"The true painter strives to paint what can only be seen through his world." ~André Malraux

After a year of intermittant "painter's block"  I am working again in my studio, and feeling in a tentative positive state. Painting is a solitary activity, and as artists, we are often working in a vacuum. Unless we have a show hanging, reaction to the work is minimal. With several pieces underway, I decided that perhaps if I write about what I am doing or am attempting to do, it might act somewhat as a muse for me as well as give me some feedback on the work I am creating -- hence the establishment of this blog. 

As for the blog title, traditional, representational painting is a language for expressing what’s visible. But I feel my work is the most successful, and most interesting, when focused on things not entirely visible. I paint what I see but also what I sense and feel by utilizing my interior and unseen world --- in other words, the invisible world. Plein air work or  studio work from photographs are only touchstones or landmarks which guide me to other inner spaces. By so doing, I find that I am pushing the boundaries between representational and abstract work.

You can enlarge the images in this blog by clicking on them.

Oct 23, 2011

Commissions: A Love-Hate Relationship

As long as there have been artists trying to earn a living with their work, there have been collectors and patrons eager to commission art that speaks directly to their own tastes and preferences, and not to the artist's.  For that reason, and because many artists feel a real sense of restriction when dealing with external guidelines outside their own internal  creative processes, we often have a love- hate relationship with commissions.

The first commission I ever had was when I was about 13. The father of children I baby sat for knew I was taking oil painting lessons, and asked me to copy a Modigliani for him. I dutifully did (and began my life-long love affair with Modi!) He in turn actually paid me money, I forget how much, certainly not much, but I was thrilled: it was my very first sale. And in high school, my boyfriend asked me to make him a painting of the woods, with a moose by a stream. And I did, for free because I loved him, and often wonder whatever happened to it after I broke up with him three years later. For my grandfather I did a man fishing in a stream which he loved and I loved making it for him.

In the eighties, when I got seriously back to painting after the kids were in school, I had a very successful solo show in Newark, NJ. An acquaintance, who had bought a 36" square painting of an oversized, abstracted rose at the opening, asked me if I would make a companion for it, in the same colors. I thought about it, and realized it was not something I could do. My large roses were all painted and titled with ee cummings poetry as my muse (see example below), and came from deep within my psyche. I could not paint one to order, and so I lost a sale.

"Palace Intricate"  36 x 36  NFS   

And since then, other than portraits, I have avoided commissions as much as I can.   I have done many commissioned portraits, see example left and in earlier postings, which is a slightly different thing, but also a bit restrictive creatively, or perhaps a lot restrictive. I have had a fair amount of success with the portraits, but have grown tired of doing them, although I still will do it because once into them, I do get a certain amount of enjoyment out of the process.)

A few years ago, a very close friend whose summer home we visit every year on Lake George, asked me if I would do a painting of their house which they could have back home in Virginia during the year. I said yes, and then spent the next two years suffering terrible guilt because I could not do it. I tried, over and over again, but working from the photos I took was just not working, and I honestly believe it was because the painting was not coming from inside. I finally finished it this summer, and breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief. The photo below is a bit fuzzy, but it now hangs happily in Virginia.
Malovany Home, Lake George 

I would LIKE to be able to do commissions, because it is a nice way to earn some extra money, AND to make your customers happy. But I find it so difficult, not only emotionally, but while technically attempting the work in the studio. It reminds me of why I did not major in art at Skidmore: I told my mother I did not want art to ever become WORK for me. I wanted to keep my creation of art  forever as a joy. 

I don't know if any of this makes sense to you, but it does to me. And right now I have no company coming, and no commissions due, so inbetween water aerobics, I plan to spend a lot of time in the studio this week!


  1. thank you Debbie for this post. Good food for thought!

  2. Enjoyed reading about your commissions and the problems with doing them. Glad you could do the Lake George one and feel completion. Commissions do take a lot of focus and energy and it feels hard for me to set the price to compensate for the emotional tide it entails.
    I see by your side bar you got into AVA's show. I was rejected and was surprised at the wound I felt....but moved on. Ah, emotions!