The joys and pitfalls of commission painting.

Over the last few years I’ve done quite a lot of commissioned paintings. In lots of ways it’s very rewarding but it can also be a bit of a sticky wicket if you don’t manage the process well from the very outset. I was reading a great article by by Lori McNee that covers this topic from go to whoa and it made me think about some of my experiences with clients and what I’d learned from them.

What do I enjoy about painting a subject chosen by a stranger? Firstly – I feel a bit chuffed that someone who has never even met me has decided to trust me with their vision, their story and their cold, hard cash! Sure they’ve seen examples of my artwork and style on their computer screen but that can be a bit different than seeing a physical painting.

Secondly, I learn a great deal by letting go of the subject matter choice and moving outside my normal choices. I develop new insights and skills as I tackle different subjects and this can lead me down new and interesting artistic paths. Of course I’ve had to sit on  the chuffed feeling sometimes as it trys to egg me on to tackle a subject I know will be too far outside my skill set (portraiture – I once did a fantastic portrait of my teenage son with beautifully draped clothes, shiny metal chair legs and in his own words”the face of an ork!”. I did fix the problem though- when revealed to him a few hours later he was perfectly happy with the addition of the paper bag over his head).

Thirdly, I enjoy helping clients realise their artistic vision. I’ve created paintings to celebrate anniversaries, weddings, retirements,to immortalise family memories, homes and special pets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Heading Home

I’ve painted the lake where that proposal was made, the hiking track that gets visited every year, the view from the family lake house for a soldier on active duty.

I’ve had some wonderful feedback

1

Thank you so much for making this a great Christmas for my family! My mother cried when she saw the painting and it now hangs over their fire place!”

… how could I not be touched when a client feels this way. It makes up for any frustrations during the process.

There can be difficulties. Maybe that’s because the reference photos I need to rely on are just not very inspiring, perhaps the client wants a composition that I know isn’t going to work or they have an unrealistic expectation of how long it takes to complete a painting. I recently had a request by a client in New York who hoped I could do quite a complex urban scene and have it reach her in New York from my island home of Tasmania in just 2 weeks. Postage alone would probably take more than 2 weeks!

I find that good communication will sort most of these problems out – I’m the artist and I need to be providing good artistic advice and choice about composition, colour and size of the painting depending on the subject and taking into account my clients own vision.

Taking on commission work has taught me some valuable lessons:

  • be clear from the outset what the client wants
  • be clear whether you can ( or want to) take on the commission
  • agree on all the details composition, size, cost, materials, delivery time
  • don’t give the client too many choices – less is more
  • put the details in writing
  • get a deposit before you start painting
  • provide updates as you go so you can make changes at an early stage if needed
  • pack well and always use a tracking service

 

 

If you haven’t tried commission work and you get an opportunity I recommend the experience as one that can grow your artistic skills and foster some very rewarding client artist relationships.

Making my first YouTube video!

Yesterday was one of those days when I had BIG plans. I was going to make my first Youtube video… how hard can it be? Quite hard as it turns out!

I had the plan for a demo of a pastel painting all ready – I’ve done a fair few painting demos in my time so I have a good handle on how to paint and chat about it at the same time. I set up Red Velvet on the tripod and fiddled around till I could see my head and the painting paper in the screen- it took a bit to get them there at the same time.

I needed to set up some extra side lighting so went to get the side lamp from the lounge room. I just needed to get the cord out from under a pot plant stand. A small voice in my head suggested politely that I should empty the stand before I tried to lift it but it’s lazy sidekick shouted – just get on with it ! Forty five minutes later I was still cleaning up the mess from where the pot plants had tipped off leaving about a ton of dirt and a few litres of water ( aka mud) all over the beige carpet and my laptop. But I did get the cord out and finally was ready to start filming. During this forty five minutes The Writer (aka husband) had eaten a delicious lunch by the pool and then had a refreshing swim.

Take one ! Well it “took one” for about 3 minutes and 45 seconds and I was doing a spot on intro when I noticed the record light had gone out. Take two! Things went a bit smoother ( except for the bit when I made the mistake of looking at the LCD screen which I faced to the front – of course it was a mirror image and in my spatially dyslexic way I started pointing to the wrong side and became mesmerised by the way my mouth didn’t match up with the words spewing forth from it). Take three – and I finished the intro.

This is a piece of cake I thought to myself -then in a moment of digression …. maybe I’ll have a piece of cake before I get on with it. Actually , it was only a raw carrot as I’m in the process of shedding 18 Kg before I head off to Italy in May and eat my way through a mountain of fresh pasta and about a thousand scoops of ice cream. Anyway, after the carrot feast I got back to it and did an outstanding first section of the painting demonstrating clearly and articulately how to develop a lively sky and laying in the basis of the sandy beach. I turned to face the camera and started my spiel ” and now we’re ready for the sea and the path- oh bugger! the videos stopped again!”

There was a lot of mucking around this time . I downloaded the instruction manual as it clearly was not enough to take the quick guides exhortation to simply press the start record button to start and then press again when I wanted to stop. There was obviously some vital step missing. I looked for that step for about half an hour before giving up and just having another go.

Things went better – but only after I scrapped the first painting and set up a new one. (Remember there was no actual footage of me painting any sky or beach!) So now I only have to splice all that footage together into a seamless video with a great voice over and some carefully selected sound track. Should be a raw carrot!

Beach Path demo
Beach path – Demo of a 30 minute painting

Me and my camera

I love my camera! It’s most important quality is the deep, shiny , cherry redness of it. Let’s face it that’s why I really choose it above all the other offerings out there. Oh … and the 60 x zoom lens which makes me go weak at the knees.

Sure I read some reviews – well actually a lot of reviews because I’m just that kind of person. Sometimes the thing I want has evolved beyond all expectations just by the time I finish the review process. And that’s good thing right? Otherwise I’d be lumbered with what used to be a top of the line , “you won’t buy better than this” thingummyjig when there’s a new generation ( or two) thingummyjig with much better features and benefits. I do know my features and benefits – I read a lot of reviews!

A typical “I really like, want, need one of those” starts with a lot of internal struggle to overcome the guilt of spending a large amount of money on something I don’t actually need. Every human needs clean air, food, water, shelter, safety, love – and there are so many of our human family who don’t have these basic needs that my “wants” start to seem pretty selfish. After the struggle I usually donate a chunk of money to the Fred Hollows Foundation and start the serious business of choosing the best thingummyjig for the amount of money I’ve determined is morally acceptable to spend.

I’m a bit emotionally exhausted at this stage and my enthusiasm starts to wane … I know I want it but the longer the review process goes on the more I think my current model is pretty OK and will I ever work out how to use all those new features anyway. All the weighing up of pros and cons starts to make me tired and grumpy and in the end I give up and make do with the one I already have. The upshot of this is that inevitably my thingummyjig stops working at a critical junction and I race into the nearest shop and buy whatever model stirs some distant memory in the review archive part of my brain. That’s how I bought my last mobile phone anyway.

I probably could have put off the whole camera buying trauma for some time if I hadn’t tripped on a hike at Zion National Park and sprained my ankle. You’re asking why I needed to buy a new camera because I sprained my ankle? Was it because I couldn’t hobble close enough to all those desert icons and needed a longer zoom lens? Actually it was a bit simpler than that-I failed to mention that my camera was enjoying an outing from it’s protective bag at the time of the fall and started faking a critical injury and refusing to work. I suspect it just wanted a holiday too.

I wasn’t looking forward to the hard slog of choosing a replacement – it was only 6 months old but that’s a long time in tech time and I knew I couldn’t just buy the same model – there was bound to be a better one out there by now.

So it was a relief to start reviewing cameras and come across a chunky little number with a stunning red exterior which set it apart from all it’s drab competitors. The other clincher ( as if I needed one) was the “moon” zoom. As soon as I saw the moon crater photos the reviewer claimed I could take with Red Velvet ( yes I named her) from the comfort of my back yard with no more than a simple tripod and a click of the zoom button I was sold. ( Actually I was so lazy I didn’t use the tripod but the moon still looked pretty fab!)

Moon by Red Velvet.jpg

 

Travel sketch books

I had a very wobbly moment today. I wanted to check one of my travel sketch books and I just couldn’t find it! I spent last weekend moving my art supplies into our home office and my husband out ( he’s retired now – why does he need an office?). It’s a tiny space, 2×2 metre , so not much room to lose anything you would think. Wrong! I’ve got a complex system of wheeled storage that I move around depending on what I’m doing and where I need the space. There’s a lot of storage for such a tiny space. And then there’s all the other nooks and crannies around the house where I’ve squeezed in a bit of art ephemera that just won’t fit in that little 2m cube. ( I used to have a bigger room but the prodigal son returned and there went my art studio).

So I emptied drawers, moved piles of books, checked under the bed and in the wardrobe. I found some odd socks, 2 dollars, a missing earring and finally three sketch books – but there’s a lot more than that. I could feel my skin getting clammy and a mild sense of panic rising at the thought I might have lost them. Of course I eventually found them – there’s always that one drawer you forget about even when it’s right in plain sight. The heart rate returned to normal and I sat down for a satisfying hour of memories.

The travel collection
Here they are! All those travel memories.

 

Why did I panic at the thought of losing them? Because these travel art journals bring back a lot of sense memories that I just don’t get from my photos.

I can smell the lavander…

Lavendar fields - Provence

I can taste the salt in the breeze….

Walking round an island in a day - Porquerolles

I can feel the heat bouncing off the rocks…

Nursing a sprained ankle - Arches NP USA

I can hear the sound of my laughing children in the room behind me as I sketch at the open window…

View from the Gite window - Burgundy

I can feel a frisson of fear as my husband stands too near the edge….

An evening walk - Etretat

I can feel the joy of finally getting to those US desert national parks after a decade of wearing my husband down –  he loved it! ( not the wearing down part –  the desert colours part)

Red Rocks - Nevada

Travel is a big part of our lives – and travel sketch books have become an integral part of that experience for me.

And yes – I’ve put them somewhere safe.

How to paint a pastel seascape -demo

This is my very first post! I thought I would start with a demo painting of a local seascape to share my painting process with you. Hope you find it interesting…

Getting started.

Sometimes I’ll know just what I want to paint – other times I’ll  look through old photos or my ideas board until something says “paint me”!  Today I chose a photo of a local beach at low tide – I like the sense of distance and the diagonals in this photo. I know it will need something else to bring it alive but I have an idea for that.

Choosing the paper.

So I’ve decided which reference photo I’m going to use and now I need to choose the colour of my sanded paper. I use either Canson or Mi- Tientes sanded pastel paper because the tooth holds layers of pastel and I don’t need to fix the finished paper. ( more about fixative later!)

Anyway how to choose one colour from all the possibilities?

I take the photo and look for papers that either  provide a strong contrast with the main colour or temperature of the subject  or one that matches the dominant colour and temperature or maybe one that matches the temperature but is a darker or lighter tone than the dominant tone of the subject.

Here I’ve narrowed it down to 3 colours so I lay the photo over the intersection of the papers and see which one I think feels right.

Choosing the sanded paper
Choosing the colour – and the middle ground mid tone colour wins!

I choose the mid tone colour as I think it will give a good under colour showing through the pale foreground sand , it takes care of the middle ground and won’t dominate the sky which I want to stay light and bright.

Now for the pastels!

This is when I get out my boxes of pastels and the fun starts. I’m going for my Great American ArtWorks seascape set, a fantastic set of Sennelier half sticks and my “orphans” box and a couple of pastel pencils to sketch it up.

Sketching up

I could transfer the image by any number of methods but I’m not too fussy about getting it exactly right and just sketch in the  main forms of the mountains, hills, horizon, sea and sand The one thing I am careful about is getting the horizon dead level! I use a dark pencil for the background and then a light one for the sand and sea as I don’t want the dark to show through later layers.

Measure on painting
 

Rough sketch- but measure that horizon to get it level!

 

 Blocking in

Now I start blocking in the main shapes loosely. Mostly I use the local colour ( the actual colour I see in the photo) but in the middle ground hill I pop in some bright reds and golds. I want these to show through a little under the final greens to give some added warmth to the painting. I make sure to put in some light pinks and yellows at the base of the sky for some sparkle. The wet sand gets a swathe of dark blue as it will be useful later in establishing the dips and shadows in the sand. Once I’ve finished blocking in smooth the sky and hills with the side of my finger to blend the colours.

 

The sky and hills

Next I work in some blues in the background hills and some greens in the middle hill. I add the suggestion of trees and some more golds into the dry paddocks. Also a little work on the junction between the wet and dry sand.

Add some hill colour
See – the red hill has dissappeared

 

 

 

The sea and sand

I add more layers of pale pinks, yellows and blues to the sky and some of the same colours in the sea. I start adding layers of creams, siennas, ochres and some purples to the wet sand and darken the edges of the sand bar . Now I add a sprinkle of washed up sea grasses to the edge of the wet sand.

Adding some middle ground detail
A bit of sparkle on the water

 

Next it’s a bit of a suggestion of the path and then some seaweed on the dry sand.

I work up the grasses around the path using darks and then some lighter colours for the sunlit side. I use some hard conte sticks for the grasses. Notice I’ve darkened the water’s edge some more and added a little pink to the water as well. I want to give a sense of how shallow it is here. Some shadows from the grasses help to show the slope of the path.

 

Finishing touches

I want to add a little life and movement so I pop in a few wading birds on the wet sand. They also help carry the eye from the strong sand diagonals back towards the water and hills. You can see I’ve also strewn a few white shells and some darker marks around for a bit of added interest and texture to the sand.

Some birds

All done!

A final distant sail boat , my signature and the painting is finished. On the whole I’m quite pleased. The finished painting retains the strong compositional lines that first drew me to the subject but I’ve warmed it up, strengthened the contrasts and added some movement.

Signed and finished

 

Life is art and art is life!

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