A First Time for Everything

Painting: Together is Our Favorite Place to Be (for Audrey’s Parents)

This painting was a first in so many ways; it differs from my normal style and was my very first commission. I finished it about four months ago, and am only now beginning to understand how much it challenged and grew me as an artist.

I painted it for my manager at one of my job; she wanted it as a gift for her parent’s anniversary. Her parents love to kayak on a certain lake, so she sent me pictures of the lake and her parents and described what she was envisioning.

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(the lake)

I was so excited to paint this one. I’d never done a commission before. Yet, as I lifted my paintbrush to the then spotless white canvas, an all-to-familiar feeling came over me.

Why am I nervous? 

Because it’s my first commission? Well, yes.

Why does that make me so nervous? I knew I was a pretty good painter. Why couldn’t I approach this painting the same way I had approached all the others?

Thinking back now, I understand more about why I was hesitant, and why this painting was so fun yet so challenging. 

The main reason I was nervous was because expectation had been introduced. There’s a freedom that comes with painting for yourself, or as a gift for someone. If it’s good, that’s awesome, if it’s not, that’s okay too—no one has to see it. With this painting, I felt the pressure that it had to be good. Audrey had enough confidence in my artistic skill that she was paying me to do it, and I didn’t want to disappoint.

In addition to a new pressure from expectation, this was my first experience catching a vision from someone else’s mind and painting it. Everything I’d done before was based on a picture I’d created in my head and catered to my sensibilities and what I thought was meaningful and beautiful. This painting was my first introduction to getting inside someone else’s mind, and really understanding they’re envisioning and what they find lovely.

In some ways, it actually took discipline. If I were to just decide to paint a lake, I’d probably choose one like this; with mountains and deep shadows (and I’d likely add lots of interesting colors.)

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I wasn’t asked to paint that lake in my mind, though. In some ways, my creativity was confined; the painting needed to fit what Audrey had described. This exercise in artistic discipline was a challenge I hadn’t expected, but it was good for me. I learned to be creative inside a tighter boundary, and in result, the painting has a simplicity about it that it probably wouldn’t have if I’d been completely free to act on all my creative whims.

Overshadowing the discipline aspect, however, was the beauty of being able to glimpse inside someone’s mind and help them express something deeply meaningful to them.

In this painting; I was making an idea in someone else’s head a reality. My mind was working in collaboration with theirs to make something that, ultimately, expressed their vision.

I especially needed this. Partly because I’m an artist and partly because of my personality, I’m a very introspective person (which isn’t a bad thing at all). Nevertheless, the temptation is that I become too absorbed in my own thoughts and feelings, so much so that I get lost in my own mind and far too self-focused. To paint for someone else helped me to get outside myself. I needed this. Actually, I still need this. It’s a beautiful thing to see through another person’s eyes.

 

Lastly, shout out to Audrey, who was absolutely encouraging and supportive. When I sent  the sketch and showed her the finished painting, her genuine excitement was the best encouragement I could have asked for.

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