Making peace with commission work
Not too long ago, if you’d asked me if I do commissions, I’d of answered with a resounding “NO”. But to even my surprise, this past year I have done THREE! What’s up with that? What changed? Am I softening with age? Am I so broke I’ll do anything for money? I’ll answer that first. No, I’m not so broke, I’ll do anything for money. And I don’t think I am softening with age either but I do think, with age comes wisdom. Perhaps, sometimes timing helps too.
Two of the commissions I did this year were based on my Urban Landscapes and one crazy couple trusted me with some abstract oil paintings as well! What all of these folks taught me was that commission doesn't have to be scary after all! That has come over time and with both successful and a couple unsuccessful experiences…learning from each one. These three 3 clients, in particular, really helped me fine tune my “machine” and that meant I could deliver the best paintings possible FOR THEM! After all, that’s what we want right?
But let’s go back a bit. My first problem with painting commissions was the way I perceived them and it was MY problem. I thought of commissions as my performing for the person who “hired” me. Paint what they want, exactly how they want it. Jump through the hoops, ask for their approval along the way as well as at the end of the project. I think that goes back to my scenic artist days when that WAS what I did. Someone would show me a picture or a faux finish they wanted and I reproduced it just in a larger scale. That was my career for over 20 years and I was good at it but it skewed how I later thought of commission work.
Perhaps some commission work is actually like that too. If you hire someone to paint a portrait of your family or your dog, you'd expect that portrait to look like that person or pet. That is a reasonable assumption. I used to think that was the ONLY type of commission that existed. I was wrong and am happy to admit it! I have found that there are commissions where people are happy to hire an artist they trust, to deliver a painting they know they will love, because they know that artists work. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
I have dabbled with a few commissions over the past 6 years. I started out doing them with no formal agreement with the caveat that if the person didn’t like what I produced they didn’t have to pay anything…it’d just go into my inventory. The subjects were such that that worked. Talk about inferiority complex, eh? Well, all those worked out and the people bought in the end. But we would talk at length about what they expected, what I could deliver, what the time frame would be, size, pricing, all that good stuff.
What this gave me was the freedom to create in my own style. Since they weren’t “buying” up front I didn’t feel beholden to them. That freed me up creatively. What I learned by doing these early commissions was that some people weren’t hiring me to copy something…they wanted my painting style, my touch. Whoa - Epiphany! Ok…but they still had a subject or idea in mind. Yes, but as long as it interests me, I’m ok with that. Otherwise I can say No! Hmmmm. Interesting.
Fast forward to 2020. Early in the year 2 things happened. First, I had an unsuccessful experience with a commission…wah wah wah…because I forgot that I was not “hired”. I kept asking for approval rather than just doing my painting style and trusting my instincts. A valuable lesson learned and I’ll never do that again! Luckily she was very understanding, we mutually agreed to stop working together and she’s still a fan. Second, I got a sizable commission, which went well but I did not have an agreement yet! BAD Sarah! So when she got nervous right before I was going to ship, I realized I hadn’t protected myself…even though things were spelled out in emails. In the end she was thrilled but that was learning moment!
Believe me when the next commission came up I started researching and writing an agreement right away! This made me realize I needed to understand what the client was asking for and make sure we were on track with each other, but also that they understood how I worked and how this whole commission thing worked. How we’d communicate, how often they’d see progress, and how and when they'd have input; when and how payments would be made; when and how the painting would be delivered. It made me think about communicating all these things to my client at the beginning of the process!
So when the next commission call came. I was ready! Hahaha… at least so I thought! Someone always comes along to find the gaps in your thinking. Luckily that was Martha and Rich who wanted three large abstract paintings for their dining room which Martha was redecorating. This was going to be a very different process. Abstracts were a new market for me. I had painted them but not sold that type work. Martha and Rich were willing and flexible to work with me on this. They sent me pictures of the new decor and I decided I’d provide some thumbnail sketches for them. They could pick a few sketches they liked and that would give me a starting place for the larger paintings. It also gave us a common understanding of what the color palette, texture, “feel” would be. They understood the larger paintings would be different than these small thumbnails. Once we agreed on this process and a price, I wrote up the agreement and we were off to the races, so to speak!
All these experiences helped me define what painting a "commission" means and now that word doesn't scare me anymore. They also have made me a better communicator and helped make the process better each time. The clearer the communication, the better the project will go and the happier everyone will be in the end! That bodes well for the next person in line!
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Photography courtesy of Sue Faraone Gourley
I hope you'll enjoy this little video of me explaining and showing you examples of my 3 series WITH IN my 25 Days of Minis collection this year. That's Right!...3 collections. One is my tried and true Urban landscape alla Plein air. One is my new Urban Abstract and the third is a fun and playful series I did of toys in my art studio. Take a listen and I hope you'll visit my website to see all 25.
The page will come down on Jan 1, 2021...
Just FYI but any unsold works will be seen on my site at a later date.
Enjoy and have a fantastic Holiday season!
I am a pretty good secret keeper but it is getting tough now. To think that I started thinking about doing 25 Days of Minis back in June! Once you decide to apply for 25 Days of Minis, you have to apply. Then you wait to hear if you are accepted. Once you get the word that you are 'in"...Yeah!... the question is, what will you paint? Some of the 45 artists decide to paint 1 subject or 1 genre. I am one to mix it up a bit. Leave it to me to complicate matters. :)
To do 25 paintings, the framing and all the photographing, editing, etc. you HAVE to plan and start early. I started painting in July but I couldn’t post or tell anyone! See, I can keep a secret…but now that I have them all done, I am excited to get this show on the road. BUT, I have to wait until December 1st when 25 Days of Minis kicks off.........
What I can tell you is ........ this year I decided to break the 25 paintings into 3 subjects:
The urban landscapes I chose to do are all 6" x 6" and will be at a $225 price point. That will be framed and include shipping in the US! I had fun choosing scenes that made me smile. Doing that many paintings can be a chore at times but this was NOT at all because these were all places that I found fascinating in some way, shape or form.
Last year I did Urban Abstracts, assuming they might not do well since it was something new from me. To my surprise they did very well, so I continue to play, learn and explore this avenue. So, this year I wanted to expand on this theme again. I was lucky to take a class this summer in Painting Abstract Art by Larry Moore. The class gave me a new way of approaching the painting of abstract art and I have been having fun exploring this new method as I have created this new series for 25 Days of Minis!
I have been thinking about my fascination with abstraction lately. I know it confounds many and it used to completely confuse me as well, so I understand. For me there's a purity of expression involved in the making of abstract art. The fact that it is so open to interpretation by the viewer is also really compelling....that two people can see completely different things in a few varied strokes, I think takes us all to our most human, basic selves. Anyway, that is what keeps driving me to explore and delve into this thing called Abstract Art.
Lastly, I am not quite sure why but, I had the crazy notion to do a 3rd subject to round out my 25 paintings. Something a bit Holiday, a bit fun, but not cliché….but it still had to reflect me. What would that be? I really struggled with this and went round and round numerous times. Nope, I am not telling you what I came up with. You will have to wait just a little bit longer....sorry! Again, more secrets, I know… but Holidays surprises are part of the fun, right?
So, have you signed up for my email list to get my updates and weekly summaries of releases AND also signed up for the daily 25 Days of Minis email that will get you all 45 new artworks every morning in December?
It’s gonna be Epic! See ya in December!!
P.S. It might be fun for you to read about last years 25 Days of minis. I did a couple Blogs about getting ready and the whole program which of course I did not repeat myself here. If interested you can catch them here:
What's this 25 Paintings in 25 days about anyway....
25 days, 2 series and a Partridge in a Pear Tree….
October is coming to a close, the election of a lifetime is about to occur, the world seems to be spinning on its head, upside down and yet life goes on. There are days it is hard to motivate but evening comes, I go to bed and another day starts. That is when I find solace in routine, making plans, looking forward to the things that seem ‘normal'.... that I can control. I go into the studio, paint something, read, watch an old familiar movie, take a walk, listen to an uplifting podcast!
Lately it is 25 Days of Minis that has kept me on track. This is my 2nd year participating. I suggest you read last year’s blog about it, if it's new to you. This year 45 artists from across the country will reveal 1 new painting a day from Dec 1 through Dec 25. It's a fantastic way to meet new artists and find unique gifts! Last year I did Plein Air and Urban Landscape. My plein air series was specifically steeples. I thought that would strike a holiday note. I really enjoyed doing that series and was happy with how they turned out but they were not as successful as I’d hoped. I was advised not to try anything new but decided to do the abstract series anyway and it was quite a success. Go figure!
What a wonderful Open Studio!
I fully admit to being a bit more anxious than usual this year. I simply did not know what to expect....if anyone would show up, either in person or virtually. I think I can speak for many artists in saying, I don't need crowds of people knocking down my door...I just need a few to let me know that what I'm doing matters...is striking a nerve, stirring a memory, making someone smile.
It's a joy to share art and experiences with each other. I didn't realize just how much I missed that till this past weekend. I thank those of you who came by in person and also attended my virtual sessions on Facebook. The comments and thumbs up I look forward to when we can do these things with out such precaution in the future.
In the meantime, if you want to check out Open Studio #5 replay you can do that on my You Tube channel ! Enjoy and feel free to share!
Open Studio gallery Tour Part 1
Open Studio Gallery Tour Part 2
In the Studio - plein air set up demo
In the studio - what I'm working on and what's coming up
Anyway, Open Studio is still ON. It will be different than any other year. That seems appropriate for a 5th anniversary celebration, right? It’s actually possible that the changes will make for a better experience for everyone. I just have to climb my learning curve mountain...which I am happy to do. It is time to mix things up, try some new things and so THAT is the plan!
Changing gears is not always easy or fun. But to be honest, I come out wiser and better in the end, altho...I hate to admit that... it’s true. So the TOO many hours on the computer I have spent lately, and the TOO few hours painting...all to make sure this Open Studio happens...will be worth it. And the Live time on camera (no I’m not nervous about that at all ....hahaha) that’ll be fine too, right?
Okay Okay...enough already...you want the scoop. There are 2 BIG CHANGES:
Wish me luck and try something new...we'll compare notes later!
A few pictures from last years Open Studio.....
I wonder how has this all affected your schedule or your work? I know many are loving working from home now. Is that you or are you looking forward to getting back to the office? Back on more of a regular schedule? Or maybe, like me, you worked from home before and this hasn't changed much, but you are looking forward to getting out more...? I'd love to hear from you!
Anyway, all my events for the summer are cancelled and postponed. The only one up is sometime in July IF it goes…keep those fingers crossed…. But that seems like light years away right now. So my focus will be getting back to doing some plein air. It will be interesting to see how my interior work will show up in my urban landscapes. Will it at all?
Other than getting out to do some plein air painting, I am not sure what the future holds, quite honestly. I plan on taking it slowly and seeing what happens. Cherishing every day that I can breathe and I can paint!
To see what I am up to check me out on either Instagram or Facebook. I post on Instagram a couple times a week and on FB just once or twice a week.....And don't forget to sign up for my email list to keep up to date and for Big News Flashes right in your inbox!
Do be well and stay safe...and enjoy a beautiful summer!
On the other hand, absolutely everything else has been turned on its head. My wife is working from home. So that makes life quite different. Not bad…just different. Shows are cancelled and galleries are closed. That’s not just missing income, but it’s also vital networking, painting inventory as well as plain ole inspiration. Sooooo, now what?
One of my answers you know about…the Quarantined series. I kinda stumbled upon that idea and it has kept me grounded I have to say. I’m learning that having a project or a deadline helps keeps me on track.
So we have schedule here. Jacquie, my wife, is working from home. That is an adjustment in itself. I like to be in my studio by 8:30 - 9 AM. Painting is part of my job as an artist. The social media, computer/website and other biz logistics can eat up my time and has always been more difficult for me to manage than the art side. We also try to get out and walk or do some yard work now that it's getting nicer out. So, some art, something business, meals, a bit of exercise. IF we get all that in...it's been a full day!
We are finding our rhythm in this new normal, but it's does feel a bit odd on some days. If I look too far out I can feel overwhelmed by all the uncertainty of what I see, or don't see...that's right, we're back to no events, closed galleries and income. I've found that being a bit more mi-optic works for me. Traveling this uncharted territory, I just try to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Do what I can on this day because tomorrow isn't here yet.
The Quarantined series has helped me focus and given me that project I've needed. The offshoot has been the joy of sharing my home, my paintings and my process with you and others through this craziness.
So what has been working for you? And what hasn't been? I'd love to know. Comment below, email me or find me on Facebook.
Keep on keeping on.
But I don’t do the January Challenge for the sale result…although that is nice, don’t get me wrong. I’d paint every day in January…Flash Sale or not. The best part, besides me painting, is the comments I get that someone has started to paint again, or is painting more or is going to take a class. That is priceless and I love that!! That inspires me to speak louder, make another video, paint another painting.
Oh, and I want to share this with you.....
I am excited to announce that I have added a Getting to Know Me page to my website. This will be short videos. Initially they will be about my background and how I started painting. Then I will add videos about my material, my painting process and perhaps even full painting videos. I will be launching a new video every 3 weeks. If you have a question send it to me and perhaps I’ll make a video to put on my website!
To check out the new page and my very 1st videos CLICK HERE
Remember to check out Upcoming Events and mark them on your Calendar! Especially those 1st Fridays that are coming up! And if you are not a subscriber, Sign Up now so you don't miss any Big News or Exclusive offers!
Till Next time.... Sarah
Sharing her journey of becoming an urban landscape plein air painter.......