Sunday, October 07, 2012

Commission #1

So last week some time I finally finished my first commission. I was commissioned exactly upon October 14th, 2010. So I just made it within two years overdue. Here was the original brief:

My favourite book of all time is ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. I consider it my soul on paper and it is very special to me. The basic premise is that a wise prophet. Almustafa, has been living in a community for 12 years waiting for a boat to arrive to take him home. The book begins with the arrival of the boat through a thick mist and as he makes his way to the sea wall the townsfolk ask for his wisdom on various topics such as love, justice, death, pleasure, beauty and sacrifice. There is a woman, Almitra, a seeress (prophet) who has a deep love for Almustafa. At the end of the book she stands on the sea wall and watches the boat disappear into the mist. She knows he must go: ‘our love would not bind you nor or needs hold you’. I want a picture of Almitra standing on a sea wall. In my imagination she is very beautiful and from Lebanon -otherwise it is up to artistic interpretation. I want it to be at least A3 in size.
Because of the delay, I blew it out to A1 or 4x A3. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about what I have learned about commissions by doing them/not getting them done.

1. I work best under pressure and short deadlines. Which was reinforced by working on hairspray. The longer I have to do a task, the larger I make the task in my head. And then there's just straightforward procrastination issues. Flexible deadline meant there was no urgency and hence hendersforth, as soon as any other project came up, the commissions dropped in priority.

2. On procrastinating, I believe it be perhaps a necessary phase in a profession like visual art etc. that almost inevitably the people that support you early on will be people near and dear to you. And there's a temptation to treat a commercial transaction as an act of charity. That is to say, you are so grateful to get the commission that you just want it to be the best piece ever. This drives the '3 Ps', perfection, procrastination, paralysis... of which there's a great write up to be read here. And I mean you can read the commission above, I am bringing to life my benefactors 'soul on paper' of course I want it to be perfect, and this overwhelmed me for ages. I didn't spend two years on this piece, but it did take me two years to get enough knowledge of what I was and wasn't capable of drawing to come up with the above representation.

3. There are many types of artists, I'm not most of them. Two years ago, I was literally taking on any project, fuck, six months ago I would take on any project, and did, without doing really basic research. I had only the vaguest impression of what hairspray was when I agreed to do it. I draw pictures of people, in a very comic inspired style, but even then the comic style is away from the 'realism' end of the spectrum. And that is almost exclusively what I have been drawing for the past year and a half. And yet with this and all my other commissions, I've accepted tasks that don't reflect my existing skill base... I think... my next commission (almost as overdue as the first) seems so foreign to me that thinking about it feels like this memorable seen of George Costanza's career:

I am going to throw myself at it though, and be inspired by my commissioner whom just takes on tasks and lets them evolve on their own. But in future I am going to put a policy on the subject matter, because asking me an illustrator for example to do a sculpture or oil painting requires me to learn whole new skillsets, which is fine and valuable and good, but do I build that time consuming past time into the price? I haven't even learned perspective yet.

4. Pricing, pricing, the most stressful part of it all, for commissions #1 and 2# prices have never been discussed. Originally I thought this was smart, a risk reducing strategy for both parties since I felt they were dealing with an unknown. Meritocratic payment. My first two commissions also pre-date my exhibitions so I had no reference point. In hindsight though, this is one of the major things that blew my mind out into the pieces needing to be perfect, a notion that my clients would given their love for me, probably overpay hence I needed to make the pieces so perfect they couldn't possibly overpay. Which when you write it out and read it sounds completely fucken crazy, but when it's just in the back of your mind (because despite whatever philosophy you adopt, more money is always useful) it plays you. Whereas if you have a fixed price like my 3rd commission then you can quantify just how much work and what quality is expected of you to put in. It's easy to share an understanding of meaning in that case. You can even reduce it to an hourly rate - if you are getting paid $400 and you put 10 hours into the piece then you are a $40 an hour artist, I'm not a $40 an hour artist, I think I remain a $20 an hour artist, and of course there's materials etc to take into consideration. But a firm price agreement I think reigns this shit in.

In summarium, it's about keeping the task real, understanding that you are being commissioned based on the work you have done, not on the work you imagine you are capable of. Not idealising the commission itself, but gaining some perspective on just what you are expected to produce and capable of producing. A commission should be rigid rather than flexible. At least for me, and how I work. I don't think I am the kind of artist that people want to go away and just wait on to get around to doing the best possible piece. At least not yet.

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