Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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10/11/2004: "Ethical issues relating to commissions"

Many years ago in school when I was studying printmaking I had an incredibly horrible experience with a commission that went terribly awry. Since that time I promised never to do commissions ever ever again. In the past couple of years however, that changed. I started doing commissions in a modified way, not giving the collector the ultimate direction over the piece and being up front about that from the get operating this way I can retain my own artistic integrity and only do work in my own style and related subject matter. If I'm going to sign my name to something, it *has* to be something I feel good about.

On Friday I got a money order from a guy in Indiana who has commissioned me to do two paintings. From my Commission a Painting page I describe how the process works, that they can choose between working off an idea, an image, a poem they wrote, or whatever, and I'll conceptualize it in my own style (no realism etc.) or they can choose a painting that has already sold, and I can do an original for them, "based" on the sold piece, but not identical.

This guy chose to have one of each. He really loved "Under the Devil's Club" painting but there were a few things about it that bothered him (the raised right leg for example) plus I changed some things, like only blue highlights similar to the version in the "in progress" gallery which isn't what the final turned out to look like, as well as changing the composition of the leaves and the facial features on the woman etc.

However, it is obviously a variation on a theme. I know that a lot of artists have done many many paintings of the same subject, although often they are doing studies trying to work out an academic issue by painting the subject multiple times. I have a slight uneasiness about doing it strictly for commercial purposes. I must say though, that I started working on the commissioned Devil's Club painting and I don't feel like "been there, done that" about it. I am enjoying it and I'm learning from it... I just don't know how I'll feel if someone else requests a variation of this painting again.

I guess once I get links to my prints up and running, that will be an option to direct people to as well, in the mean time, I guess I'll have to use my best judgment on this issue.

Another concern is that my dad has been asking (begging) me to do a realistic painting of Jesus for years and years now. I have to say, I'm not in any way a religious person. Painting realism is against my principles, and painting a religious figure makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Still, he is insisting that I handle it like a regular commission and that he'll pay me for it. My dad has done so much for me and I love him more than anything so I guess I'll have to do it. Even though it goes against everything I believe.

Replies: 4 Comments

on Monday, October 11th, Jackie said

E: so I don't know - but since you are creating a new version of your own painting, i don't see anything wrong with that.
As far as painting a Jesus pic for your dad....if your gut says you can't do it, then don't even try. Just tell him "Dad - i just ain't feeling the Jesus pic thing. Sorry. Love ya, but i have my integrity." And then go buy him a nice Orthodox icon. It won't be realistic. If you want realism, buy a head shot from his favorite Jesus movie...the Passion of Christ maybe? Just kidding.
Short word: if you don't want to accept money for painting a picture you really don't want to paint - dad or not - don't do it. DOn't pimp yourself or your art for blood or water or the old American greenback. Unless you can live with yourself.

on Tuesday, October 12th, Elise said


I know, it's not about the money because I wouldn't charge my dad (obviously) and I do know how to paint realistically, it's one of the first things I learned how to do as an artist. I think my dad remembers that and doesn't understand how I could go from that to paintings of nude blue tinted women.

I know it would be against my integrity to do the Jesus painting, but I also know that I've told my dad that I would do anything for him, and I know how much it would mean to him if the painting came from me...(he likes to brag to his friends about how talented I am)...

For the time being, I'm going to stall.

on Tuesday, October 12th, Jackie said

E: Sorry - I was feeling rather sarcastic last night...or 'ironic' as the French used to call it. Hope I didn't sound too flip and arrogant.
Obviously, you will at least try to do something for your dad - or keep on stalling him till you can figure out what. How 'bout a realistic painting of Jesus on black velvet? :hehe:
Sounds like you are back in the flow - keep flowin'!

on Tuesday, October 12th, Elise said

Hey Jackie, no, I didn't think you were being flip or arrogant, I agree with you mostly. If it were anyone on earth besides my dad I'd say NO NO NEVER NEVER UH UH UH!