An Example of How a Commission Works
'The Crossing' Oil on Canvas 42 x 96 inches
From Fredricksberg to New Mexico
I had an email from an admirer of my paintings who asked if I would do a painting for her and her husband based on one they had seen on a wall in a restaurant in Fredericksberg, Texas. I thought in a restaurant-how odd! So I replied asking them more about the particular painting-size, subject matter etc and what they, in particular, had in mind for themselves? A few exchanges later I had the full picture and a search on the internet revealed a random scene of the interior of the restaurant with my painting on the wall.
I remembered it clearly. It was one of my big paintings featuring a run of horses with a waterfall in the background and broken water in the front. It was sold from a very exclusive gallery in Beaver Creek, CO.
My new friends, Mike and Diane, tried to buy it from the restaurant but with no luck and decided to track me down and see if I could do one along the same lines for them. After some back and forth about the painting they had seen and more specific parameters of the painting proposed I headed to their holiday house in New Mexico to do the painting.
I asked if they had any sort of accommodation they could provide and a garage in which I could do the painting. They had a flat attached, and a double garage under the house, so off I set from Scottsdale with my son Graeme and my bag of paints, brushes and a collection of possible related photos.
Making a Start
We had agreed on a size of 96 x 42 inches and I ordered a top line frame, at factory price, with a stretcher for the canvas to be made and delivered to the house. It took about 4 weeks from the time of the initial enquiry to the frame and our arrival at the house.
Graeme and I bought some lumber, lights and nails and constructed an easel with lights above and with the canvas we had bought with us stretched up the blank canvas ready to paint. Mike helped in all this and then sat with me and talked more about what he visualized in the painting.
I encouraged this as it is precisely what he has in mind that I needed to know and incorporate in the painting.
From a life on the land in the Panhandle of Texas, Mike had an assembly of photos of horses and family that he thought would be great in the painting-as long as the ‘look' was along the lines of the one in Fredericksberg. He wanted the same elements-water, waterfall, rocky outcrop, fall colors, tumbling water in the front with exposed rocks here and there.
In general I approach painting in a 'flamboyant and open shoulders way' going for a 'certain look’. Detail follows and is only exercised when needed. I stop when it gets too busy and detracts from the ‘feeling’ and ‘look’. It’s very easy to lose the spontaneity of a painting by overworking it. Given that, my tightrope was to include sufficient detail in the actors so they could be identified as friends and family that Mike new and the horses that were part of that line of experience. Some of the horses had passed on and the photos were less than optimum with light coming from the right rather than the left and so on, so I had to do my artistic somersaults to make things work!
It took a good 5-6 days of painting from 9-5 to get it done. Mike and Diane were with me all the way-watching how I started and slowly built the elements in the painting and moved things around to hold the balance and switched colors and tones to effect distance and immediacy and all the other maneuvers that go with constructing what I'd call a 'skyscraper of a painting' in terms of the challenge!
Here's a great time lapse of the painting. This was done over the full 5 days with ipad on an easel with Graeme at the controls. In retrospect what a super record to have of a painting you have commissioned!
At times during the evolution of the painting Mike or Diane would ask me questions about what was guiding me to place certain elements in particular locations and how I was able to size things so they looked sort of 'just right'? I welcomed these questions. Artists are rarely asked to explain the thinking and planning that goes into a work. I enjoy such probes.
I encouraged Mike to feel free to stop me when he wanted to add a horse, or a certain person, to the scene. This way I added family members Buster and Marty on their favorite horse to the mix. I suggested Mike himself be part of the action along with his other best mate Shorty, his beloved 3 legged dog! Graeme took a photo of Shorty bouncing around the yard and in he went. Mike had a photo of himself on his horse which I reversed to keep the light right and in he went stabilizing the left hand part of the scene.
These little touches gave the painting a personal and family relevance without distracting from its overall general appeal. You may think that such inclusions would make the commission more difficult-well it does, I suppose, but if you are any good at painting you should be able to do them! I'll qualify that be saying', 'up to a point'! Too many inclusions and instructions can overcomplicate the painting to the point where it loses its coherency and flow becoming a mix of unrelated and unconnected elements and in general a disconnected and dysfunctional mess! Good communication with a like eye to the end result from us all kept the commission on track.
After 5 days we dropped it into the frame and then we saw what we had! The frame was perfect in size and color with that rustic western touch to tie it to the subject matter. It was, as I had wished. Mike and Diane felt the same. It did look absolutely spectacular ! With a few shots of good whisky, it looked even better.
Today it hangs varnished, and all secure, in pride of place in the family's New Mexico house.
Later I provided a valuation for the painting based on recent sales which was included in the household insurance among other possible uses.