Q: How do you feel about accepting commissions?

"Reunion," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58", 1990

“Reunion,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″, 1990

A:  By the time I left the Navy in 1989 to devote myself to making art, I had begun a career as a portrait painter.  I needed to make money, this was the only way I could think of to do so, and I had perfected the craft of creating photo-realistic portraits in pastel.  It worked for a little while. 

A year later I found myself feeling bored and frustrated for many reasons.  I didn’t like having to please a client because their concerns generally had little to do with art.  Once I ensured that the portrait was a good (and usually flattering) likeness, there was no more room for experimentation, growth, or creativity.  I believed (and still do) that I could never learn all there was to know about soft pastel.  I wanted to explore color and composition and take this under-appreciated medium as far as possible.  It seemed likely that painting portraits would not allow me to accomplish this.  Also, I tended to underestimate the amount of time needed to make a portrait  and charged too small a fee.

So I decided commissioned portraits were not for me and made the last one in 1990 (above).  I feel fortunate to have the freedom to create work that does not answer to external concerns.  

Comments are welcome!        

About barbararachkoscoloreddust

Barbara’s thoughts on art, the creative process, soft pastel, the inspiration she finds in travel, what it’s like to be an artist in New York City, and other wisdom for artists as we travel our solitary and sometimes lonely roads.

Posted on February 22, 2014, in 2014, An Artist's Life, Art in general, Creative Process, Pastel Painting, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks Barbara for sharing your experiences and field of interest.
    I do commissioned work as it applies to landscape, architecture and cityscapes. The part that is most challenging and yet most rewarding is working with clients. In most cases, where two or more people are involved, they have contrasting views as to the subject. It is resolved by distilling alternatives (sketches) and negotiating.
    But like you occasionally I also enjoy the blank canvas with no preconceived plan.
    Best regards,

  2. you’re right. There’s a good deal of money in doing portraits, in any medium. Not such a good idea to stake your reputation on being a “Portrait Painter,” putting your talents into a notch. The family portrait you’ve pictured here is a good one, so warm. And yes, a detraction is definitely in other people advising, getting involved in the painter’s work, messing about with any creativity even in something that seems so straightforward. There are enough people involved in portraiture to allow us to step aside except for rare exceptions, for more unusual renditions which do occur even in that genre. In fact, Barbara, you are still doing “portraiture” of ethnic groups, of “families” of various wood-painted idols, puppets, and mystic functionaries.

  3. I had a similar experience a number of years ago. I found that the price compared to the number of hours spent was not worth it. I did them in pastel as well but was itching to get back to oil paint so I gave them up. I think my problem was that I didn’t love doing them. At times the portraits were actually painful for me. Did you ever find that happening?

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