Commissions and Commercialism: How One Artist Views Custom Work

Here is a guest post by Jana Botkin. Jana is one of the top commenters on You can guest post as well! Read how to here.

People always want to know how I’m able to do commissioned artwork, which is a work produced in response to an order.

“Aren’t you selling out to commercialism?” they ask. Actually … no. There is a misconception that artists are too sensitive to have others direct their work. I am happy to draw for people. It brings joy into their lives to create a personal piece of art, and it is a pleasure to be part of the process.

Sometimes, I wonder why someone wants a drawing or painting when the scene has been recorded in a photo. Occasionally, I even ask customers that very question. Often, the answer is that they simply prefer a graphite drawing to a photo.

But I believe there is a deeper reason. The nitty-gritty truth is that real life is messy. I get to clean it up with my pencil—a much more satisfying tool than a vacuum. I prune trees, move rocks, cause shrubs to grow, eliminate trashcans and power poles, soften age lines, move hair out of people’s eyes, smooth wrinkles out of clothing and even scoot siblings closer together.

These tricks present the best of what we remember about life, and sometimes just portray what we wish were the truth. I am serving the customer by illustrating their dream of reality or freezing one of their best memories in a frame.

Commercialism is defined as “derogatory practices and attitudes that are concerned with the making of profit at the expense of quality.” That’s not in any way what I do. Like Dave and his team, I offer hope. And that, whether free or for a fee, never goes out of style.



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

32 thoughts on “Commissions and Commercialism: How One Artist Views Custom Work”

    1. I fervently hope so, Joel. Reading blogs like Chris’s readjust my attitude when I have to create a piece that doesn’t float my boat. I just remember that I’d rather draw an ugly house than be a ______ (fill in the blank with some menial job because I didn’t finish college.)

    1. Thanks for reading, Raun. It is a great exercise to find beauty in a plain scene, and exercise qualifies as healthy, yes?

    1. It is very satisfying to provide people with tangible evidence of their memories. On the other hand I may just a control-freak living out my fantasies with a pencil.

  1. Very nice drawing Jana. We build everything to order. Helping people get exactly what they want does give them (and us) pleasure. Seeing the look on their face when your done is one of the perks!

  2. Great post!! Very inspiring art. I visited your blog…so cool!!!!! I love the part of ” freezing time” for someone, making their memories tangible and lasting. What if we could all serve our clients, customers, family… by making their life more beautiful? Thanks for sharing!!

  3. That’s a great mindset to have.
    You’ve connected your work to a higher purpose. Just like Dave talks about bringing others hope in EntreLeadership, you’ve figured out your unique way of serving others. And I imagine that passion keeps you motivated and going.

  4. Wow Jana! That’s passsion at work. This is rare to find in today’s fast paced world. Many in this world do work for subsistence and a mere living. But, your pupose meets passion on your work. I feel that will bring great mental satisfaction to us in our work.
    Thanks for this inspiring post.

    1. Uma, it has been my hope that the faster, more technological and “virtual” our world becomes, the more people will value hand made one-of-a-kind items.

  5. Love how you describe commissioned work! My husband is an artist and sometimes has trouble “just doing what the customer wants”. For instance, “copying” a professional photo. They already paid money for something nice, why do the exact same thing? And he prefers natural pictures to posed. I’ll have to share your post 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Laura, I hope this helps your husband. And he may want to rethink that professional photo thing – unless he has permission from the photographer, it isn’t a good idea. (There’s a reason to turn down those jobs!) Natural photos are so much harder to come by than posed ones. I am really thankful for digital photography these days!

      1. Yeah, he’s only considered (don’t know that he’s actually done any!) doing professional photos when the customer has bought all the rights to them. Isn’t there some idea that if it’s in a different medium (graphite vs. photography) it’s fine? I’ll have to look that up… Meanwhile we’re taking the safe road 🙂
        Only downside to digital… too many photos to go through and enjoy on a regular basis! 🙂 We have a tendency to not delete.

        1. No kidding about too many photos! (I now have 16,000+)
          There are some false ideas out there about copyrights. If the original is can be identified by seeing the reproduction, then it’s not okay. Same with the old “just change 10%” idea. So you are definitely taking the safe route. (Bummer, I thought I had provided him a reason to turn down the boring jobs!)

  6. Cabinart, we all need hope! Memories are ways we look at things that have transpired in our life and give us a glimpse of more things to come. Memories provide courage to face the hard times and have hope in the future. Loved your post on what you do and why…think this would be a helpful process for each of us. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Jana – what beautiful artwork! My mother was an artist also and she was commissioned many, many times to paint “old home places”! Sometimes she would only have an old snapshot to go by – and they would want her to add a tree or a plant which they said was there at one time. Her artwork graces several little country churches where the congregation wanted a painting of their church in the 40’s and 50’s! So, I could definitely relate with your post – and she never looked at it as commercialism – only as her art. Thanks for reminding of her today.

    1. Thank you, Louise! The cards went to the Post Office yesterday. Those trees are stunning – even after many years they still leave me in awe.

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