Thursday, 10 February 2011

Painting to order

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.Oscar Wilde

I wouldn't go quite so far as Oscar Wilde but I’ve sometimes been nicknamed ‘The Awkward Squad’ and I think that might be a good name for me because if someone suggests that I paint something, it seems to automatically become the last thing on earth that I am able to paint! 

Which is a nuisance because it means that there’s no way I could earn my living by painting to commission.
Some years ago, a friend suggested that I could maybe increase my income by making pastel paintings of people’s houses.

In fact I did undertake one such ‘commission’ for a friend. But after taking a lot of photos of the beautiful old house, I ended up painting, of all things, part of the garden in the semi-darkness with the house very much in the distance. It was the only‘view’ that seemed to appeal to me to paint it!

And since I came back to greeting card designing, I’ve had numerous suggestions of ideas for cards from well-intentioned friends but somehow I never seem to get round to even adding them to my list of card ideas because I know that I’ll never do anything about them; in any case, my list seems to get longer rather than shorter so ‘ideas’ are not what I’m most in need of!

The one exception was when a friend asked me to make a birthday card with a black fairy for her granddaughter but that was simply a case of making a normal fairy card and changing the features and skin colour slightly.
It’s a shame really because I’ve missed opportunities on account of my ‘awkwardness’. The chimney sweep suggested that I should submit a suitable design to the Chimney Sweeps Association, a friend asked me to produce cards with a ‘farm’ theme for a farmer’s market he was in charge of. But so far, apart from a few sorry attempts to make something of a cow, nothing has come of either of these.

Unfortunately I think I have to somehow relate to what I’m creating and if I don’t, if it doesn’t really interest me, I just don’t seem to be able to come up with anything worthwhile. There are a great many categories of greeting cards on Greeting Card Universe, endless special days to celebrate, seemingly hundreds of situations that could require a greeting card. It seems as if all I would need to do is sit down with the lists and methodically go through them, creating a greeting card for each occasion. But I don’t seem to be able to work that way. I need the occasion to spark a response in me and if it doesn’t, no matter whether I may have the required skills, I don’t seem able to come up with the goods!

I am amazed, and full of admiration, when I come across websites where the artist offers to paint to commission, whether it be houses, boats or, more often someone’s pet. I suspect it must take a lot of self-discipline to do that, certainly more than I, the Awkward Squad, have!

Artists, painters, musicians and to some extent, poets through the ages have worked to commission and many of them depended on these commissions to make ends meet - and still do! I’m thankful that I’m not quite in that position because if I were, I’m sure I’d be a literally starving artist!

I don’t mean to be picky and maybe if I didn’t have any ideas of my own, I could try harder and perhaps even succeed in making something worthwhile out of someone else’s suggestion!

The trouble is, for me it’s a bit like being watched when I’m painting – it inhibits me and makes me start to think about what I’m doing and that’s not the way I work best. Just recently I was drawing a cat for a greeting card design but something wasn’t quite right with it. I kept changing things but still there was something wrong. My pad of paper was on the table when a friend phoned me and it was only at the end of our conversation, when I put the phone down, that I discovered that I’d unwittingly doodled the cat problem away while we were chatting!

I’m sure not everyone will agree with this quote from Ray Bradbury:

‘Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You can’t try to do things. You must simply do things’.

- but it works for me!

(Your comments are, as always, very welcome!)


Victoria Lynn Hall said...

You are not alone on this. I have one boss (if you don't count my cats) and that is my muse. She is demanding enough!

BTW, I love the painting of your friend's house. I can see why that view would appeal to you as an artist.

Carolyn said...

I've had this experience too, but it gets worse - well-meaning clients trying to direct your design to include unharmonious elements and then insisting upon it. Can you say "disaster"??

Michele said...

Judy, how I admire your principals, mine are usually overcome by the offer of money. However I can generally only keep it up for one picture, for example I did a painting of some dogs to commission last year. I don't much like dogs though, and despite there being a lot of work in dog portraits, I simply couldn't keep it up long term! And now I am doing illustration, well I just expect the unexpected, they decree, I deliver (hopefully):-)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Victoria,

Thank you for your comment - and welcome!

Interesting that you have bossy cats! Sadly I don't have a cat at the moment, which is probably why I've begun to paint them for company!

Looking at it now, I think painting of the house was the composition - it's similar to a lot of my other paintings - and the contrast of the sunlight and the shade. Luckily, the friend liked it enough to hang it in her hallway!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carolyn - I've never seriously had 'clients' but years ago I did consider a career in Interior Design and did quite a technical course. But when I thought about the tastes of some of what would probably become my 'clients', I couldn't bear the thought of designing what they would want! Not that the course was wasted, though! It's been very handy with rehabilitating the old wrecks of houses that I tend to take pity on!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Michele - I'm afraid it's not a matter of principal for me. It's just that I hardly ever seem to manage to do it! Something puts the brakes on and I get nowhere!

I'm full of admiration, though, for your current illustration work! I hope it all works out very well for you!

sloane said...

lol. I judy, thanks for the comment, actually Im trying posterous, (i'm such a And anything I post there gets posted on my blog, tweeter, and facebook.

Posterous keeps saying that i have all these visits so i posted a post on posterous and it got to my

Im still learning.

Thanks for the comment.

I so relate to your post, I actually can only paint on what I want to paint. It doesn't matter. The minute someone says "can you paint me this", well, no I cant, its not that I don't want to, I really really can't.

I can never figure out why that is, except my painting for me are more for my 'mental health'. It's very meditative for me and if I 'have to' do it, then It's just not fun anymore.

So I just don't do commissions.

sloane said...

Oh, I forgot, once my sister asked me to paint a painting for her living room. Then after a few days, she called me and started with the colors of the sofa and walls so it would match, that's when I knew I could never do commission work.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Sloane - thank you for your comments. I agree about painting being therapeutic and a meditative experience. When I start considering what other people might want, it nearly always somehow puts the brakes on, stops the flow! It's a pity really because if it weren't like this, we might become rich!:)

Country Mouse Studio said...

Oh I could so relate to this post,it's definitely a different thing to paint what you're inspired to or what someone tells you to and I can't be watched, in fact I refuse to let anyone see what I'm doing until I'm done.
I had the same experience trying to paint a house only I didn't get as far as you. I got to the point of drawing it all out then quit.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carole - thank you for stopping by and I hope you're feeling better!

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who can't work when I'm being watched but it rather cuts out any possibility of earning money from doing demonstrations, doesn't it! :(