the pros and cons of commissioned work

Hello! I’ve finished the Fish Pie recipe illustration you might have spotted in my vlogs and here is the full process! I’m also having a chat about commissioned work and why I love to do it.

You can also watch on and subscribe to my YouTube channel. There are subtitles available, and the transcript is below if you need to read as well as watch. I’d love to hear what you think, so leave a comment here or on youtube, or email me. Sign up to my email list as well for more at www.aratidevasher.com

00:00 Introduction
00:34 First layout and sketchbook pages
03:51 Approved layout and client’s decisions
04:37 Painting the final illustration
05:12 How I work with a client for a commissioned piece of art
06:24 Why commissions are more difficult to make than personal work
08:14 Why I love making commissioned work
10:21 How commissions make you push boundaries and get out of your comfort zone
11:15 Adding details and finishing touches to the illustration
11:56 Plans for the client’s final A2 print
13:32 The final bits of the illustration
13:38 The finished illustration
14:17 Summary of materials
14:35 End comments

I am not sponsored by any brands and nothing has been gifted by brands either (just some presents from friends and family).

Just ask any questions you might have in the comments! I’ll do my best to help you out.

Transcript:

Hi! I’m Arati Devasher. Welcome to my studio. Today I’m going to be showing you the process that I went through to make this custom recipe. It is the classic fish pie recipe done for a client who is also a friend, and she has very kindly allowed me to do the recipe and then use it as a print on my website, while she gets a customized version with her own name on the top and a much larger print size of A2. I haven’t done such a big print size before but I think it’ll be lovely. Now, without further ado, let’s get into this video.

For every commission, the first thing that I do is do a sketch, because I’ve got to get the approval of my client before I can do anything else. So as you can see in the top right hand side of this page I’ve written down the list of ingredients that go into this recipe. Obviously my client-friend gave me an entire recipe that I needed to follow, and together we sat down and did a sort of condensed text so that it wasn’t too long and it would fit within this given space. All the ingredients list will actually be illustrated and the quantity of ingredients will be written right next to it so that at one glance you can see all the ingredients and then you can follow the recipe and do the entire thing and it’s there hanging on your wall.

Now, in the bottom right hand side you can see two little layouts. Both of these are things that I had discussed again with the client beforehand. I’ve just drawn them out so that I can see how they look and then I can draw the ingredients accordingly in the… at the angle that I want them to be in the final illustration.

Now, this is just layouts. I’m going to show these illustrations to my client so that they can approve of the style. Obviously it’s my style but with a few amendments according to their style in terms of colour and detail. She doesn’t want too much detail and she did want a few specific things. She wanted a glass bottle. She wanted the colour scheme to be blues and whites and reds – just a very classic British theme, because it is a very classic British recipe. The client themselves, they have blue enamelware in which they make their pie, and they always do a little pattern on top with a fork which is why it specifically looks like their recipe.

And that’s the point of a custom recipe – it looks like the recipe that they make, not just a generic pie.
In the middle of the page you’ll notice that I’ve done two different types of butter. The client wasn’t sure whether they wanted butter on… as in like displayed or whether they just wanted a chunk of butter with the actual grammage written on top. I’ve done both options and you’ll see later on in the final image which they chose. Now, I’ve chosen, here, dishware that I kind of like… the little jug is Cornishware, very British, again. The fish are on top of a red and white gingham checked little cloth… that’s not usually how they come but it’s a little bit of artistic license. I’ve chosen how to depict it.

They also wanted to have their cat in the picture, who is a black cat and you can see that I’ve incorporated it along with the actual fish pie. I like to have a little bit of humor in my work so the fish… the fish pie is being… has been guarded by the cat and she kind of looks like she’s going to eat it maybe.

Once I finished this layout page I showed the whole thing to my client and they made the decisions about which elements they liked, which ones they didn’t. They gave me a little bit of feedback about the things that they like but they told me about the things in their kitchen that they have that they would like incorporated into the illustration. Overall they were pretty happy.

But after this I made a pencil illustration of what the actual recipe layout would look like in actual size with all the text and a line drawing of all the ingredients and the final fish pie itself. As you can see there are a few differences from the original drawings. I went through the entire list and they confirmed which kind of illustration they would like from… for the ingredients. They did mention to me that the wine bottle was a red wine bottle and not a white wine bottle, so I changed that, you’ll see.

I have traced out that line drawing onto my sheet of paper and I’ve added a title – neat and tidy. I’ve also added pencil lines ready for me to write all the text on.

I have left this first section of my illustration in real time so you can actually see how long it takes me to actually physically do every single alphabet and every single piece of the illustration. Obviously I’ve speeded up this video so that you can see many, many, many hours of work in under 15 minutes, but this is actually how slowly I need to work to get it to my satisfaction. But, I mean, I won’t make you watch this at this speed forever! I’m going to speed it up, now.

Making illustrations like this is a collaborative work between the designer and maker, and the client. It’s always a slight difference of opinion on how things should be how things should appear because the artist, obviously me in this case, has her opinion about the style that she works in the way she draws things and the way she wants to draw things. It’s not that I don’t want to draw something a certain way. It’s just that I feel it looks better when I draw it MY way. Therefore, as I said, it’s a collaborative piece of work. I have to make compromises and so does the client, but the client shouldn’t feel that they’re making compromises, because this is after all a bespoke piece of work. So it’s up to me to convince them that what I’m suggesting will actually look better, and there’s a certain level of trust on their part for them to say– yes, okay, go ahead, do this, I’m sure it’ll turn out great. But, in the first place, they’ve commissioned you to do this work, or me to do this work because they like my original style. If they didn’t they probably wouldn’t have commissioned me to make an illustration for them in the first place.

That said, it’s one of the reasons why I find commissioned work the most difficult to do. Because I’m working to order for someone else. I’m not just drawing what I like and what I feel like. It’s more difficult because I can’t just do whatever I want, like I do in my own paintings, and that is one of the main reasons why I limit the number of commissions that I do. First of all, it takes me much longer to do than any other piece of work that I do for myself. Secondly, if I do commissions all the time, I’ll never have time to do my own work, and therefore to build up my own skills and to grow as an artist. Constantly doing work for other people really doesn’t help in any way to… to become a better artist, in my opinion.

Artists, illustrators, designers, creative people in general, and even people who are not creative in the arts – people who are creative in finance or writing or other spaces, all need time to play, to just experiment, to do something for the sake of doing it, for growth, for fun. If you’ve watched my channel before you would have seen in my vlogs I always mention taking time to work in my sketchbook. That is some place where I need not be accountable to anybody else. I’m just doing it for my own gratification, like I said, for fun. But at the same time that fun helps me to grow and to learn, and like I said, to experiment. That space is essential, but so are commissions.

Commissions help you push yourself out of your comfort zone. I mean, the first pet illustration that I ever did, I had never done a pet illustration, a pet portrait, in my life before that, and I had my doubts, and I did flub it a couple of times. I had to start again, but at the end of the day I realised that I really enjoy doing pet portraits. I enjoy bringing to life dogs in particular, because they are my favorite animals, and I wholeheartedly approve of having them on your wall forever. Photographs are one thing, but having an illustration is a deeply personal thing. It is the mind of the artist, of the illustrator, as they perceive your pet, your dog. Yes, it kind of looks like your dog, but it’s not a photographic, perfect representation of that.

And the same with this food illustration as well. I don’t do a photo finish in my work. The food looks like food but it does not look like a photographic representation of food. And that’s what you’ve got to keep in mind when you’re doing an illustration. My client wants MY representation of her recipe. She wants my art on her wall but she wants the subject to be something that she is interested in, and that’s really the point of the whole thing – is to have art and paintings and photographs on your wall that you are interested in, that represent your personality, that make your house a home.

And that brings me back to the point of this illustration. It is a family recipe passed down to my client by their parents. Every time she makes this recipe there’s the weight of that heritage behind it and every time she will see this illustration on her wall, she will remember that. Every time her parents visit they will remember that they taught her this recipe, and that they’ve passed it down to their child. Every time family visits they will look at this recipe and know that it’s a family recipe, and feel that, like, love and that joy that you get from family. And that’s why I love making commissioned pieces. You find out a little bit of the client’s history of their life, and it’s really interesting to see how different families deal differently with different things – if it’s a pet portrait or a recipe or just an abstract painting. Some of them have been the nautilus shapes that I love to make.

But most of all I like that they push me out of my comfort zone. Every single commission that I have made has pushed me forward in a way in my work and in my art. I have always had to figure out how to do a particular thing. For this recipe commission I really had to figure out how to have so much text in the recipe and still balance it out and make it look good. As I said, it was a collaborative effort, so we went back and forth, the client and I, about the text and how to condense it down into the bare essentials and yet convey the entire feel of the recipe, and not have anything missed out. To be able to make the recipe having looked just at this illustration, without any further instructions. The result is clear, concise text that conveys exactly what it needs to – nothing more and nothing less.

At this point in the illustration, I’ve done the main header, all the basic undercoat of the paint in gouache and I’ve written all the text everywhere. Now I’m just going to add the finishing touches and usually I use pen and Polychromos pencils for this. Some details I’ll do in pen, some details I’ll do in pencil and it just depends on which section I’m working on. I also have erased all the lines from the text. They wouldn’t all completely have gone, but that’s also part of the charm of the illustration.

Since my client only wants a print, she doesn’t want the original, I took the liberty of doing that. I would normally have used a light box and done the text that way if she were going to keep the original. But since she wants an A2 size print I am actually going to scan this piece in at a very high resolution, probably 600 or 800 or maybe even 1200 dpi, and then blow it up to an A2 size. Now, since I’m going to also have it as prints on my website, as art prints, I will usually do them in size A4 and A3. So what I will do is I will do a test print first, to make sure all the text and the colour and the images everything is fine, and then I’ll finalize all my prints. Now, I’ll put them in photoshop… I will do a little bit of colour correction because my scanner, obviously, is not a professional quality scanner, it’s just a home scanner, and it does… it does interpret some colours in very odd ways, shall I say! For example it won’t scan hot pink, so colour correction is always a necessity. Also, I might have to correct some of the text because it is quite thin. In case I need to retype it I do have my own handwriting as a font that I made on Calligraphr, which I can also completely replace the text with, if I need to, in that larger A2 size. Sometimes a client wanting a digital print turns out to be an advantage, because you can actually make even more improvements and then send that out to them, instead of just sending them the original.

But there’s a certain charm about owning the original and several of my clients would much prefer to have an original than to have a print or a even even a hand pulled print. They would still prefer to have the original painting.

I’m coming up to the end of this illustration here. With my little silver gray pencil I’m adding a few shadows just to make it a little more 3D, and as you can see here is the finished illustration. I’m really, really happy with it and so was my client. She had a look at it over the last weekend and was actually pretty ecstatic about it, and she can’t wait to have her print. I’m also really looking forward to seeing it because as I said, she’s a friend, so I will see it actually in situ in her house at some point. I really like how the cat came out, and she has such personality to her. The texture of the golden brown potatoes also came out really well.

And now here I’m showing you all the materials I used. I used colour pencils, pencil, micron pens, a gel pen, my Polychromos pencils and Winsor and Newton designer gouache. And there you go, the finished commissioned piece.

Hi again. I hope you enjoyed this video and found it useful. It was a little bit of an insight into the way my brain works when I’m doing an illustrated recipe, particularly a commissioned one, that’s not just pleasing myself. It also has to please my client. The final print will probably be here in a couple of weeks’ time, and if you want to have a look at that, do check out my studio vlog which will be the next video that comes out. Thank you for watching, and I will see you in my next one. Bye!

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