Margaret Lockwood on the commissioning process…
For an artist of any stripe receiving a commission is always welcome. Professionally it means being paid to do what you love; personally it always brings some level of validation, whether of the hours of hard work that have lead up to the commission, or of a particular and unique artistic vision that has been worked out.
Commissions, like water, should never be taken for granted – both can dry up without warning.
Working on commission means entering into a relationship. Whether new or preexisting, this relationship means you are not working for yourself anymore. Creating art for one’s self is essentially creating art for art’s sake, and this can be incredibly rewarding, especially when one desires to let the creative juices flow, or rather, to seek out or explore a new idea uninhibited. However, creating anything without boundaries can also be terrifying, the lack of imposed structure can often lead the artist to feel as though they are treading water, or floating in a creative abyss, unable to move in any direction because every direction is a possibility (this may sound like hyperbole, but this type of creative “terror” has stopped some artists in their tracks, and often for a period of years). One well-documented statement that deals with this very issue comes from the composer Igor Stravinsky who declared, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.”
A type of welcome-relief that is brought to bear on this “problem” often comes in the form of a commission and its aforementioned and attendant relationship. A relationship implies constraints – social and working – and it is important when taking on a commission to work out the boundaries between the artist and the commissioner from the very beginning of the relationship.
I have found that there are generally two types of people that purchase my art: the first type generally sees a piece in my gallery that they love and say “I have no idea where I am going to put it but I cannot live without it”; the second type usually has a very clear vision of what they require in terms of size, color palette, subject matter and placement of the painting, before they enter the gallery. These folks usually see a painting online or find one in the gallery that is close but does not quite line up with their initial concept, and so it is from the second type that I generally receive my commissions.
I also like to make sure that they understand the art that I actually create. Preferably, if they have not been exposed to a large amount of my work, I discuss the project at my gallery/studio so that they form a clear understanding of my entire body of work – the more of my work that they are exposed to, the more easily they will accept the final piece that I produce for them.
I generally take as my point of departure the previously discussed painting that lead to the commission. This working method has several benefits: the compositional “constraints” that governed the creation of previous painting can be transferred, and can help guide the creation of the newly commissioned work; the extension of the previously discussed painting into a new work essentially ensures that the boundaries – the colors, size, subject matter – the client is creating for the new work (whether they realize it or not) are adhered to; and by extending the characteristics of one work into another, I create a coherent body of work that is representative of my concepts and ideals.
In the end, the point is to create a painting that I love, and this is what I do. I take no money up front, and when the commission/painting is finished, my client has the choice of loving it as well and purchasing it, or of saying that it’s not quite what they wanted. If it is a large painting and the client lives within the Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul arc, Allin and I will deliver and install it, which is rewarding in itself, as the placement of the final work is as much a part of the work as its brushstrokes.