Commissions – the Agony and the Ecstasy

It could be said that appropriating the title of Irving Stone’s novel about Michelangelo and Pope Julius II for my title is a tad overdramatic. But when it comes to commissions there are definitely highs and lows. As I am fortunate enough during lockdown to have three commissions on the go, I thought a few words about the process might not go amiss.

The ecstasy starts with the receiving of a commission. Oh my goodness someone likes my art enough to want a version of it for their very own! It is an exciting compliment and gives the artist a great boost that all the toiling alone in their studio has not been for nought, that their artistic vision is not hanging forlorn in the ether but has been noticed and appreciated. And furthermore someone wants to develop it into a new and a hitherto unimagined version.

It is when the painting actually begins that the agony arises. I paint to escape, it is where I can fly and forget. All visual choices are entirely mine – the size and shape of the canvas or panel or paper; the range of colours; the level of abstractness; the texture of the paint; the feeling, the emotion of the piece. But with a commission many of these have been chosen for me and as I begin to paint I get caught up in what if it isn’t right? What if they don’t like it? And the agony increases.

My go-to salve for dealing with situations of stress is order. Order is my sanctuary. It makes me feel safe. And order in this situation is mixing paint.

One of my current commissions is a painting which will tie in with a particular space and particular colours. Some painters consider it beneath their dignity to create an art work specifically to fit in with the decor. I don’t. I think it’s great! But it does mean a very close attention to colour mixing. So order is the key. It is essential to make notes on how each colour is created. There is nothing worse than creating the perfect colour and then not being able to recreate it exactly when it runs out – as I’m sure many of you will have experienced if you have ever mixed the perfect paint for a wall.

But the agony subsides when I present the painting to its new owner. People can become quite overwhelmed on first seeing their commissioned piece. One of the greatest joys for me is to see my creation hanging proudly in its new home, in the exact space for which it was created. And I am back to the ecstasy. It’s a roller coaster this artist life(!)

What is the most stressful part of your artistic process? How do you combat it? Is order a friend to you?

And since I began with a reference to Michelangelo and his struggle with painting the Sistine Chapel, I will end with a quote by the great master.

β€œYour gifts lie in the place where your values, passions and strengths meet. Discovering that place is the first step toward sculpting your masterpiece, Your Life.”


  1. I don’t know about stresses when painting. I’ve done commissions, too. I’ve been painting for almost 5 decades, so, it’ s been lots of paintings. I do 3 step process with commissions. I show them sketch, value sketch, colors, i’ve chosen (or they have), next step is I put that all on canvas or large watercolor paper, whichever medium they prefer and ask to confirm if it’ s fine so far and then I just finish up the painting.
    I think painting is a pleasure. Sometimes paints can be not that good, sometimes canvas or paper isn’t of high quality, especially now when our art store was practically empty. They had very few colors left. I usually m mix up what I don’t have. I suppose, it’s easier with somewhat realistic subject because it will be as the person, who ordered, has specified.
    I do and have done a lot of medical writing. The deadlines are tight, there is a special software to use, lots of terms to stick to since most work is confidential, and that’ s what can cause stress. I’m sometimes up till 3 am when I have to type some 100 pages in 4 days. Not just type, but make sure everything is A1.
    I hope you enjoy more than stress about art creation. My point is: what is the worst that can happen? They don’t like it? Start over. I usually work on a painting for a long time, between a week and a few months. I think the best is to allow it developing.
    It was an interesting post. Well, for Michelangelo, it was also physically difficult to paint that space, plus, he couldn’t just go to the art store and get paints.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, and I know exactly what you mean, although my agony and ecstasy relates to writing. I am less worried about how a commissioned piece will be received these days as I have developed a sense of trust in what I do. And that is related to your sanctuary of order – for an article I make sure I know more than enough facts to back up what I am writing about, so my research is my order. And then I’m free to allow my mind to fly…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, thank you Inese for you wonderful comment!
    You are quite right, what is the point if you are not enjoying it and what is the worst that could happen?
    Thank you for your commission tips. They sound really great – and you clearly are a fan of order!
    The medical writing does sound stressful.
    Yes, poor old Michelangelo. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Colin. Yes, order is the way through and I love the sound of your order!
    I love research. Some of my happiest times have been in libraries – but I think you know that πŸ˜‰
    Researching or painting, which do I love the most? A difficult one …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is – there’s always that first excitement of an idea followed by the despair that you can’t see it through and then – hopefully – the satisfaction when you get it done!


  6. I love your post! As an armature painter, I can identify with everything you have said. I seem never quite satisfied and feel the need to go back and touch here or there on a painting. Sometimes it helps, but often i should have left it alone. Commissions are a challenge, but as you say in the end if the person is happy with it it makes it all worthwhile. Keep on painting!!


  7. Thank you! I will! It’s all about balance isn’t it? Putting paint on, taking it off. Sometimes I have to live with a painting for several months before I realise what it needs to β€˜complete’ it. And often it can be one tiny stroke.
    Thank you for your lovely comment πŸ™πŸ»

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on sketchuniverse and commented:


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