I once had a commission by a guy who wanted to look back on his 20s as a 30th birthday present to himself. The painting was 6 feet by 8 feet tall and we had to rent a truck to get it into his home. We had site visits to a place where we did "underwater rock climbing" which is basically jumping from rocks in a rushing river and hoping not to get swept under and die. Nobody died but it was some tomfoolery you get into when its just too hot, and there's nothing nearby, like the spot outside of Sacramento we were at. I looked through thousands of photos in photo albums and heard stories, and there was to be about 30 or 40 people, 15 locations and memorable moments that would appear in this glorious enchantment. I filled sketchbooks, catalogued the people and moments, picked the lighting, sourced imagery for stories not pictured, using every tool in my illustrator toolbox. One of the main characters was the patron's truck, which he leapt off near the center of the portrait into the rushing water in this imagined scenario. There was a bonfire from a camping trip in one part of the US, a trip abroad in another section of the painting. I'm grateful to the patron's passion for his life, that he wanted to show himself and his life from this vantage point of explosive celebration.
There was a portrait of dog recently passed in which the patron thought I had captured the dog's essence, though I'd never met the dog. But I'm glad. And I know with pets, it feels like that, trying to capture their personality and spirit, simple but powerful and so meaningful to the caretaker.
One set of portraits was of a neighborhood a couple would be leaving once they had their baby, moving out of state.
Another was a gift between a young couple who though young had adventured together for nearly two decades. It was an abstract piece about snow and adventure and cliffs, only in grays, and stared at while in the sanctuary of their home, to daydream and reboot charge for their ambitious and driven life.
Finally, there was a commission for a new company that would place art in people's homes (hurray), something very hard to promote now that people can buy and print so easily and don't reserve a spiritual and exalted value to art like in times past. Art found in museums or on the street serves as a parallel life, while in the home it decorates blandly, or is forgone as a respite from visual and material bombardment, to avoid becoming part of the perpetual spring cleaning of the house stuff. (See post on You are what you spar).
The art company brought in an old boat I was lucky to be able to take reference photos of in Turkey, the SF skyline, a poem written by the CEO, the words of a gracious Turkish host, "Yes, please," and so yes, please reverberated in the sail. This entrepreneur was in his young twenties, using money he had gained from his first company and newly graduated from college. It was a bold and industrious time in his life, and as a bizarre coincidence, he ended up relocating to Turkey and letting the business mission float away.
There was a commission for an album cover: listening to the bands music, experimenting with materials, letting my unconscious direct the concept, while keeping mindful of color and design so that the band could sell albums, posters, shirts, etc. I had a long six months to work, and it was one of the jobs I was able to grow through most (rather than only fulfill the brief) and produced a strong piece, because the contact in the band (thank you Audiobistro.net!) gave me the time and space to get it right and blast rather than get it fast and weak.
Illustration can be similar to a commission, except that usually the constraints are much stricter, and the timeline (aka deadline) narrower. However, again, some of my best work happens here, because the work is serving someone else and so I must be sure and strong. The medium must read correctly, the message must get across, and while I may try to push a unique vision of my own, the client holds on to the string of kite, keepings us [from flying off wildly and eventually tangling in a tree] rooted in purposeful application. And I thank them for that, and I respect that purpose and serve that purpose even when I may not fully agree (sometimes the purpose is silly, cheesy, or camp).
Something personal to the client is brought to the illustrator-artist, who asks, how can I make this sing to all the viewers in a way that is new, exciting, strong and clear?