How Do You Tackle a Commission? Four Strategies That Have Helped Me

4 strategies that have helped me to create commissions with joy

This weekend I'm beginning my 30th commission, and I wanted to share some of my process of creating commissions on a practical level. It is my impression that many artists avoid commissions, preferring to create from their own inspiration. I totally get that and honor that. For me, I find tremendous joy in the commission process and wanted to share some of my approaches.

1. Changing the Focus from Performance to Prayer

If you follow my work, you've probably heard me talk about the heart of my work is around meditation and prayer. Opening to joy and also holding suffering. When I work on a commission I always ask people what I can hold in prayer for them and it is an HONOR. 

Because of this caring/ prayer focus I simply adore doing commissions. I love building a bit more of  a relationship with someone I don't know as well. I adore the connection and conversation. I find the 'assignment' to be a challenge, that leads me to a more creative approach and problem solving. Holding the client in my prayers is heart warming and helps me work with courage and compassion.

2. Know your No
I have turned down commission opportunities that are themes I am not currently into painting (ex. My son's desire for me to paint darth maul, or a friends request for a flock of birds). I have also turned down commissions that are small sizes. Part of the joy for me is in working BIG so I have a minimum size requirement. And I point people to other amazing local artists who find joy in working on the canvas size that fits for them.

Sketches for a Sycamore Commission, Four Paintings Will Be Developed.

Sketches for a Sycamore Commission, Four Paintings Will Be Developed.

3. Creating Options
One strategy I've developed in the last year is to create a series of paintings. On one hand I find the creation of a single painting does not allow me enough time to thoroughly enjoy the subject matter.  Working on a few canvases at once gives me a chance to dive in deeper (and if color palettes are overlapping it conserves paint!)

On a practical level working on a series gives me the freedom I need. Let's say for example someone has requested a tree with yellow leaves, but for whatever reason my heart is itching to do red, green, blue leaves etc. I can follow my creative impulse on one of the other canvases, while respecting/honoring their desire for yellow leaves on THEIR canvas. In doing this I don't feel boxed in or limited.

Sometimes I will find that a few in the series fit the requests of the client, and then I can give them a few choices of which canvas speaks to them the most.

4. Freedom
I ALWAYS convey to the client before I show them the piece that they are free to buy it or not. Even though I created it for them. I am always true to myself when painting. I make sure the painting makes MY heart sing. And I lean into confidence that each painting will find a home and I don't have to force it even if I developed it for them. By doing this I also provide myself a measure of assurance that one isn't buying it out of obligation but out of joy. 

I find I continue to evolve my process with time and experience.  And I know I still have a lot to learn. What is your approach to a commission? I hope these ideas are helpful.