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How to Stay Inspired when Working on Commissions

This comes up all the time. I used to feel so burdened when painting commissions. It was a part of the professional art world that seriously depressed me. I thought in order to be an artist, you had to sell your soul. To make money, you had to ‘give up art’ and be uninspired and miserable (probably because for a LONG time- that was me). 

Between a lot of business readings, a lot of time spent creating, finding wonderfully talented role models who I consider great artists… I have slowly changed my tune. It brings me great joy to do what I love. Sure there are lulls, or times when a project is tedious and challenging (just like art assignments when you are learning something new and the struggle is real and raw). But for the most part, I feel SO FORTUNATE to be able to create, to get lost in my work, to create a world that’s a little more beautiful and infuse the magic that I feel, into my work, or your work, as the case may be. 

I think a big transition of this mentality was that I don’t think making money and making art are mutually exclusive things. This seems simple, but it was a HUGE leap for me, I thought in order for art to remain pure, the artist must remain poor. (This notion was actually given life in the early 20th century when an artist wasn’t making it and wrote off all great artists as “starving” just like him). But it’s actually very untrue. I started considering great painters with patrons, people who paid the artist to paint what they wanted, I began looking at great works of art as commissions (since many were). Picasso was also a very rich man and branded himself and his work beautifully (read “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins). You have to flip that switch in your brain that art and money are mutually exclusive.

The second point is that if you are DREADING working on a piece, then either you need to pivot and find a style/niche that suits you better, or charge more. Part of the reason why I hardly do wedding stationery is that I prefer to create the pieces custom for each couple, so the illustrations can take me DAYS at a time… I also haven’t branded myself to be able to charge the larger amounts that would make it worth while to me. Not getting paid enough is a total energy killer and has made me regret projects with a VENGEANCE. Want to meet the unhappiest, uninspired Sierra? It involved taking on custom portraits for $20, or extensive logo projects for $300. 

Third, I think we must begin to be seriously grateful for the ability to create. Gratitude is pretty amazing and the fact that I can whip out money from thin air with projects and art is SERIOUSLY incredible. With this attitude I was able to plug away at my portfolio, have a daily instagram post and create so much content that I now have clients that know the kind of work I do, are familiar with my style and I get to create even more work that I love doing. It’s a really cool cycle of what came first, and I am glad I am finally to see the work pay off.

So, all in all, you can create HAPPILY and also make money. Your art can be your career without any loss of interest or inspiration. Find your niche and charge enough to give your piece LIFE, to make you SO ECSTATIC to work on it (this can take a LOT of work to do, but it’s possible), and last, be grateful that we get to do what we love. We live in a special time where passion and social media converge with public interest and instant publication and mass sharing.

Obviously this is just projection for what has worked for me, and is more of a reflection after talking about how draining certain commissions can be (because they can seriously be the WORST). I hope you all find the work/art/life balance that suits you and you create with brilliant excitement (or whatever works for you) regularly.