Commissioned art: a collaborative process

They say a picture paints a thousand words -- a statement that is probably never truer than when applied to a specially commissioned painting.

The process of commissioning a piece of art may seem daunting, but it really can be quite simple and straightforward. Most people feel that the extra effort is worth the result of having art that is a unique reflection of them, their tastes, and their lifestyle.

Typically artists charge a little more for this customization because it demands more time, but the price is generally in-line with the rest of their current work.

``Each artist has a different perspective on doing commissioned works of art,'' says Ali Valdez, owner of the Calix Gallery in Seattle's Pioneer Square. ``Some feel that it interferes with their flow or creativity, which distracts them from their current area of focus. Other artists love giving their clients exactly what they are looking for.''

Tim Howe, whom Valdez represents, is one of the latter artists. He recently completed a commissioned work for a family looking for something special as a focal point in their second home.

The home's location, situated on a hillside in Ellensburg, set the stage for the subject matter. It was important to the clients that the painting reflect the lifestyle there and the environment.

After researching artists and their styles, the client selected Howe because they liked the impressionistic quality of his work and how adaptable it was to different subjects. He creates bold images with dramatic color in large and smaller scale, as well as landscape interpretations with a quality that draws the eye into and through the painting.

Once the artist and particular style were identified, the next step was to focus on the specifics of the subject matter. The surrounding beauty of the landscape was the inspiration, and the artist studied photos from the area to grasp that the way his clients did. However, it was always with the understanding that the final product would be artistic interpretation.

Gallery owner Valdez says that, ``Because art is both subjective and often visceral, the client needs a clear sense of the artist's overall body or work. They are investing in an idea inspired by past work, and there has to be some allowance for creative license to allow the artist to create and do his best work. Clients either need to be very specific in what they want, such as a portraiture or specific location; or allow that artist freedom. Without this understanding the process could get frustrating.''

In this case the clients communicated what they wanted to see in the painting, and what images were more and less important. From there they let the artist do his work. Howe then put it all together in a watercolor sketch before beginning the actual painting. This way the clients could visualize the artistic direction he had in his head. A few minor changes were made, such as removing the cloud formations, which the clients didn't feel truly represented what they saw in the landscape. The finished painting is breathtaking; but most importantly the clients love it.

``Commissions are special,'' says Valdez. ``Nothing is more gratifying than something made specifically for the client. As a gallery owner, I would encourage anyone exploring this option to invest the time learning about the artist and to establish a connection. It makes the process and the piece itself that much more endearing.''

Tim Howe's work is on display through May at the Calix Gallery, 301 Occidental, Pioneer Square.

Lori Matzke Ehrig is an interior designer and can be reached at 230-5550.

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