Because of my print design background, I approach a commission in much the same way a designer would. I gather technical information: medium, desired final size, intended audience/purpose, color scheme, and elements or content to include. I generate draft upon draft upon draft, and then present one or two possibilities to the client. Once a direction is chosen, I go all in and refine and refine and refine until the finished product comes to life.
I find this process satisfying. I find the limitations of client work an engaging and refreshing break from what feels like creating in a vacuum. And a commission can mean that you get to work in a way that you had never thought of before, as when I created a single giant fabric sunprint to be turned into a baby sling for a wonderful friend of mine.
It can mean that you get to explore a new topic in a new way, as when I created a piece that memorialized the tulip poplar, a species of tree. It could be a beloved constellation, or it can include a meaningful image that gets researched endlessly.
The drawback to commissions (also known as client work) is that the projects can become all-consuming. If you give yourself entirely to commissions, it's easy to lose the access to freedom and play that comes from creating on your own.
But these two modes of working fuel each other--my artmaking practice has improved because I now have more technical knowledge about fabric and how it behaves, about source imagery, star maps, and the natural world around me.