Untitled, 30×40, oil on canvas with cold wax and gold leaf

Commissioned Work vs. Non-Commissioned Work

When I was younger and, if you don’t mind, I’d really like to use the word “dumber,” I thought things like “Wow, it would be so great to be an artist. I could sell just one painting every month for five thousand dollars.” It’s not that my idea was completely outlandish, but as far as a business plan goes, it was both entirely arbitrary and woefully underdeveloped. 

I was in a taxi once and the driver asked what I did for a living. When I told him art, he gave me a run down of what his business plan would be if he were an artist– step one– put a lot of effort into a single painting, make it really special. Two– hang said painting in a really upscale hotel with a price tag of, oh, say, $15,000. Three– wait patiently for someone to bite. Eventually they will, even if it’s five years down the road.

My response was something along the lines of, well even if I did that and it sold every year, I can’t exactly live off a yearly salary of $15,000, can I? He was undeterred. He didn’t understand why more artists didn’t do what he proposed. And I could tell he’d been thinking about it for a while. 

We’ve got all these weird conflicting ideas about art– it costs too much, it costs too little, anyone could do that, that is an expression as unique as the soul that created it. 

I’ve found the most meaningful way to navigate the chaos surrounding the business of art is to get skin in the game, to stop watching and wishing and dreaming of weird arbitrary scenarios and actually enter a very real marketplace.

Today’s painting is a commissioned piece. The nicest couple from Monroe, Louisiana called me on the phone back in December. After passing the phone back and forth a few times and with that delightful Monroe accent, they explained that they’d seen a few of my pieces at a neighbor’s house and wanted one similar to “Origami Sky” for their dining room. So a few days before Christmas, on their way to Houma, they stopped at my house in Covington to discuss the details. She didn’t want so much gold in the background, but asked if I could use a little gold leaf. I agreed.

In the midst of a chaotic Christmastime, their visit was a gift. It reminded me that I am actually doing that very thing that was once so fanciful I could only think of it in the most arbitrary terms. The couple is going to back to Houma in February, and they’ll be picking up their painting on their way.

Unlike all my others so far this month, this one has a deposit on it. The balance is coming in just a couple weeks. There is no hoping someone will buy it. You would think it would have been first on my priority list. You would think I would not have waited until days 17 and 18 to get going on it. But I did. 

Maybe the business of art is so frustratingly contradictory because there is a quiet push and pull between your own vision and the vision of the community around you. The thought of using the colors that please someone else versus the ones that speak to me in that moment, is daunting. And rewarding

At one moment art is freedom and at the other it is restraint. Both have value. Both engender growth. The business of art is complicated, but there is no better way to cut through it than to put brush to canvas, to work within and beyond the confines of specific spaces, and to share your own visions even as they are influenced by those of the community around you.

This painting is round 1. I’m going to send an image of it to the couple and see what work is still left to be done. In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts on the gold leaf– I’ve never used it before.