The first time someone asked me to make something special just for them it was an ego boasting compliment. Someone thinks so much of my work that they want something special. How cool was that and how could I say no!!! After a few of those, however, I found it was a more of a drain on my creative spirit then a push to create more and I came to the decision that it was OK to say no to art commissions.
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On social media, there is always a post or two about someone who accepted a special order and it was “tearing them up”. Surprisingly the majority of the thread replies were along the line of not accepting special order art commissions.
Several years ago, I had a special pottery art commission that tore me up and it was the very last one I swore I would ever take
Back in October of 2019 I had a customer who had purchased quite a few pieces of pottery from me, ask me to make mugs for her that would feature her logo. She loved my mugs and bought several every time she came into my shop. She was specific about which one she loved by the feel of the mug body and the size and shape of the handle.
Her logo was a simple design so it really shouldn’t have been much of a problem. What she was wanting was completely different that my art style. I said “Yes” mostly because she has been such a great supporter of my art, had become a friend and I really hate to say no.
I should have though. What started as a simple request turned into something that almost stopped me from wanting to create.
What started as a simple request turned into something that almost stopped me from wanting to create.
Like many wheel-throwing and hand-building potters I don’t exactly replicate my pieces. What comes off the wheel is what comes off the wheel. Although I have two mug body styles and extrude my handles, they are mostly alike but not exactly.
In my customers hands, however, my mugs, even though they looked the same, each had a different feel. The body and the handle had to be just right.
This was my first stressor…How to make the perfect mug for HER.
I struggled with it. I strived to carve with precision and even tried to recreate her logo Colors by blending underglazes.
It was a failure.
So I tried again to hand paint her logo. Another disaster. Nothing looked right. It was plain. It was ugly. It wasn’t my art.
After several unsuccessful attempts, I told her I couldn’t do it. she didn’t understand why and quite honestly, neither could I. It should have been so simple yet it was weighing me down. I would wake at 3:00am with thoughts on how I could translate what she wanted to a mug I made.
By now the holidays were upon us. I had shows to do, and pieces to ship, vacation to go on. I had mugs all made ready to do my art on and just didn’t have the time to work on her request (again).
But it was always there, in the back of my mind, nagging me with how I was failing. I could feel my creativity waning and I knew it was because of this “order”.
There, I said that word….fail. I failed at making something simple. I failed at doing something for a special client. I failed at stepping outside of my box.
Then I realized it wasn’t my box I was not stepping out of, it was her box.
“Where is the disconnect?” she asked me last time we met when I told her that this was outside of my comfort zone.
That got me thinking, just where was the disconnect?
The disconnect came because I was no longer the artist, and the mug was no longer my art.
My art comes from the designs I choose to scratch onto the surface of the pot. My art comes from the glaze choices I make.
When trying to explain to my husband what I was going through I told him it was “Like asking a watercolor landscape painter to paint a portrait in oils”.
I admire you artists that take commissions and create specifically for someone. How you can take an idea that is forming in someone’s head and turn it into something that they like truly boggles my mind. Every time I do that I worry about if they will like it, will it represent what they want, will it even work out.
It’s up to us, the artist, to decide whether we are making our art to make a living or to fulfill our need to create. Are we doing it for US or for THEM.
Either way is perfectly ok but you have to make the decision and the distinction. If you decide that you are creating for you, then its OK to say No to special commissions if they are outside your style.
Today I will still take special orders but it is in my terms, in my style and in my colors.
What are your thoughts on taking on special art commissions? Do you? Would you? We would love to hear
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