I believe artists create for themselves. Of course every artist wants their work to speak to others, but ultimately we paint, sculpt, sing, dance, and write because we HAVE to. So to produce work for someone else is an incredible challenge. Painting on commission allows for an opening of the artistic process. It stretches the artist's solitary pursuit to include others' points of view and creates a new design and purpose for the painting. Ideally this process remains open, allowing the artist to make decisions that best execute the purpose of the painting. However, quite frequently, there are severe limitations....
Most of my commissions are painted from photographs because the subject is unable, for whatever reason, to sit live. Obviously working from life is the preferred approach as the eye can always see three dimensional form better than a camera can render a two dimensional image. But a photo is essential in most cases. Getting a GOOD photo for reference, however, is the greatest challenge I face in commissioned work.
The commission I started yesterday has an intense due date, giving me less than a month to do an oil painting (with all the dry time in between layers) and ship it to the East Coast. Obviously we didn't have time to do a photoshoot (geography and the surprise gift of the painting also rendered this important part of the process impossible) so I had to use photos my client already had.
This is where conflicting artistic visions wreak havoc! I have serious issues with how the professional photographer staged this young girl. Her long, thin limbs create a distraction through the composition, forcing the viewer to spin off through the extensions instead of resonating in the core of her person. And the light is very harsh, creating high contrast shadows with very little subtle variations in value and color. But I did find her "look" intriguing and the orange dress is just fabulous. I could work with this.
My first response was to crop her legs out entirely and to have her peacefully seated. Holding onto the swing rope sexualized the gaze somehow, so eliminating it had to happen. For the background, I wanted something symbolic for her age (this commission is a surprise gift for her Bat-Mitzvah) so a field of flowers seemed appropriate... blooming and feminine. I chose lupine in particular for the complementary color relationship with the orange in her dress and balancing of the lavenders in her skin. Since I am basically collaging photos together, it's up to my own imagination of how the figure and the background would actually relate to each other in real life. This is going to be extremely difficult, as I usually have to SEE it to paint it, but I look forward to the challenge.
I thought it would be interesting to see how a commissioned painting comes to life so I am filming the whole process and will be posting videos throughout the next couple weeks.