When you’re an artist, there’s really only three motivations for producing art: You can create for yourself, drawing and painting the pictures you want to see, or those you want to apply to a personal project either of your own or shared with friends; you can create for a larger purpose, whether a business or an IP or an idea shared by many; and you can create what someone else would like drawn or painted, someone else’s idea that they can’t realize the way you can, so they ask you to do it for them.
Every piece of art has its own purpose and is loved for that alone, but there’s something that really gets to me about that last sort, private commissions. The excitement that comes through the initial request, the challenge of creating something to someone else’s standards, and then the often amazing gratitude expressed at the final product. It’s a very personal exchange, to be entrusted with someone else’s vision, and I never quite get over that dash of humility and “Aw, gee, shucks,” at being able to create a picture for someone. I guess it’s something I too often take for granted myself.
I’ve been asked to draw children and pets, cars, houses, aircraft, sailing vessels, flowers, birds, and once nothing more than a large red rose. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of fan-art commissions for World of Warcraft, and now for the new Star Wars: The Old Republic massively-multiplayer games. When I was young I played Dungeons & Dragons with my brother and tried to draw my Cavalier. It all comes from the same place, a highly imaginary realm constantly being manipulated and adapted in a thousand different forms by people all over the world. It’s such a rich place to draw from, with every idea that comes to me arriving with its own unique needs and challanges. And there’s five reasons why I’m simply loving it.
1.) Things I Never Thought I’d Draw
It’s often said there’s nothing new under the sun and all things are derivative, and that could very well be true. But I’m constantly amazed by the unique combinations and subtleties in each commission idea. I may have a mess of characters in my own mind, but none of them are like the characters in *yours*. Distinct looks, ethnicities, races, clothing, equipment, environments, little details – personalities – each one is different and fascinating, and brings me to look into things I’ve never thought of drawing before.
2.) The Challenge
Drawing for someone else is always a challenge in itself. I never know if my vision will line up with the client’s, and sometimes adjustments need to be made. Beyond that basic challenge, however, lies all this new stuff I need to learn how to draw. The experience built into every commission is like an entire drawing and painting class in itself. Even if I have drawn and painted most of it before, there is always some difference in lighting or presentation – or simply finding a new perspective and composition – that challenges me to develop new techniques and approaches.
3.) Practice, Practice, Practice
One of the keys to developing as an artist is to draw every day – and it sure helps to have something waiting on the drawing board to work on. Every commission I consider not only someone else’s hard-earned piece of artwork (for which they are paying me), but also a potential portfolio piece for myself. The hours spent completing a private commission are hours spent with a pencil or stylus or brush in my hand, and every minute of that goes towards that oft-spoken-of “10,000 hours for Mastery.” I don’t believe there’s ever such a thing as total mastery in art, but I do find my skills just a little sharper with every piece of artwork I create.
4.) The Best Motivation
The business end of a commission deal, for me, is based on trust. I always request either a large downpayment or full payment before I start to work, mostly because I’ve been burned and used too many times in the past. But as soon as someone hands me their money, I immediately feel I OWE THEM. They gave me their money; I owe them the very best piece of artwork I can produce. Every day I wake up with commissions to work on I feel that sense of debt driving me onwards. Nothing else makes me work harder, personally, than knowing someone is expecting something from me on the other end. That may be my own psychosis, but it sure works as terrific motivation!
5.) Giving a Gift
I get so excited when it comes time to show a client their finished piece. Excited, very anxious, very hopeful. Because I usually work with people along the way, I generally have a feeling they’ll be satisfied, but I never quite know how much. It utterly kills me – smites me down into a gibbering, grinning mess – when people tell me “I love it! Thank you!”
You gave me *your* idea.
You gave me *your* money.
All I did was make you a picture.
I’m well aware that not everyone has the motivation or time to learn to draw and paint (though I certainly believe they could!) I’m also well aware of the time and effort it has taken me to get the skills I have, and the further time it takes to develop a painting from beginning to end. I know these things, and yet I’m still floored by the “Thank you”. I admit I love to make things for people and give people gifts – it’s always been a source of joy for me – but to have that become a part of my everyday work, part of my career, is amazingly fulfilling.
As much as I hope to one day work for companies and have my artwork published in books and gaming cards and so forth, I don’t think I could ever completely stop doing private commissions. It’s too personal, too practical, and too rewarding. Help me here, Google Translate…
Mi pincel es su pincel.
My paintbrush is your paintbrush.