I have received numerous compliments on the caricature I use as my avatar on the blog and my recent Knight Gaming avatar I now use on various gaming systems and forums. Each is artwork I commissioned. Why commission artwork rather than using a photo or free images available? Two reasons: First, you get to support the work of an artist you really like. Second, and what makes commissioning different than just purchasing artwork, you get to own unique artwork that was created just for you.
The caricature in various forms (I have one with a necktie, one with a bowtie, and one with a bowling shirt) I wanted to use for my blog, business cards, and other official media so it would be more timeless and stand out more than just a photo of me. I asked around to friends for an artist and was recommended to Ruth Brown, a then student at Taylor University and friend of my daughter, Rachel. Ruth worked with me to understand my desires for the caricature, asked for reference photos, timeline, and we discussed the image formats. Those discussions determined the cost for my commissioned caricature. As you can see, she did amazing work and it has served me well for my blog and official communications.
I liked her caricatures so much that when I wanted to have a logo created for my gaming group and to use for my gaming systems and forums to represent me, I contacted Ruth again to see what she could create, and I was blown away with how she took my idea and created it even better than I imagined. With just some random ideas and some inspiring images I found, she provided me with a few variations, and this one just jumped off the screen to me. It reflected exactly what I wanted visually and emotionally.
Rather than trying to explain commissioning artwork further, how about I have the artist I have worked with introduce herself and discuss the process?
My name is Ruth Brown and I am a freelance illustrator based in Grand Rapids, MI. I graduated with a degree in illustration from Taylor University. My specialties are conceptual design as well as character creation and illustration.
Why do you work on commissioned art?
I do freelance commissions because of the sheer variety of clients that need work done. In a few months, I’ve created pieces focusing on knight helmets, oak saplings, snowmen, and the battle of Gettysburg. Each project was for completely different uses and applications as well as being in different formats, but that was part of the fun! I got to see the snowman I illustrated being used on coffee bags sold a local café and the Gettysburg images being viewed while a high school band played the theme from the 1993 movie under the same name. It’s a completely unique experience to be a part of projects for such a variety of locations and audiences.
What is the most fun about commissioned art?
I think what I enjoy the most about taking commissions is working with the client to get the best possible outcome. The back and forth discussion takes time but seeing the piece grow and take form and finally become something that both the client and myself can be proud of is the most fun aspect of commissioned art.
What is the most challenging about commissioned art?
The most fun part of commissions is seeing the piece take shape through communication, so naturally the most challenging part of commission work comes directly from a flaw in that system. If either the client or myself is unclear in what we need or require then the whole process becomes less of a discovery and more of an aggressive push and pull where no one really gets anywhere.
I’ve had a client [Note to T.R. – Don’t worry, not you. You’ve been one of my best clients 🙂] request a certain direction and naturally I went that direction with the designs, presenting them a few different options at the next stage for approval to the final design. When we reached the time to select the final, I was instead told that they had decided to go a completely different route and would like to go that direction instead.
In the end, that whole escapade was a good learning experience for both parties. Communication is extremely key and I definitely learned that I needed to set very clear expectations and parameters from the get go so that both the client and myself can work as efficiently as possible.
What do you wish people understood about commissioning art?
For those who have never given a commission before, there a few things that may be helpful to know before getting in contact with a designer or and illustrator.
First, it’s super important to be prepared by bringing plenty of information and references that the artist may need. I know it helped me immensely throughout the whole project when you provided multiple headshots and photo references for your business card illustrations, prof. Knight. The artist is going to ask a lot of questions, such as: Digital or traditional? What format? Color palette? What’s your timeframe? Budget? …and more. It can be overwhelming but being as clear as possible will make life much easier for both parties in the end.
For the second point, I’m going to use my own process. Other artists may vary in how they go about it but the idea is similar for most. Once I have what I need to get going and know when the project is due, I like to get started on my sketches. These are images that are more like detailed thumbnails that I can show the client. I usually produce three or four of these sketches that follow the idea the client has given me but go down slightly different paths. While one image may be exactly what the client requested, it may be nice for them to see something they hadn’t considered before. At the end of this stage the client has selected the specific sketch they want and it’s time to finish and send over the final product.
Have you ever commissioned art? Perhaps to decorate your home or office? Perhaps as an illustration of a favorite game character? Perhaps as a gift for someone?