Why I am really crap at commissions (because art is not design)

There have been a number of times in my life where someone sees my drawing ability and says “HEY! Can you do me a drawing/painting of XYZ!”

Nothing is designed to make my stomach shrink in fear like this….

My first time was back in 1994 when someone I knew very slightly (mutual friend) saw something I’d drawn, and asked me if I could do a painting for him to give as a gift to someone.  It was a very very specific painting (a chinese dragon in a specific pose ) in a specific setting. I made the mistake of not working out money first-  and I also made the mistake of not realizing the guy was a bit of a weirdo who really wanted something super specific, not art. He wanted a design and he wanted it to look JUST like he wanted in his head – and he was almost ENTIRELY UNABLE TO ARTICULATE WHAT THAT WAS – and would never be satisfied with less.  But clearly neither of us knew that he wanted the impossible and I had not learned to say ‘no’.  Also, he was horribly unreliable and wasted my time – someone who organised to meet me at ‘11.00 at my place’ and when I turned up at 11 he yelled at me for waking him up cause he meant 11pm. um. ok,  not really a time to go visiting…. Then he never turned up at a place of my choosing and i fumed for an hour waiting for him (these days I would not wait that long. This is the days before mobile phones too).

The final time we met, I took the almost completed painting. I’d spent a lot of time on it. He looked at the central figure, his mouth went all petulant, and he said ‘well I really would like it over that way a few cm’. In other words – repaint the entire thing two cm to the left. Days of work. Just to be moved over, like it was a thing you could pick up and manually shift. At this point I knew this was a total waste of my time as he had no idea what he wanted and also, the creepy vibe and lack of his care for my time, was getting to me.

I picked up the painting, said ‘you know what, lets just not bother about it’ and walked out. He was a bit shocked. I eventually painted over the dragon. I don’t know what happened to that picture actually. Anyway,  I only ever saw him once after that (randomly at an Emo Philips concert!) and we just avoided looking at each other.

The only time a commission works is if i have total control over what the picture looks like,  but I do the subject matter they want.
This one – for example, worked – a friend wanted a picture of his dog. It ended up being a robot dog. I don’t know why. This is the problem – I seriously never know what things are going to look like before I do them and it just comes out. I don’t know the colour, the design, or anything. My hand just does it.  That is how i roll.

sold - mogawai

sold – mogawai’

The problem is really that I find if I don’t want to draw or paint something, I panic, I resent it, I drag my feet, and I made bad decisons. The painting ends up really naff. I’m a process painter – I need to love the process. If I don’t love what I’m doing I hate the process – and it shows.

I need to feel the love and the freedom. This is to me the value in what I do.

I’ve tried doing illustration work for various people at various times, some have ended after a few meetings with ‘no really that’s not what I wanted (even hough that’s what I asked for)’ – I have learned to walk away from those. Collaborations don’t work when someone has written something and want it illustrated but cannot draw themselves cause they don’t like your interpretation on it.

The only illustration I ever did that actually worked out was Seashanty, where my mate Andrew was putting together a music video for his mate’s band and he wanted a certain theme with certain scenes but that I was able to do them totally in my style.  Which I did and it was a heap of fun to do. A lot of work. I flew through it. Never regretted it.

That dog picture got seen and from it (back from my days of blogging on livejournal) someone said ‘can you do my dog in the same style’. Well, no! I can’t do the same picture again! I don’t know how to do that nor can I do that. But I came out with this one (which actually I rather like). But it was nothing like the first one. So there is this awkwardness of ‘here’s the painting you wanted, please give me money now’ – and NOT KNOWING if they hate it or not! (I think he liked it, he paid for it at any rate).


What i really want is for people to see things I’ve already done and love them and buy them. That’s a genuine, non obligation buy.  A commission is: I do a lot of work while doing a massive amount of stressful double think and I never know if you like it in the end. I just don’t like doing that. It cripples me.  I am full of doubt and my painting suffers and more importantly, I don’t enjoy it.

This painting I did for my boss/boss/boss (three levels up! NO PRESSURE!). He liked my stuff and asked if I’d do a painting of his kids to give to his wife.
I spent a lot of time just totally fucking this painting up. I had no idea what to do. This is a later draft. Then I decided ‘stuff it’ and drew in horses and butterflies and a dog and cat –  hings that I liked as a girl – and it worked. Its’ in my slightly mutant warped style and it’s way prettier in real life (scanning and ‘autocorrect’ tends to make the colours harsher). He really loved it and showed it off to the other managers and his kids both fought over who got custody of it, so this was a success.

When one of the upper managers asks if you'd like to do a painting of his kids, and you don't really know how to paint kinds in a non-ironic non-creepy way - you of course say 'yes' and go into a blind panic. That being said, i think i managed this painting rather well. everyone seemed to really like it, which was the point.

Sold – the Kids

This is another painting that worked. It was again a commission by someone pretty high up at work and they wanted a picture to give to an out going manager of their team. The brief was ‘in your style’ and they showed me the pictures of mine that they liked.
It’s bloody weird when you paint someone from a photo and then you see them in the lift and you go ‘I know how your eyebrows quirk cause I studied your face intently and reproduced it’!

This one I liked cause I got to put them all in silly outfits. Puffy shirts. Bad 70s check suits. And the outgoing guy – in a pimp suit (he was their boss)….Awesome. I totally enjoyed doing that picture.

Sold -Executive Leadership Team

Sold -Executive Leadership Team

The thing was here that this was my original attempt at this picture, and I kind of like the original better cause it’s way way more ‘me’. But the person really didn’t like it cause it was too far removed from the likenesses.

Leadership team

Leadership team

So yeah.

My thing these days is: if you want an illustration or a design, sorry, I just can’t do it. It shrivels my soul, I need to be able to do what I want, and I don’t do medical pictures or straight stuff at all. I’m not good at it, I can’t work to demand like that cause there is no value to me at all and in fact a lot of pain.

But if you see a picture I’ve done and like my style and want something where I get pretty good artistic freedom, then I may or may not decide to gird up and do it. I don’t like offending people by saying no but I need to get better at saying no.