December 2, 2010

The pain of a professional custom portrait artist

Actually, using the word of "pain" is not enough to describe my "suffering", "agony" would serve the purpose better.

As I put it in my profile description: "a professional artist by misfortune", I engaged in art career not by my choice, but my parents'. Even though I knew art was not my best choice, I was too young to fight with my parents. I was determined to change my career ages ago but very unfortunately, at this middle age of my life, due to many reasons (mostly my chronic health problems) I have not been able to accomplish this seemingly not so difficult task.

I don't necessarily "hate" art, but I do hate doing art when I have no inspiration. And since I understand that my inspiration is not for sale, and may not be sold, I believe that art should not be my profession. However unfortunately, I did something against my belief - spending 6 years doing portraits by commission. Even though I made my customers incredibly happy but deep inside my heart I knew I was in misery.

The pain of doing "professional art", especially custom art, is that as an artist, you are not in freedom of choosing subjects and forms. For 6 years I had to make living by copying people's faces, and was driven to the edge of being crazy numerous time! Almost every compliments such as "looks just like photograph" was like a sharp knife stabbed right into my heart.

Be fair to myself, not only I made the likeness close to 100%, I also made most of my portraits as artistic as I could. But still, the process was boring and life wasting.

I am in peaceful mood now by doing art education, and be able to have a slow pace of life which allow me to rebuild my health. Once a while I would receive emails from my previous customers asking me to do the portraits for them. I usually decline their requests very politely, but occasionally I decided to do some just for money, or, for save the desperation of kind customers. However as soon as I did it, I felt that "agony" of wasting life again.

I should never ever do it again, no matter for what kind of purpose (unless some magic happens one day that I would feel the fun of just copying reality, which is not likely at all)! Art, is not meant to be "customized", and "likeness" is not the purpose of art.

*The portrait of the boy was done during the 1998 Christmas, when I just learned to do pastel portraits. It remains my all time favorite. Guess I had some passion to do this by then.


  1. Yuni-many might envy you your talent, and the opportunity to earn a living doing artistic work. But I know what you mean. I enjoy writing aphorisms, but if I had to earn my living doing the kind of writing ad people or journalists do, I'd be positively miserable. Wouldn't suit me at all. By the way, that is a wonderful portrait-something to be proud of.

  2. Thanks np for your kind comment.
    Indeed, many people showed high respect to me and they all thought I was enjoy my life.

  3. I suppose a talent can be both a blessing and a curse, especiaally when it comes to trying to make a living out of something you love doing, then drudgery may set in.

  4. thanks ana! nice to see you! thats' what i felt: repetitiveness, no creativity at all.

  5. Although I never got into portraiture, I used to do commissioned works. I HATED it most of the time. Unfortunately one of my blog friends wants me to design his logo now. I know he'll pay good money, but I swore off commissions years ago & I don't want to hurt his feelings, so I'm not sure where I stand on the idea.

  6. Lana Gramlich, thanks for sharing! I was in exactly same situation.

  7. It's a fine balance to create art and make a living. Very few artists ( or photographers ) can make a go of it without commissions or without a secondary job that pays the way. Trying to find the balance between how much you're willing to endure without sacrificing too much of your 'creative time' is something that I find elusive too frequently. I'd love to be making a living just doing fine art photography. But for now, it remains a part-time venture at best.

    I'm glad to see that you question this too. Here's hoping that you find a balance that works for you.

  8. I hear you. My husband and I have been artsists for many years. In the beginning in order to boost our income we did commissioned work and did not enjoy it. However, it did provide the income our struggling business needed and when the time was right as our own work was selling well we were able to stop taking on commissioned work.

    Now due to my compromised health I am no longer able to work long hours in our studio so I'm now doing contracted research and writing. Such is the course of the life of an artist. Hang in there. You are talented.

  9. Have you ever done intellectual art? I think that you would be good at it - but it doesn't really sell well :D I do draw portraits sometimes when time allows it, but only for the enjoyment of drawing my children . . . I have thought at times that it would be nice to get money for drawings, BUT then I think about the pressure that would come from that and I think that would ruin art for me. I like to do concept drawings - I thought I would like to draw my children each individually on horseback and wearing armor and being armed with a sword - to represent the power and protection that knowledge and truth give. It's hard to do that when you have a 4 year old climbing on your art pad though! LOL

  10. Anji,
    How nice to be able to work portraits of your own kids!
    I have "faith" that art should not be a profession otherwise it would be ruined. I guess you are in a perfect position to do art: for pleasure. But of course, if we happen to be able to sale our art and even make good living out of it, we would be the luckiest.
    No I have not try "intellectual art" yet. I should have a try in future. :-)