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A New Practice...
A little story about the beginning of a new thangka
Late last year, during the pre-sale of the Five Buddha Family cards and prints, I received a message through the commission form on my website. Fewer than a handful of commissions in my eighteen years as a semi-professional artist have ever worked out and so I quelled the excitement in my stomach and chest. I wrote back to the inquirer, thanking them for their kind words about my thangka art and inviting them to schedule a time for us to meet and discuss the project they had in mind.
It was a heck of a project.
Far more significant than anything I’d been asked to do before.
The quelling didn’t really work. By the time I met with my potential patron, I knew, as long as he understood the monetary value of time plus materials plus labour plus years of skill and training plus the spiritual intensity that could not be hand waved away, I would take the project on.
The day we connected I prepared a short list of notes as talking points. I’d reached out to several other artist friends for support on pricing myself right, and I’d given considerable thought to the practice side of the project. When my potential patron popped onto the screen for out meeting, I knew a rough estimate of the price, what questions to ask so I could put together a more solid quote, and that naming my issues with Capitalism had to be at the forefront of the conversation.
It’s always a joy to be met and well matched.
“I asked some artist friends about what kind of offer I should make,” he said in the opening minutes of our conversation. “…since I’ve never done this before and I want to make sure I’m valuing the work you’d be doing accurately.”
It was a relief to not have to explain to someone that making art is, in fact, a form of labour and supplies cost money. It was also a relief to connect with someone who understood and respected the form of thangka art and the strange tension between surviving under capitalism and making pieces of spiritual technology that could easily be cheapened by said system.
“Obviously this is more than just making an image,” I said. “This is a whole practice.”
“Yes!” he agreed. “Which is why I want you to set the terms and to definitely be engaged with it. Your pieces have a real sensitivity and joy in them. I wouldn’t want this to be any different.”
It helped, of course, that he wasn’t spending his own money but able to tap into a type of endowment fund. “I could never afford something like this on my own. But it’s part of my job to spend other people’s money putting together a robust Buddhist chaplaincy and collection of Buddhist art for the college. It brings me joy to be able to pay an artist such as yourself!”
We are a good fit as patron and artist. He has access to the means and understands that this isn’t just making art but cultivating a relationship with a Bodhisattva. I am keen to step into this new practice now that I’ve completed my Five Buddha set. We are both Buddhists so we both have an appreciation for the practice aspect of the work.
I tell him I think I can complete it in a year. He immediately offers me two. We conclude our conversation with a quick run down of what we each need to do next—I am to put together a contract and general timeline, he needs to deal with the formalities to free up the funds.
We say our goodbyes.
I close my computer and get up from the small couch where I sat to take the video call. I go downstairs where my unicorn sits at their desk in the home office, headphones on. I set my laptop on its stand on my desk and plug it in to charge. My unicorn swivels their chair away from their desk, pulling their headphones down around their neck. “How did it go?”
I grin, my cheeks hurting already from all the smiling I did during the conversation with my patron. “It went so well.”
“Yeah?” they extend their arms and I step into their embrace, their hands resting around the small of my back as they look up at me.
“Yeah. He is totally fine with the quote. And he gets that this is a whole practice he’s asking me to do.”
“It really is. And also I’m like, ‘holyshit holyshit holyshit’, because…I’m gonna do it. My next thangka is going to be the Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara.”1
To Be Continued….
I will be sharing glimpses of the progress of this piece alongside my practice in upcoming inner-circle only posts for paid subscribers and those with comp subscriptions. I have a paywall in place to protect myself from bigots who regularly carry out hate campaigns. If you cannot afford a paid subscription, you can email me requesting a comp sub if you would like to partake in this practice.