Commissions are a vital part of many creatives’ practice. Creative commissions can be financially, creatively and often also personally great opportunities. And they are brilliant for building your profile too. From creating a special sculpture for a garden to creating a bespoke necklace for a wedding, craft commissions build validation, enable more creative thinking and can be a great higher-end income stream.

We asked creatives in our community what commissions they enjoyed working on most. From inspiration to process, we asked ‘What are your favourite commissions?’

Michaela McMillan – artist

Michaela McMillan makes bold, colourful sculptures using recycled materials, creating a next life for unwanted objects. Her artworks are flirtatious sculptures with hidden secrets and add a colourful twist and talking point to homes.  The pieces focus on telling stories through unusual materials, to become objects that are cherished, loved and bring pleasure. 

Michaela McMillan Paradise

What has been one of your most enjoyable commissions?

“Commissions can vary greatly – from simply a visual theme – ‘penguins’ to the story of one client who had hidden a lifelong passion for dressing up as a woman, and was coming out. 

The most successful commissions in terms of my own satisfaction, is when I am working to the brief and I am sure of the desired outcome.  I have asked all the questions, shared my vision, have a certain amount of freedom in interpretation, there is a contract signed by both parties, and I feel confident I understand the client’s requests. 

True to form, my favourite commission is strong on the narrative, and pushed my practice forward.  It was titled ‘Paradise’, and the process was, for me, smooth, exciting and with an emotional and meaningful story, which was an honour to visualise”.

Who was it for?

“I first met Fee when she visited CRAFT at Top Drawer, London, where I was exhibiting with Design Nation, then her husband David when I visited Fee’s shop also in London.  I instantly warmed to them both, and loved the circus-themed shop.  They subsequently asked me if I’d be interested in submitting a response to a brief to create an artwork.  Luckily they liked and chose my proposal”.

Michaela Mcmillan Paradise Becomes A Reality

What was the story behind it?

Fee and David’s story was a full journey.  It included young love, marriage, a love of poetry, music, art, neon, ladybirds and fun.  It also involved a huge sense of faith, determination, IVF and then surrogacy.  Their story had been picked up by a Davina McCall show This Time Next Year, and was being televised. 

At one point the finished artwork had been shot by the production company, but unfortunately this didn’t make the final show due to timing”. 

What was so great about this commission? 

There were so many things I loved about this commission. 

The generosity of openness with their story being one.  This might sound like a given if you are commissioning work, but not all clients are able to easily verbalise their visions for the finished artwork. 

With one of the clients being an artist this helped massively and there was a fluid backwards and forwards of ideas.  I felt privileged to be seeing a small glimpse into a world I knew nothing of.  I had a connection with the objects shared with me to be included in the artwork, through the colours and the niche-ness of the imagery.  I was really excited during the making, and there was also the potential of the commission being used in the tv show, so this definitely pushed me with the finish of the piece. 

I always crave the authenticity of a hand made object but with the most professional finish.  

Handing over was nerve racking but received a fabulous response.  Creating an heirloom piece about David and Fee’s story and the birth of Primrose was a completely rewarding experience”. 

Emily Jo Gibbs – textile ARTist

Emily Jo Gibbs is a British artist who has established an international reputation for her delicate textiles. In her current practice, Emily creates hand-stitched portraits and still life’s with a graphic quality, observing the quiet beauty of the overlooked. 

What has been your favourite commission?

I’ve had quite a few lovely commissions to make both portraits and still lives, so it is hard to pick a favourite.

Two years ago, I was approached to make two portraits for the same client, one of her son for her, and one of her mum as a gift for her sister. I really enjoyed stitching these two people, the way they looked but also the contrast between the two, made it exciting.”

Emily Jo Gibbs Commission Isaac

Who was it for?

“My client Amy first saw my work at an exhibition I had at St Barbe Museum and Gallery in Lymington. I had made a series of portraits of apprentice boat builders, mostly young men but also their foreman. Is it unusual to have an exhibition of portraits of young men. Maybe that was the attraction”.

How did you get the commission?

“Having seen the exhibition Amy found my website and contacted me via that, I have a page which is about the commissioning process. Her initial enquiry was to see if I would do a brown skinned person. I was really pleased she trusted me to do a good job, I always share colour schemes as part of the commissioning process. Before the work is stitched together there is loads of scope to change the colour of different elements, I really enjoy seeing how subtle colour difference can change someone’s appearance. I was really pleased with the outcomes, one of the great things about layering translucent fabric is you can have a really limited colour palette and create tonal differences with two or three layers of the same colour. I tried a few different colour combinations for Isaak, Amy liked the version where I used one layer for his face and a double layer for this hair and eyes which I thought was very successful.”

Emily Jo Gibbs Commission Mum

What was the commission process like?

“When I ask for images to work from, clients often send really smiley images, of course these are the ones where their loved ones look happy and relaxed, so it’s not surprising. But I prefer a non smiling contemplative face so I have to ask tactfully if they would share other images with me.

Amy shared loads of images with me so I could choose the best ones to work from, which is really really helpful. Together we were able to narrow down the ones that would work best. In fact, her mum’s image I took from a short video clip. I loved her expression although not exactly smiling looking happy. In the clip I think she was showing off the jumper that she had knitted, I felt I caught those things in the finished work.

My client Amy was really pleased, and I received this lovely feedback;

‘Thank you again, they are so beautiful.  I actually decided to show my Mum this weekend as she is such an introvert, I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable when my sister opened her gift.  She was really moved by the art workI feel very lucky to have stumbled across your exhibition all those months ago’. “

Pippa Ryan – artist

Pippa Ryan creates three-dimensional artworks celebrating the beauty of everyday vintage objects and discarded keepsakes. Each of these unique items holds its own cultural significance, practical use and intriguing history.

What has been one of your favourite commissions?

“I’ve had the privilege of working on many commissions since my inception in 2019 and its a bit of a cliché, but my favourite is usually the one I’m working on at the moment.

Whether it’s bringing a client’s vision to life or liaising closely with a family to create a piece to remember a beloved relative and celebrate those treasured memories, it’s such a personal process that it’s a joy each and every time. However, one commission that really stands out for me was my first for East London electronics workshop and coffee shop, Armstrong Audio.”

PippaRyan x ArmstrongAudio CoalDropYard

Who was it for?

Established in 1932, Armstrong Audio was initially involved in the manufacture of public address systems, radios and televisions during WWII. They then evolved to create a range of home radios, amplifiers and receivers from the 1950s – 1970s and were renowned for the 600 Series amplifier. 

I got to know Shamil and his family (owners of Armstrong Audio) when I lived right round the corner and they were my local coffee house. Each morning, while my coffee was being made, I would peep through into the workshop, trying to catch a glimpse of the organised chaos of vintage radios waiting for repair, and the trays and drawers of replacement valves, amplifiers and dials. I longed to go and have a good look round, imagining what I could create with all those bits and pieces. Eventually this desire got the better of me and I approached Shamil to ask whether he would be interested in collaborating on an artwork, and to my delight they were incredibly keen.

What was the story behind it?

We decided the artwork’s main purpose was to showcase the rich history of the business and the craftsmanship of their team through a collection of vintage parts and tools used to repair the broken items. 

As you can imagine, I was like a kid in a sweetshop when the time came for me to visit the workshop, and the team’s generosity, like the choice, was abundant. I was able to look around to get inspiration and take anything I thought would work well as part of a collection. I loved all the boxes the dials and valves came in, and the electrical parts were surprisingly beautiful in their own way.

After my visit, I decided to call the artwork “A Day in the Workshop” and that the arrangement would be a representation of the workbenches I’d seen.

PippaRyan x ArmstrongAudio FinalPiece

What was so great about this commission?

“There is so much trust involved with any commission, but particularly when you have been given someone’s personal items to use. In this case, one of the challenges was that they were so generous and trusting, allowing me to take anything I liked from the workshop. Having the restraint during the creative process to be clear and concise, channeling ‘less is more’ was tricky – there was so much to choose from that I could have made them a series of artworks – but this really is one of the best problems to have.

I was thrilled with the outcome of the project and blown away by the reaction of the whole family. They included the piece in their pop-up exhibition at Coal Drop Yard and it now hangs in pride of place in the coffee shop, bringing a little snapshot of the workshop into the public space.”

Shamil Joomun, Armstrong Audio said: “Pippa created a keepsake picture frame using tools and parts that our audio engineers use. The picture is beautiful and really helps to reflect the craft and skill that goes into restoring vintage audio equipment. It now has pride of place in our shop and it’s proved to be a great way of engaging our customers and sparking a conversation.” 

We hope these 3 Real Live stories have inspired you to look at your own commissions and think about your own favourites and how they have impacted your business and the life of the people you created them for.

Want to learn more about Creative Commissions? Then check out our upcoming online course Successful Craft Commissions 2024.

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