Thursday, November 27, 2014

Profiling My Latest Commission Work

The weather vane continues to swing erratically in ever hour of each day. Winds gust to gale force in one instant. Then leave the river mirror-like in its usually placid... sombre November gun greys... broken only by the long dark reflections of the rugged white pine spars on the mid river islands. That striking contrast is what one who maintains a "river watch" knows... is typically November. Ice forms overnight in back bays and low water creeks. Melts the next day. Freezes again the next night. Everything... it seems... is "off and on".

November brings river traffic abruptly to a halt. Its viciousness is but a forerunner to the angrier and more dangerous winter days of thick ice... driving snow and sleet that will make seeing... or navigating impossible. Even the veteran "river rats" shy away from river travel... except in noisy... but safer ice boats during these long, harsh months.

Yesterday, I completed a 20x24 inch canvas commission. It truly mirrors the attention that must be paid to such undertakings... at least in terms of my own approach to commissions based upon my style and medium. This commission involved creating a surprise Christmas gift for my friend's wife of their modest... yet beautiful home. He is a lover of gardens ... plants and gardening, as am I.

He even has his own green houses and an indoor "man cave"... dedicated to hydroponic vegetable and plant cultivation. "He" is truly a "Renaissance man" ... from my perspective - a man living "outside of  the box"... in terms of every social fashion and "local" expectations. We share that position and philosophy in life. I much enjoy and appreciate his generous nature... wonderful sense of humour... and our Friendship.

Back to the commission. I digress. (as usual) The man's wonderful "green thumb"... his energy and his attention to smallest detail and precise thinking had to be made clear in this commission. So I decided from the outset to place a great amount of energy and attention to both rendering and painting the main focus of the painting... his picturesque home and grounds. I think that this is evident in the final result.

To compensate for this stringent and almost photographic focus on the house/subject itself, I intentionally used a much more painterly handling of the landscape which engulfs the subject. I feel that these diversely different treatments... when seen together help to release the tension that I normally don't find pleasing in hyper realistic works. To me ... most lack energy and leave nothing to the eye or mind of the viewer. (Thank you Caroline... for your kind and observant reminder in my last post that I was running that exact gambit myself between sketch and finished painting). Point made... and accepted... without prejudice!... HA HA!!!

I believe that a nice balance can achieve a  kind of symbiotic relationship between realism and impressionism. I hoped to achieve this goal in this finished commission. The house stands out in its "correct" perspective and detail... mainly because of the "rest area"/ relief that the back drop landscape contributes. I am most happy with the outcome... and my Friend was ecstatic when we saw it together for the first time.

Herein lies the joy in producing a successful commission result. This occurs when both the painter and the client are on the same page at its conclusion. That warm feeling of total success can never be measured purely in dollars... by either side of this equation. In this case... it further strengthens a wonderful friendship... and most certainly will make this Christmas "special" and memorable... in two separate houses!

Here are some in-process insights into the progress and my process during this commission.

The commission subject reference chosen. Unfortunately, the undertaking was offered after the leaves had fallen  and the real threat of winter's arrival  was smack on the doorstep. "Fish...or cut bait time" !!!

Luckily ... the sun came out briefly the next day and I raced about to see if a similar maple might still be ad for further reference. I was lucky enough to find a similar sugar maple... still dressed in fall attire up at the top of my hill!

Day One

Semi- accurate rendering in vine charcoal on an acrylic burnt sienna toned 20x24 inch  quarter inch thick MDF panel. I use this heavier weight material because it won't warp and I like the feel of the more rigid surface to glaze on.

Day Two

Primary application of turpentine-thinned washes or glazes of colour... working all over the panel. I have lightly introduced the lighting on the house itself to develop a sense of separation and contrast between the subject and background. This is always my process ... whether painting inside or outside.

Rule #1
Establish the lighting and subject as your primary goal. Both are transient when painting outside.

Maintain the same lighting effect!!!  .... Don't switch horses mid race! You will lose! Check that you have maintained the same direction for the light as well.

Day Three

At this stage my goal was to deal with the surrounding landscape elements in a loose fashion in both the foreground and back ground ... simultaneously.

Day Four

Adding detail to the house elements and to those parts of the painting that had received no attention

Day Five

This final stage is what I call my "push n' pull". It is a period of about one painting session dedicated to "surfing" the picture plane... first visually... then visiting here and there to adjust values ... colours... lines and even details that are either overlooked... or that loom too large. "Checks and balances"... until there is overall harmony. Usually, I will leave it over night and then return to it in the morning with a cup of coffee to look at it with a final and fresh eye. The last act... is to add my signature. Commission... accomplished!

 Later today, I will go over the reference photos that I have on file to begin a second pre-Christmas home commission. While the process will in all likelihood be similar to this one... the two houses are really polar opposites. The second will require the same "buy in" by me to meet the client expectations. It is as well... a well kept and valued home and property in this picturesque village. I will attempt to deliver the same feeling and quality of this commission.

Some helpful suggestions that I use personally in consideration and  in acceptance of a commission:

1. The process always begins with a discussion where the objectives and subject of the commission are presented to the artist by the client. They might take the shape of photo references or might involeve visiting the actual site if possible. Often,a preliminary sketch which more clearly defines the artistic direction to be followed is presented for final acceptance and a "green light" to proceed.

2. Never create a position of compromising your own creative spirit. Say NO!... empathetically... if you sense that the commission lies outside of your own tastes or abilities. If you can honestly say to yourself that the subject is one that you would select within your own choice... then proceed. Accepting without this stance will help avoid embarrassment... hardship and disappointment for both parties.

3.Set clear objectives for the execution and completion of the commission to include: expected date of completion... dimensions... medium... support (panel, linen or canvas, etc)... delivery method and costing, if applicable, extra specific details or instructions which reflect your client's tastes or wishes. A substantial non-refundable deposit to "secure" the agreement at the beginning of  the commission should be added to the discussion. This amount can vary for an artist up to 50% of the final amount to be received.

4.In regards to framing. If you have the facilities to offer in-house framing, the cost and choice of framing might be discussed after the commission is completed. Otherwise... it is my rule-of-thumb to place that choice and decisions surrounding this issue back into the hands of the clients. Because this choice involves dramatically varying degrees of taste, it can become a nightmare... again leading to dissatisfaction and disappointment.

5. Meet the deadline... or get in touch as soon as possible if it appears that the deadline can't be met on schedule. Be up front with your clients.... start to finish. But... demand the same in return. This sets up a professional relationship and a "contract relationship" that is friendly... but not based upon friendship by itself !

6. Set up a calendar... or keep a journal which comfortably schedules anticipated completion for all commissions that you accept. Don't overcrowd your schedule... nor disappoint!

7. Record each of your commissions in progress... and in completed state. Keep them in digital files... or in a photo album to share with prospective clients either at shows or in your home. It helps direct the process and educates the client to your process and what can be expected in clear terms! Win- win!!

Hope that these suggestions might encourage you to step  up and accept a commission more confidently.

Stay tuned...

Good Painting... to ALL!!!


  1. What a glorious end result, Bruce! Beautiful color and capture of the autumn. Your friend's wife will love this!!

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Thanks for dropping by... and for adding your vote of approval ! The whole process was challenging... but rewarding in the end. Commission (TWO) accomplished! HA HA!! ,,, Back to the easel!

    Have a great day Sherry! Good luck with your job and school pairing!

    Warmest regards,

  3. Thank you for sharing the daily painting journey of your commission Bruce laddie! The result is a beautiful painting, those trees are really wonderfully painted. You must be delighted at the outcome and what patience you had to work each day without rushing this fine scene. Let us know what your friend's wife thinks as I am sure she will be just love this scene so much.

  4. Hi Bruce,
    Very nice work. It was certainly worth finding the maple in leaf; the glowing colour contributes to the warmth of the whole painting.

    Thanks for some useful tips for commissions too.

    All the best,

  5. Good evening Lass!... Thanks for your visit and encouraging comments!

    You are so right Caroline. If anything changed in my working method during this commission... it was certainly the slower than usual approach to planning and executing the entire painting surface.

    Even the backdrop of foliage behind the home... while it is more painterly and loosely painted... was subdued greatly in attacking it. The contrast between the detailed home and the backdrop required slowing things down for the entire process. Compared to my usual 2 - 3 hours to complete plein air pieces... even large scale ones... the five day time line is quite out of the ordinary for me.

    Commissions most often have this same characteristic method. The client "owns" his/her house... and usually creates the overall visual impression... inside and out with much thought ... planning and over time. Hence he/she is expecting that same repesentation in the finished commission.

    I hope that the wife enjoys the painting as much as the husband does. I believe that she will. They're a great couple!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  6. Good evening Keith!... Thanks for your astute observations regarding the colourful addition of the maple in "full fall dress". It certainly provides that grand warmth that is missing in the home elements... and is a wonderful foil for use in composition and contrast on the ground.

    Glad that you found the c-tips informative! Hope that they are of help to you in some way!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Great lesson Bruce. Always appreciate the process! They will be happy with this portrait for sure.( Just finished one myself. Christmas presents keep us busy.)
    Happy painting to you too.

  8. Thanks Karen!... NIce of you to drop by! Always glad to share the processes!

    Christmas is a busy time. The increased painting responsibilities and outdoor painting challenges at this time actually offer more pleasure to me than facing the crazy "crush" in the malls. Bah... Humbug! HA HA!!

    Good Painting... and Merry Christmas to you and Maddy!
    Warm regards,