This question sends a chilled shiver through my heart.
My first felt picture commission was about 4 years ago for a friend who wanted a view of a mountain in France for her husband’s 60th birthday. They have a house there and love the views. I really didn’t know what to do. It was very different from the pictures I had made to date and not somewhere I know or have ever been. After some soul searching I agreed to do it. I think I let the flattery get the better of me.
The request was to do something similar to this but ‘a bit snowier’.
Things really did not go at all as I’d hoped. Firstly, the time I’d set aside to do it was taken up when my parents, who were staying with me, both became ill. Fortunately everyone recovered but I had to do lots of hospital visiting and home caring so wasn’t able to do any work on the commission.
Then I realised as I was working on it that I really didn’t understand the mountain from the photographs I had. Which bits were shadows and which bits ravines? Normally I felt local birds and seascapes that I know and love. I struggled. To cut a long story short I delivered the picture but so close to the deadline I don’t even have a final photo of it. This was it nearing completion ……
I really didn’t enjoy the process & I wasn’t that happy with the result. Fortunately my friend liked it & her husband loved it but I vowed never, ever again to take a commission…….I had learned my lesson…. hadn’t I?,
A little while later another friend who was travelling sent me a photo she’d taken of a pair of African penguins and asked if I could make a felt picture as a birthday gift for her partner. “OK”, I thought, “birds and a beach, I should be ok with this.”
Learning from my first experience, I allowed loads of time. I made samples and did lots of planning. I looked at a lot of penguin pictures online as the penguin on the right was at an odd angle and I felt it needed a clearer head. I made lots of prefelt. It took a long time but I enjoyed it and was pleased with the result: I thought it was true to the photograph. I was there when the gift was presented. There were happy tears; probably some of them were mine.
Then came an email. My friend’s husband, who’d been so happy with the French mountain he’d been given: it’s now her birthday one year on and he’d like to commission a companion picture for her of the local valley view in France. “Noooo” I thought. “I vowed never, ever to do another commission after that one”. I tried diplomatically to explain that I wasn’t sure I could do it justice but agreed to look at the photos and let him know.
More soul searching and much wringing of hands. I really didn’t want to refuse, but I really didn’t want to go through the same thing again. On balance, I decided I probably could and should do it, so I said yes.
I was happy with the outcome and my friend, and her husband, loved it. So, maybe commissions were ok.
Next, someone locally saw a picture of a little egret I’d made for my mother’s 80th birthday and wanted something ‘similar’.
My Mum’s picture was based on a bird she and I had enjoyed watching together at a Yorkshire nature reserve. I didn’t want to copy it. The commission would be based on another little egret I’d seen just up the coast from where we live. I quizzed the woman in great detail about what she liked about my Mum’s picture and what she wanted her picture to include. I described what I was going to do. But it made me realise how difficult it is to understand what someone else sees in a picture and whether I can understand it enough to translate into something I can make. Previously I at least had reference photos but there was no photo for this one.
I decided to give this client the option of not buying the picture if she didn’t like the finished image. It was, after all, a picture I would readily have done anyway. It was the best way I could think of of getting round the struggle of making what I can and want to do and meeting someone else’s expectations.
The client seemed very happy with it and did buy it though I’ve really no idea if it’s what she had in mind.
Another local woman saw at an exhibition a more abstract sea picture I’d made. She’d like something similar but smaller. Surely I could do that?
Well, you would have thought so but I guess I took my eye off the ball. I’d been thinking a lot about how small waves break and although I used similar materials, it really didn’t come out very similar at all: the original being semi-abstract, the second being more realistic. I’d allowed my own interests to take over and really hadn’t met the brief. I decided to show her the second picture anyway, explaining it wasn’t that similar to the first one, but I’d be happy have another go if she wanted.
She thought the new picture was ok but preferred the original and decided just to buy that one instead. A fortunate outcome and I’ve since sold the waves one but it all felt a bit precarious. For me, commissions are tricky. I’m flattered by the request but not necessarily comfortable in the execution!
I’ve asked three painters if they take commissions. One absolutely does not on the grounds that she wants to pursue her own creativity and doesn’t want to be influenced by others’ ideas. She does give the potential client an early view of her new work but that’s as far as she will go. Fair enough.
The second said, “I do, but I don’t really like it. It’s so difficult to understand what’s in someone else’s head.” I’m with her on that.
The third does take commissions but he charges more for the work, to reflect the fact that he’s working to their brief. He takes a deposit and, when pressed, said if someone decided they didn’t like the outcome he’d keep the deposit but not insist they buy the picture. Fortunately that has never happened.
For me commissions raise a lot of issues. Does the client have to buy what they’ve commissioned? Would I want anyone to buy a picture they’re not happy with? How do I know what they are imagining? Do I enjoy making them? Does it matter?
So, do I take commissions? Um, sort of. I’m still not sure. I’ve realised that when I watch my local sea birds and look at the sea, water and beaches there’s a lot going on. I look at where the birds are, how they stand and move, what they’re doing. I try to capture the colour, light and movement of sea water and waves. As I create the felt I have images, sounds, smells and feelings about the scene that I hope in some way influence the picture. I do work from photographs but I rarely copy them. So, if someone wants a particular view, location or bird that I know and can experience then probably, yes. Otherwise, I’d like to think I’d say no. But then I don’t have a very good track record of saying no, do I?!
What do you think? Would or do you take commissions? If so, how do or would you manage them?