Maybe you have already had a commission made from an artist, maybe you are in the process of having one made, or maybe you are thinking about it, and want to know what to expect, and how to go about it. This article is meant for everyone.
An art commission… What an interesting concept, if you really think about it. Simply put, an artist, (who has their own clear vision of their work), accepts the ideas and stories of a non-artist (sometimes also an artist), and then tries to translate that into a visual memory for their patron. Although, it can be far from simple.
It is common knowledge that every person has their own visions for things, whether they are an artist or not. Many people have very rich imaginations and only lack the skill to make it a visual reality. Some people employ an artist to create exactly what they have in their heads, to their exact specifications, and some very gifted artists can take all of that information and make it exactly what the person wants.
Herein lies the trickiness of it though: When a person does receive exactly what they dictated, and every little detail they wanted is there, every color, position and object accounted for, will it in the end be a good painting? Will it be aesthetically pleasing with an interesting composition, or crowded and confusing? Will it have a beautiful subtlety and mystery about the person's life and story, or will it all be out there with no specific order or appreciation to the whole? Will it have an emphasis, or be disorganized and restless? Will you get tired of looking at it because there is just too much, or will it bring you peace and resting as you reminisce about your experience? Then, most importantly, does it have that confident quality, like the artist was invested in it, took opportunities and enjoyed special moments and freedoms within the painting, or does it look matter of fact, detached, stagnant, emotionless?
I happen to know what it is like to commission a work of art from another artist. I realize that there are a lot of psychological things going on that you wouldn't guess, especially because I am an artist myself, and have my own very specific taste. I want to describe the experience from my point of view to give you an idea of what went on in my head…
I had a beautiful piece commissioned for my husband and I, from one of our favorite artists, Nathan Ledyard (pictured above). There are three main reasons that I felt called to have this made, and these are things that you also want to think about when finding an artist to commission work for you: First, I had been following his work for months, eating up every post of progress and finished pieces, each one just completely taking my breath away, (I knew I had to own one to admire every day). After seeing so many gorgeous pieces created, I TRUSTED that he could make one for us that was better than I could imagine myself. That was the key- to say humbly that I wanted his interpretation of something more than my own, even though I am an artist too. I had to put my own vision aside and let him do his thing. Second, I could relate to his style. It was obvious without talking to him even, that he let the wood grain speak to him before he began and while he worked, this feeling of perfect harmony between creator and medium. I recognized this because it is one of the most meaningful parts of my own painting. The nautical charts send invitations to collaborate throughout the entire painting process, if I only listen for them. I knew that I would always appreciate that partnership in his painting and every time I gazed at it, I would find new places where he conversed with that wooden panel. Third, I had a specific story that I wanted to show in this piece. This lifeguard tower at Lantana beach was carried away by the waves of Hurricane Sandy. The tower represented our home break, but also the fact that my husband, Teddy, and I met each other as ocean lifeguards years ago. It was also a great memory of the epic waves of that season. Nathan Ledyard is an amazing relief sculptor and painter of waves, the perfect person to make this vision a reality.
Great, seems easy enough, right? Now the hard part- letting go of my plan for this piece. I saw myself trying to have control, I sent several pictures of waves from the swell and angles of the tower, probably enough to thoroughly confuse him, but I wanted it to be perfect! It was, after all, the first time I was spending a large sum of money on art, and it had to be worth it! (How many of you had that thought cross your mind? It's not that you don't feel this artist deserves to be paid for their work, you just want to get the most out of it, and think if you are in charge somehow it will turn out better). This power struggle in my mind really helped me gain insight into the kind of thing that happens to people when they commission work from me. I trusted him, I loved his work, so why then was I worried so much about the outcome? I just needed to be in control! The only reason I did not bug him more and critique all of his progress photos, is because I reminded myself that when left alone to do my thing, I am always more successful, more satisfied, and more inspired by the moment and the work itself. I didn't want to hinder that for my fellow artist, because I knew it would affect the outcome. I didn't want my commission to be so black and white that he wasn't a part of it at all. I wanted him to put himself in there, isn't that why I had commissioned Nathan Ledyard to do it after all?! Then the most important thing came to mind- whatever image of the outcome I had in my head needed to be erased, because I would never be able to enjoy the artwork if it wasn't exactly what I had expected.
Doesn't this sound familiar about life itself? We all have plans and expectations and sometimes things don't happen according to plan- sometimes they are BETTER! When we try to control people and situations too much, we don't get to enjoy how life plays out. I had a clear plan for my career as an art teacher, and then my artwork started to become an option for a career to my own surprise. I didn't think I would ever do it full- time, but then oh my gosh, I had a baby! I wanted a way to stay home and spend time with him, how great does this work out? I am so happy that having Cody gave me the push to risk making my artwork my sole income, while loving this remarkable time with my son. If I stuck to the plan, I wouldn't be here, and he wouldn't be here. If I lamented the loss of my plan, I wouldn't be enjoying this awesome time in my life.
In the end, Nathan created the perfect painting for us, and I remember when he said, "I added this dark blue because I felt it needed something," that I rejoiced because it was that amazing addition that made it feel like the hurricane was either coming or had just happened. The fact that he felt called to, and then safe enough to make that happen, meant that it could happen, and I didn't stand in the way! His painting was better than I had imagined and still blows me away every day when I look at. So much so, that I want another one now to show our favorite break in Panama!
So, just a few things to think about when you commission a painting from any artist.
-Artists enjoy their work more when they have freedom. Paintings made out of enjoyment always look better.
-Controlling every detail of the painting does not mean that it will look the way you wanted in the end- or worse, you will find out that what you wanted doesn't look good.
-You do not need every detail of your story to show in the painting, like getting to know a character in a good book or movie- it should not all be in your face at once.
-The artist knows how to make a composition that looks good, it's what they do.
-Micro- managing in any field rarely breeds an amazing product, but inspiration can lead to ground-breaking results! Try to inspire rather than control.
To prepare yourself for the commission journey, ask yourself these questions:
-Do you love all their work? If there are some pieces you like more than others, try to understand why and share that with the artist- or tell them which ones and they can try to see why and get to know your taste.
-Can you relate to the way they paint, draw, sculpt? Can you see your story visually fulfilled in their style?
-Can you let go of the vision that you have for your story or memory and let the artist be inspired by it to create their own?
-Do you trust this person enough to do that for you, and can you give them the freedom to do their thing?
If not… It's okay if you answer "no" to any of these questions. Recognizing it early will save you both a lot of time, discomfort, and possibly money and hard feelings. It's important for you to be honest with yourself to really get the most of this experience. Maybe you realize that this artist is not the right one to create it, or maybe you realize that you aren't ready. That is a very personal thing and no one can make up your mind for you.
The best part about the commission experience is that you develop a relationship with an artist, you share memories, stories and feelings, really pouring yourself, your heart and soul into them, and then they pour themselves, their heart and soul into creating something you never even imagined!
P.S. If you want a turtle painted on a chart of West Palm, and don't need to tell me the whole story behind it, I am totally down for that too!
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope this really helps you in any of your future art endeavors.
Carly Mejeur is a floridian artist, inspired by her ocean hobbies and travels. This Blog is for news, events, and just for fun. Click here for the artist's Bio.