At the end of the day, I often have questions. Why do I paint? Why do I paint what I paint? Why do I choose to (try to) earn a living by painting? Is painting a commission (a "product" of someone else's choosing) as valid as painting for the sake of painting itself? My thoughts chase round and round. Then, I open a beer, sit down and look.
This is what I saw at the end of one day last week. The paintings are of two families: commissions and "free" works. These commissioned pieces are from my Kickstarter project in which I promised to "Paint Your View". The piece furthest left is from a home right here in West Michigan - a winter scene! I took pictures myself and also used ones taken by the owner. I spent a long time drawing this scene on the canvas as exactly as possible and now it is under-painted, with most of the color yet to go on. The painting on the easel next to it is also a Paint Your View commission. I worked from photos the client sent to me; I have never been to that site. I did a detailed pencil on paper sketch in order to get my bearings on the composition and then primarily referenced that. These pieces took a high level of concentration and will continue to create a certain amount of stress for me. I must please the client! Not only do I want the landscape of their choosing to feel familiar, I want to make a beautiful painting, which they like for its own sake. This pressure is ever-present; these paintings are my "work", though work I certainly enjoy.
The remaining three paintings are noncommissioned pieces at various stages of "done". Painting for "me" is completely liberating after painting for a patron. When faced with a blank canvas, I can hardly resist clouds as a subject (not new!) and the freedom to wield my brush without regard to the result is exhilarating. Ahhh! I get to do what I love - play with color and make marks.
The beauty is in the contrast between working on a "commercial" and "fine" piece of art. One hones my skills by demanding a specific end-product. The other leaves me free to do as I please. I can produce simply to satiate my own hunger. But the gratifying feeling of doing what I want is the sweeter for having done what someone else wants. Two aspects of the same discipline reinforce each other. And, hopefully, both types become successful works of art. Certainly, they are both valid and important to my growth as a painter and as a person.