From idea to reality - how I make a personal piece of art
"Such a wonderful personal present. Meg is the best at commissions - she is so great at turning a vague idea into a beautiful piece of art!" - Rhianna, who commissioned a Christmas themed artwork
I have been really blown away by the positivity from recent clients in response to the commissions that I have made for them. When making a commission there is an extra level of added pressure to create something personal, that fits the brief, but also goes that extra mile to provide a wow-factor. Since the start of the new year I have completed three different commissions: firstly, a Chuck TV themed poster for a friend's birthday, secondly, a 'Big Mouth' cartoon themed poster as a Valentine's gift, and thirdly a very personal piece based on a montage of memories and family photographs for a special 30th birthday gift. I always approach each commission in the same way, regardless of subject matter, and wanted to use this blog post as a means to give you an insight into the creative process. I hope that if you are thinking of commissioning me for a piece it will provide some transparency as to how this works, and will hopefully give you the confidence that my flexible and open approach to the work can achieve a wonderful result.
I am going to be using my most recent commission as a framework to demonstrate how I create a custom piece. This was the 30th birthday gift, commissioned by an old school and university friend, James.
Step 1: Chat with the client and create a clear image of what they are looking for
I learned the hard way early on in my design journey that you really must ask the client a lot of questions as to what they want the final result to be before you start designing. It can be easy to run away with an idea, only to find it wasn't quite what the client had in mind, and then need to start all over again!
So, before I do anything else, I chat with the client and make sure we are on the same page. In this scenario James told me his idea: to create a personal poster for his sister featuring a tapestry of family photos, inside jokes, and memories. We discussed colour schemes, and decided together that pastel and bright colours worked well, to create a festival vibe. James picked out other examples of my work that he liked, so I knew what style to aim for. We chatted about framing options, print size and source material to work from. At this stage in the process I still don't have a clear image of how the final design will look, but I know what feelings I want it to evoke, and that's a great start.
"That is amazing [...] I can't believe you put my weird idea on paper!" - Caroline, who ordered a commission of my 'Big Mouth' poster
Step 2: Gather inspiration and source material
This is such a fun step. If we imagine the whole picture as a jigsaw puzzle, this step is the equivalent to pouring all of the pieces out of the box and laying them out in front of you, ready to begin.
For a commission such as the 'Big Mouth' poster, I would research the cartoon, and gather lots of pictures of the characters, the fonts used, the colour schemes. i may even watch an episode to get a sense of the tone. When making a music themed poster I will listen to the artist while I work so I know the general mood of the piece.
This commission, however, was a little different as it relied on the client providing me with the source material. Thankfully James did not disappoint on that front! He sent me an email packed with family photos and inside jokes, he even wrote a beautiful poem to incorporate.
Next I print out all of my source material and assemble it in a 'mood board' in my sketch book. I copied this technique from interior designers. It allows me to identify recurring colours that tie a lot of the photos together, and see which photos might make for a striking composition. I use it to create a colour palette and to begin to piece together a rough design. See below:
Step 3: Sketch out a basic concept
Now that I have a rough idea of how the piece will come together, I take to my Ipad and draw a very basic composition. I then send this to the client and inform them of my general plan. Here, communication is absolutely key, so that you can let the client know what you're aiming for and so that they trust your vision! I told James which pictures were going to be the main focus, and how I envisaged linking them all together. See below for the very rough sketch I sent him too:
Absolutely stunning. Megan’s communication when designing my customised print was so quick and she delivered what I wanted so well. I was quite particular and she really made my vision special and adjusted to my desires with kindness and patience. Really well packaged, and the personalised notes made the opening of the print even more exciting. I love it and will definitely order more in the future. Thank you Megan.💕 - Georgia, who ordered a print of her and her girlfriend
Step 4: Begin drawing and keep touching base with client
Now that I have a clear vision I begin to draw. Every artist will have a different process here and a distinct style. I tend to start by drawing the outline of the key parts of the composition, then gradually introduce colour, before adding background details and lastly the text. My compositions usually end up with a lot of layers and detail, which worked really nicely for this tapestry piece. All the way through the drawing process I kept touching base with James, sending him updates, and checking that he was happy with the progress. He'd send me his thoughts and suggestions and I would make tweaks accordingly. Sometimes I hit the nail on the head and get the design right pretty quickly, other times it goes through various different forms. It is really important to me that the client feels comfortable to make suggestions, and speak up if there's anything that they are unhappy with, so it was really wonderful to establish the open and honest, collaborative relationship with James. It also means the client feels they've had a real, positive input into the final piece, and feels a sense of pride when it's finished too. You can see below how the piece developed over the course of the design process:
Step 5: Print, Frame, Wrap, Post!
Once the client is happy with the final composition, I get it printed. Once it's printed I check that none of the details are lost, or if I need to make any final adjustments. In this case the writing on the design did not print clearly, so I rewrote the poem in a different brush on procreate and altered the colours of the background to create a stronger contrast. I sent James a photo of the printed version to check that he was happy, before popping it in a frame and wrapping it in tissue.
As with all my prints, a commissioned piece comes with a calligraphy gift tag as the final finishing touch. I'm so grateful to James for trusting me with this special project and really hope that his sister loves it. It was a challenge to create something a little different from my normal style, but I'm really proud of the final piece and think it makes for a very personal present, and hopefully something that his sister will cherish for many years.
If you are interested in a commission...
please do not hesitate to get in touch. I hope that this blog post has provided some clarity as to how the process works. I look forward to discussing your ideas with you!
All the best,