Making art to commission by Carol Naylor
We’re delighted to welcome back textile artist Carol Naylor after her article about Applying and submitting artwork to galleries proved so popular. Here she gives some invaluable advice about applying to work on commission and how to meet the brief with your piece of art. She also offers some enlightening examples of how she and a fellow artist (Heidi Lichterman) have gone about successfully creating artwork for various commissions.
A dialogue between the artist and the commissioner
Working to commission is exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding. It is something that many of us hope to do as part of our work and when we are lucky enough to be commissioned there are many different things that we need to consider. In this article I will try to cover some of the points that are likely to occur. What I write will not necessarily list everything you need to think about but I hope it will help those who may be embarking on this for the first time.
I’ve used specifically commissioned works as examples, two of my own and two by internationally renowned weaver Heidi Lichterman.Whether you are applying for a public commission or have been privately commissioned you need to take into consideration a series of factors that will need to be agreed.
Applying for a commission
Points to put in your application
You need to submit a concise, well written proposal that clearly indicates the following:
- Suitability of your idea for the proposed venue
- The materials you want to use and their appropriateness to the venue
- How you charge for your time and the cost of the materials you use
- How you will be able to work to a time schedule.
- You need to consider and discuss hanging/installation/maintenance as required
Submissions to public venues such as hospitals/libraries/banks
- Does your proposal answer the call for submissions? You might be one of dozens of applicants so you need to stand out
- Do the materials in your work conform to Health and Safety requirements?
- A hospital for example is likely to have very firm measures in place that you will have to meet especially with regards framing, glazing, backing board if the work is wall hung. Check these carefully and show in your proposal how you can meet the demands.
- Can you visit the venue in advance to see the space, check the colour scheme etc? (assuming the venue has been built – I’ve been caught out twice!)
- Who is going to see it? You need to consider your daily audience. I recall a hospital which rejected anything with red splodges which had connotations of blood. Happily I had not suggested anything like that!
- Will your proposed work have real lasting qualities not just in the material you want to use but in visual terms?
If you get an interview
It is most likely that you will need to take designs/drawings that you will be expected to talk about. What questions might you be asked? Can you explain exactly what your work will look like? Have you got examples of materials or existing works with you?
Most commissioners will pay a fee for designs for shortlisted candidates, so that if you don’t win at least you will receive something for your time. This will be agreed in advance even though you may spend far more time than you think.
So here are four very different commissioned works for you to consider.
Transition by Heidi Lichterman
I was approached by the Fellow responsible for the art collection at Queens’ College. His committee had been offered a sum of money by an anonymous donor for a wall hanging for the new dining hall. During a national search, they contacted the Society of Designer Craftsmen who gave them a short list of our members who might meet the college’s brief. The committee were delighted to find that I was right on their doorstep so it was easy to visit my studio. I was weaving a 28 foot hanging when they arrived and that impressed them. They had already been to several other studios and had asked one other to submit a proposal. I was asked as well. Our proposals were then mounted in the Fellows’ common room where Fellows were allowed to comment. I won the competition. The donor then asked to see a full size mock-up, which was a bit of a challenge although I appreciated the request later as it allowed us to plan and design the fittings in advance of the actual installation. It took the college several years before they were able to light the piece properly…
I was privileged to be present at the inauguration of this piece. Heidi uses wonderful liquid pools of colour to define the space.
Celebration of Life by Heidi Lichterman
This piece is one of a pair commissioned through a New York gallery for two mirror image office buildings. I was able to see the site before submitting a design. The entrances are both 90 feet long and three storeys high. It was suggested that I follow an art deco theme. These two pieces were a joy to weave and I was able to be very inventive in my design. I have always liked large commissions as I am usually given free range creatively and I do experiment. There is always a frisson as the hanging is installed- will it hang properly? I have never experienced a failure, but there is always a first time.
I very much admire the way this fits and makes use of the hanging space and I also love the layered quality in the weaving.
Magenta Fields by Carol Naylor
This was for a lounge that was decorated in, and had furniture that centred on silver, black, white and magenta. It was quite a challenge for me, not in terms of scale but in colour as those of you who know my work will realise it’s a rather different palette! I was asked to ensure that magenta threads picked up the colours in the room. I used a more abstract idea of landscape, offering the commissioners a number of designs. I was happy with what I produced and so were they!
Wheatfields in Summer by Carol Naylor
The work was specially commissioned by the Hospital Arts Committee.
I had previously been shortlisted and interviewed for a commission for the A&E department, but had not won the project. At the time the committee members said that they would like to have some of my work and would make contact again. They were true to their word four years later!
My brief was not difficult. I needed to make something that was appropriate for people who were grieving, thus calm, tranquillity and hope were sentiments that I wanted to address.
Landscape is something that can be understood by people from all walks of life, from different backgrounds and sharing different beliefs and philosophies. I used colours that were soothing, and took the idea that fields, hills and sky continue beyond our viewpoint perhaps forming an analogy that life also goes on.
The designs were framed and placed in the corridor so that people not visiting the room had an idea of the final piece inside.
I hope this has helped. There are quite a number of sites that list local, national and international commissions and I listed some of these in the article published on this website called Finding an audience for your art.
- Read our interview with Carol
- Read Carol’s piece about submitting art to galleries
If you’ve found this article informative why not let us know by leaving a comment below.