In the run-up to Christmas, I’ve gotten a rash of commissions. It’s been dogs and cats most of the time the past few years, but this winter it’s houses and views out windows. It’s always strange to paint something for someone else, according to their instructions. They hire me because they like what I do and I can’t really paint like someone else, but subject-matter does matter. In the pictures I do on my own, the choice of what I’m looking at is complicated and often personal. It’s meaningful. Oftentimes, it’s a view I’ve seen for years and years until the moment comes that I want to paint it. No such luxury with commissions. I try to make it work anyway.

Kyle asked me to come to his office and paint the view out the window. It faces east toward Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan, along Ida B. Wells Drive. Kyle wanted a present for his father who is proud that his son is now a college professor. While I worked, Kyle sat behind me grading papers. We chitchatted. It was a good time.

Aaron asked for a painting of his parents’ house in Valparaiso. His father built it himself and the house is all he and his wife care about, to hear Aaron tell it. They’re hard to get presents for. This is the only meaningful one I’ve ever gotten them, he says.

Andrew asked for a painting of his house in Oak Park. I told him I’d deliver it myself and he asked that it be wrapped. I guess it’s for a wife/significant other. I took the Blue Line to Austin, then walked the few blocks to the address. I’d done the painting from photos so it was strange walking up to the real thing and leaving my painting of it on the porch. Like I’d walked into a picture—a tableau vivant; frozen for a moment, then back in motion.

Sarah wanted keepsake painting of a house on the northwest side for a relation who has recently moved back to Omaha. I’ve lived in apartments most of my life, so it’s hard for me to imagine living in one like this. The one time I lived in a house, it was disquieting not to hear the footsteps or voices of neighbors. A whole building just for you and yours. The American dream. Never dreamed that one. 

No holiday season would be complete without a pet portrait. This is Naomi. She died five years ago. She was a faithful friend and companion for many years. We’d have all been lucky had she been ours. Happy holidays.

— You can read a chapter from Soviet Stamps at Vol.1 Brooklyn.