Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commission Work: Love it or Hate it?

Today I was thinking about commission art work. First, let me just admit that it's not usually my favorite thing to do nowadays. There, I said it.

Some artists enjoy it. Some of us find it... constraining. And maybe even sometimes a little intimidating and/or frustrating, if the client seems hard to please.

I remember once doing what I felt was a fantastic job on a pastel portrait of a young girl. I still remember it like yesterday: she had sunlit black hair, wore a blue dress with white trim, and was grinning broadly. I proudly presented the finished portrait to the Grandma who had commissioned it... and she asked me to change the highlights in the hair. Okay, no problem (though I thought they were bold, matching the photo).

Next... she didn't like the dress. Fixed it.

Next... I don't remember, cuz I politely aplogized, took it home and threw it in the trash! What can I say... I was young. :-}

Just for fun, I dug out an OLD album with a crummy, faded photo of that portrait. Honestly, it really did look just like her! Well, I thought so, anyway. (can click pics to enlarge) 

See, the Grandma had wanted it done from a photograph so it could be a surprise. You know how THAT goes sometimes... photos "lie". And Grandma insisted it didn't look like the little girl. Yet... it looked like the photo! Sigh... 

Here are some others I did back then, and at least these people were happy with their commissioned portraits (sorry for the fading and skewed colors, they are quite old photos):

Next time, I'll share one commission assignment that WAS one of my all time favorite works!

In the meantime, I'd be curious to hear how others feel about commission work, if you'd like to share.

Happy painting (even if it is on commission),



  1. Anonymous10:47 PM

    I've been curious about something for a while now and this post has pushed my curiosity to the breaking point, so I have to ask.

    As you know, I'm not an artist--but I have written copy for $$$ (or for free as a donation to nonprofit agencies, but the rules for donated work are the same as tho they were done for pay.)

    Once someone pays for a piece, I am not able to copy it and present it as a sample of my work unless I had a written agreement to do so. The person who assigned the writing was the owner, not me. I no longer had any "rights" to the piece.

    I've noticed that you show a lot of work that you've done for others--the lovely little anniversary book, headers, illustrations for books. Don't the people who now own that art, well, own that art? Or is visual arts different?

    Just too curious not to ask.


  2. Hi Deb!

    Oh, I don't mind at all.
    Every artist (well, any with good business sense) always retains the copyright to the image they created, unless otherwise agreed upon, and they let the purchaser know this (or should).

    The owner of that particular physical piece owns that piece only, not the rights to the image. In other words, if I did a painting for someone, and they paid me and hung it on their wall, they do not have the legal right to mass produce further images to sell. But I do. :-)

    Then, of course, you can get into licensing the image, in which case I could sell them the right to market the image for a length of time. Lots of variations.

    So, short answer: they own the canvas, I own the image ON the canvas. :-)

  3. can do people! I knew you could! HA!

  4. Wow, those are beautiful. The grandma must have had something specific in mind she wasn't sharing with you.

  5. Thank you Mary. I guess sometimes we just do our best, and then let it go! Can't please everyone. :-}