Something that I have come across a lot lately is having to choose to say “no.” It is something that I am not very used to and am having to force myself to do for my own sanity. I’ve been contacted for multiple commissions, by people I adore, but I am having to disappoint and turn them down.
A while ago, I was in a situation of truly needing help. I needed work to pay bills, to buy food, to survive. My husband and I were barely scraping by and when I needed the work desperately, I was being asked for “favors” for free or “family and friends” pricing etc. etc. Now that I have a GREAT job that is affording us the ability to pay off huge amounts of debt and to actually go on vacation this year, everyone would like to commission me. It’s strange how that works. When you need it, no one is asking. When you don’t, people are.
But, all of that is beside the point and just an interesting observation.
I have been searching for direction and a style to call my own for a long, long, long time. I have finally come to a place where everything I create has my stamp on it. I’m no longer all over the place using different media or extreme ranges in subject matter. I would bet that any one of you could pick my artwork out of a line-up because it’s that distinct. And all of this is very purposeful.
In the art world, you want to find your voice. You want to have a visual identity that separates you from the crowd. If you do oil paintings of someone’s grandma today and tomorrow you are doing watercolors of someone’s home then you aren’t set apart, you aren’t defining your voice. You are tailoring to your friends and family, which is cool…if you’re a “Sunday painter.”
I’m not a Sunday painter.
What I am is a career artist. I will be doing this my entire life and one day it may be my meal ticket. So, I have to stick to my guns and turn down things that will pull me outside of that. It’s tough. I could try to do portraits, but I know I’m not a portrait artist. I could try to do watercolors, but I have never been very good at it. And trust me, I have tried. I have tried it ALL. I know myself and I know my capabilities.
Commissions can be a job. (Why I don’t take commissions…)
When you are commissioned, a lot of times it means the work you do has turned into a job. No matter how lovely the client is, they are a client the moment you exchange money for your work. If the client has a specific subject in mind and wants the artwork to fit into a specific genre, then you have to ask yourself again…Is this a subject matter I would do well and be proud of? Would this commission fit in with my other work seamlessly? Do I want to do more of this subject matter? Is this a direction I want to explore creatively?
From the outside, these things aren’t taken into consideration. Typically if you can draw, the next thing you know you’re being commissioned to paint your Grandma’s cousin’s daughter’s cat that just passed away…and “oh, she loved sniffing the daisies in Grandma’s yard..could you paint her sniffing a daisy? On grandma’s porch? And I really LOOooove watercolors, can you do watercolors?” But, all of your work is abstract charcoal drawings and the last time you did watercolor was in college 20 years ago and you barely scraped by with a C.
This happens so so much. And what your artist friend or cousin REALLY wants, is for you to see one of her original Abstract charcoal drawings and say “THAT is lovely! How much?” Letting her be who she is as an artist and not pulling her from her voice onto some other path that she had no intention of exploring.
BUT, you say…if you can draw these things and I am paying you good money wouldn’t it be fun? Isn’t it selfish to NOT create a painting for your Grandma’s cousin’s daughter of her beloved cat? I mean…you have the ability, it should be easy for you. It will be fun!
If you are a career artist you are trying to build something. Let’s compare an art career to building a house. You have decided you want your house to be a craftsman and so you start laying the foundation, adding rooms and then your Aunt has this great idea where she wants you to add in these mid century modern details, next your friend from work thinks you should add a Frank Loyd Wright waterfall, and then your neighbor thinks it would be really neat if you make the second floor a tree house…you know, like on that tree house show on HGTV. In the end your love for beautiful craftsman architecture has turned into what appears to be the strangest mixed up pile of craziness that is now your house. But when it’s time to put it on the market, there is no curb appeal and no one understands why anyone would build such an atrocious building. This is what your artist friend/family member is trying to avoid. We want our beautiful craftsman and we want to invite you over for dinner so that you can enjoy it too.
I HATE saying no. I HATE letting others down. I HATE feeling like I disappointed someone or wasn’t a good friend or cousin. I worry over it for months later. It saddens me. But, in the end protecting my passion, the thing I love and worked for decades to develop is what I have to choose. It’s what I have to save and keep working towards, or else I won’t have any passion at all. And that would be terribly sad.
Am I being dramatic? A little…just to prove a point. One day someone out there will look at my original artwork and would love to have it in their home….One day something I draw will touch someone deeply and they will need to have it in their lives. Until then, I will be turning down all cats sniffing daisies.
PS. To all who have recently asked, I love you and I’m sorry to say no…really truly.
PSS. Totally found this drawing of a cat in daisies AFTER writing this post lol