One of my favorite things about what I get to do as a full time working artist is commissioned work. Commissioned work is when someone hires me to custom create something very specific for them (a painting, a sketch, a mural, a design, etc.) I've been doing commissioned work for at least 20 years now and it never ceases to bring me joy as I continue to be challenged, inspired, and blown away by the unique blessing that collaborating with a client can be.
And collaboration is exactly how I see commissioned work. It's a collaboration (a conversation) between myself and the client to create something from nothing...something new and tangible from mere ideas and thoughts. A lot of artists prefer to not do commissioned work, as they find it to be too demanding or limiting for them (encroaching on their individual work and ideas). But I have found commissioned work to be essential in not only developing good business and networking connections but in developing growth in my own skills and abilities as an artist and in developing long lasting relationship with people as I work to make something that we can be proud of together.
For me...commissioned work is more than getting paid for my work...it's about loving people through art in a very personal way. And I'm all about the love! :)
I'd like to give you an example of what I'm talking about...from a recent commissioned work I just finished. (I have my clients permission to share the story and some photos of our process)
DANCE YOUR DREAM
So, many moons ago I lived in Washington State. It was there, during my high school years, that I met my friend Julie.
This is Julie.
Julie is an education training specialist at a local college where she lives. One of my favorite things that I like about Julie is her laugh and her loving heart for her family and friends. Speaking of friends...Julie has a friend named Kelli.
This is Kelli.
Kelli is a personal trainer and business owner who dedicates her life to helping people create a healthy mind, body, and soul through fitness training, dance, and creating a healing space for cancer patients/survivors that includes painting, music, and movement. Kelli has a loving heart for people that extends into every area of her life.
So Julie, being the loving friend that she is, had an idea...to contact me about a commissioned painting that she would purchase as a gift specifically for her friend Kelli...as a gesture of gratitude and blessing for who Kelli is in how she blesses others.
Of course these days I'm located in Idaho State, where I have my art business revelatorART.
This is me (Lisa).
That's not Idaho in the picture...but it's where I'm moving to soon (but that's a story for another blog post). Anyways...
Julie messaged me through Facebook to ask me about the commissioned work. She knew my business logo was a Koru swirl (a tribal symbol I connected with when I traveled to New Zealand that has many meanings, with one of them being "new beginnings") and she wanted to talk to me about it because she had noticed that Kelli owned a Koru swirl piece of art.
As we messaged back and forth through Facebook and she filled me in on her thoughts and ideas about blessing her friend (with whom I didn't know and had never met), Julie let me know that she felt Kelli and I would connect well as we seem to have a similar heart dedication to love on people through who we are and what we do. She wanted to hire me to paint a Koru for Kelli (in my abstract expressionist mixed media style) so she could give it to Kelli for the grand opening of Kelli's new fitness studio.
I was more than willing to take on this commission and to enter the conversation of long distance collaboration (between myself and Julie...and more importantly, between myself Kelli) as I sought to create a painting that would represent Kelli and speak her heart through paint and canvas.
The entire process (from that first message Julie sent to me to inquire all the way to the day Kelli received the painting) would take about 5 months.
Once Julie and I signed the contract (that I emailed to her) together for the commissioned piece, (which this is my policy with clients for legal purposes of agreement on payment and deadline), I began the process of correspondence with Kelli (via Julie) to figure out the detail of what the painting would look like.
We emailed back and forth to converse about the details. Part of the reasons it took so long was because you have to remember that this was a long distance commission and I had never met Kelli before and needed to get to know her in order to create a unique piece of art that would represent who she is and what she's about, something that would inspire her and her own clients (as it would hang in her new fitness studio). And I needed the time to begin preliminary sketches and computer mock ups to try and take her thoughts and ideas and what we were corresponding about through our internet communication and formulate them into something tangible in imagery. It's a part of the process that calls for patience and grace as both myself and my client work hard to learn from each other (to listen and be heard).
This kind of work takes a lot of time even when I have the benefit of a client who is local with me and I can meet them face to face. Due to our long distance locations and the busyness of our schedules and needing to connect via Julie, this first phase of the process was a bit of a challenge, but we pressed through in order to be able to come up with something that we all would love and that I could create with paint on canvas.
I asked Kelli a bunch of questions in order to get to know her...everything from favorite music to favorite quotes and colors to what motivates her to do what she does. For me, it was a fun process to learn about Kelli and to try and come up with something for her.
I work in the computer first before setting a brush into paint and onto the canvas. It helps me get a picture (an initial idea) ahead of time of what I'm to do...giving me a rough outline (to use a writing metaphor) to know where to speak from. It helps me with knowing what colors to use and how the design should be. I pull from the thoughts and ideas of the client, I pull from images and textures I find that might help with inspiration, and I pull from things I create and come up with. It's not an exact replica of what the painting will actually end up looking like, but it's a foundation to work from. It also helps the client in being able to picture what their painting will possibly be able to look like.
I'll never forget the day I received the email that Kelli sent saying that I had "nailed it" for her in my computer mock up of the Koru that would best express who she is. The above photo is the computer mock up of the Koru swirl as a dream catcher with various dancers (adults and children) and tribal feathers moving throughout, and specific words and phrases that would mean a lot to Kelli (life mottos and inspiring messages). This mock up helped me in creating the central focal point of the painting.
Once the correspondence part of the process was completed, I could enter my studio and gather my tools around me and begin the process of creating the painting.
The brushes and tools.
The acrylic paint.
The latex house paint.
The cut outs of the printed and painted imagery of the dancers and feathers I would glue within the Koru.
Once the painting started I didn't stop until it was finished. I listened to Kelli's favorite music while I painted so that my heart and mind would be fully connected to her (as best I could be) while I painted. I truly see the process of creating as a conversation and so I was having a conversation with her as I painted...I spent time listening for the details that would speak life.
Dance Your Dream
c. 2018 Lisa Marten
24x30 mixed media on canvas
For Kelli from Julie painted by Lisa.
Once I finished the painting I contacted Julie to let her know. Being that Julie was the one purchasing the painting for Kelli, I had her ask Kelli for me if she wanted to see a photo of the painting before she received the painting in person or if she wanted to wait to be surprised....and she wanted to wait to be surprised.
So I too had to wait to know what her reaction would be.
The next part of the process was shipping. Once a painting is given to a client or shipped off to a client it's no longer mine...I have to let go and let it be free to be with the one who called it into existence.
It only took a few days for it to arrive to Julie and then she took it to Kelli to give to her at her studio.
Sidenote: one of my favorite things about commissioned work is when I am able to give the art piece to my client and I can see and hear their reaction to the unveiling of their very special and unique customized piece of art that I was able to create for them. It's not just about "they like what I made"...it's more about "oh wow! i got it right! i got them right!" and they are experiencing "I see you, I hear you, you are understood, you are loved."
Because this commissioned work was all done long distance I asked Julie if she could take some photos and video for me when she gave the painting to Kelli so I would be able to know how this collaboration turned out.
This is Kelli with her painting.
She loves it!
I received this internet correspondence from both Julie and Kelli the next day in response to our creative journey together. Needless to say, this made me smile so hugely and made me cry. It was such a positive and inspiring process to be a part of and it will be one of my most memorable experiences with a client(s) and a commissioned piece of art. Such a life giving moment! So worth it!
To know that in a small way I was able to love on and encourage 2 people-one whom I've never met face to face (just by being who I am as an artist)-who love much and love well...who in turn love on and encourage so many others on a daily basis, is one of the most rewarding things in life.
I love love love what I get to do!
So I'm gonna keep painting LOVE!
*if you or someone you know is interested in hiring me to do a unique piece of commissioned art, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we can begin to enter the conversation of creative collaboration together. Much Love!