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.
“Your 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.”