And I love it.
I thought I would write the next few weeks about a recent commission and go through the steps that I took along the way. And there are a lot of steps! I will show ya my contract, intital ideas and sketches. I will talk about expectations, little noses and temper tantrums! I will share the reveal.
Let’s start with the intial contact of a potential client. I get a lot of people reaching out to me every month for a possible portrait commission. They find me through various avenues- galleries, shows, or word-of mouth. Very few actually go the distance because I tend to sticker-shock a lot of interested parties anymore. But I am ok with that. Think about it- if you were to ask a very skilled electrician or a high-end contractor to custom-build something for your home and it was going to take them a few weeks to a few months to create it, how much would you expect to pay? I say I am still cheaper than a good sofa. (I also say that I can’t afford myself anymore, so I do understand when it doesn’t work out. )
When I respond to a request for the first time, I always try to get as much information as possible up front because communication is key and sometimes clients don’t realize what they are asking for. I once had a guy contact me about the possibility of doing a corporate portrait in time for Christmas. (already I was dubious because it was November ). He said there were 14 people he wanted painted in the same image. I said my fee would not be cost-effective for that many. He said it shouldn’t take long since he wanted the painting to be only 14″ x 11”.
“Sir, do you realize that would make the portraits about the size of a quarter?” He seemed to not understand. I recommended he get someone to take a photo. I have learned that saying “no” is important. My sanity does not have a price.
When a client does accept my fee and I feel it is a portrait that I want to do (this is huge, people) I then set up an intial meeting. Where something will hang will affect the work. Lighting can be crucial. A contract needs to be signed. I measure areas so I can plan out framing. Expectations need to be explained and models need to be met. Nothing worse than kids who wonder why you are pointing a camera at them when they have never met you before.
Overall size can change the feel of a work. The way I paint, it is easier for me to have the heads in the image near life-size, so I am always talking clients into as big an image as possible. Size doesn’t reflect in my pricing (more on that next week) so for me, the bigger the image, the better the shot I have at nailing a likeness.
So next week I will take you on the the journey of Client X and the paintings I created of her 3 children. I will be happy to take you along for the ride….