Monday, September 9, 2019

An Approach to a Large Commission

I hope you had a great summer.  We were challenged here on the southeast coast with yet another hurricane and evacuation, though it was better than expected.  Besides the usual summer things I was busy with commissions, just like last year.  I'm not sure why this time of year but it is becoming a pattern.

Among other things I was asked to paint a large local tidal marsh scene for a new home in my area, coastal South Carolina.  The clients weren't exactly sure of the size but thought it should be at least 36" wide.  They had looked at the galleries in Charleston and had photos of some paintings they loved.  Their budget precluded buying something this size in a gallery.  I am able to charge less because I do not pay a gallery commission which is 50% in our area.

Sometimes clients are very specific about what they want and even have their own reference photo.  This couple was very different in that regard other than showing a preference for scenes with lots of water and dramatic light.  This I gleaned from the photos they showed me from the galleries.  They also wanted a lot of blue in the painting.

I looked through my reference photos and came up with an idea.  Here is a local marsh at high tide, so lots of water-

I love the reflections and the distant trees and thought I could play up the grasses in the foreground to add more depth.  But the sky and light are a bit on the blah side and not anything like the paintings they loved.

I looked through my "skies" file and found this-

No shortage of drama here but the foreground and water patterns aren't very interesting. The solution was to combine the references.

When doing large commissions I have learned a valuable lesson.  Start with a small study and get the client's approval.  This can save headaches and prevent miscommunications.  It definitely did in this case.  Here is my first study, 11"x14" for a proposed 30"x40" painting.

I was happy with the sky.  I chose a golden marsh because I thought the warm/cool vibration would work well and also because the clients had told me they didn't like green. Our marshes are this color in the late fall.  I put a lot of reflected light in the water which I was sure they would like.  I sent them the image for review.

Turns out they had decided that a 30"x40" wasn't going to work in their space and they wanted a 36"x36" instead.  Also, they wanted some green, just not certain greens or too much green.  A color change is not difficult of course but this was going to call for a different composition.  I have done a fair number of landscapes in a square format so that really wasn't a problem for me.  Here is my second small study, a 12"x12".

Same sky and reflections, more green in the foreground and middle ground but I kept the distant gold.  This image was approved so now I could get to work on the big canvas.

I never looked at the reference photos again while painting from the two studies.  I kept them on my painting stand by the big canvas while working.  I kept the 11'x14" close by because I liked some of the colors and brushwork in that one.

As I painted I sent the clients progress shots in case they wanted to give feedback.  Here is the finished painting-

In summary, this is what I have learned over time regarding large commissions-

1.  If the clients aren't sure of what they want, ask for examples of paintings they love and try to determine why they love them.

2. Paint a small study for approval before you start.  If it isn't what the clients want, keep working small until everyone is happy.  It isn't a waste of time- familiarizing yourself with the subject saves time when you go large, and the small studies sell too.

3.  Keep in touch while you are working on the piece.  Clients love progress reports.  That way they know you haven't forgotten about them.  Even if the deadline is far in the future I like to keep in contact.  I have heard a lot of stories about artists who "go dark" after agreeing to do a commission.  Clients may lose interest or decide to buy from someone else.

Though challenging, I like the fact that commissions already have a home to go to rather than adding to my storage issues.

Thanks for reading!