The Challenge of Commissions

2011Article posted by Gilly

As I’ve mentioned previously, this year I’ve taken on several commissions, so I thought it might be of interest to talk about the process of painting commissions as it is very different from just sitting at the easel and working on something purely for one’s own pleasure. To begin with, there is quite a bit of stress (for me, anyway) of trying to produce something to someone else’s specifications and for someone else’s vision, not to mention that the final painting must really please them.

Portraits are particularly challenging as people really want to recognise the final result. My style of painting is very realistic and, therefore, my customers expect my portraits to be exceptionally realistic as well. I do try to explain that I cannot paint a photographic likeness - even if I’m painting from a photograph, as is usually the case - what I will produce will be my interpretation of that photograph. And many photos that I’m given are poorly-lit with shadows much too dark so that I cannot see any detail, or taken with a flash that bleaches out all the colour and definition in a person’s face. So I have to use a lot of artistic license to work colour into both shadows and light areas yet still achieve a realistic skin tone. I’m frequently very relieved to move onto the clothing after the face is done!!

The pastel painting of the two soldiers in Afghanistan involved a lot of guesswork, particularly with the weapons as I have no idea what the equipment really looked like. It was a matter of putting down the shapes and colours that I could see and hoping that they would coalesce into a reasonable interpretation - which, apparently, is what happened as I was given the thumbs up on that one!

It would be really wonderful to work from life, of course, but as in the case of the recent military portraits, the boys were in Afghanistan, the sailor was overseas and the other poses were from several years ago - a time in the lives of the subjects that was very important to them and which they wanted to remember. So they no longer look quite the same! And in the recent one of a small child (not yet posted), obviously, a 10-month old isn’t going to sit still to have his portrait painted. So I do have to rely on the photos. Taking them myself would be another good option, but the same restrictions apply. However, if I can meet my subjects that certainly does help.

The three-canvas commission of the small birds had it’s own set of challenges. My client specified five fairy wrens in a woodland setting, so composition was important, arranging five little birds so that they looked a natural family yet weren’t lost in the clutter of undergrowth and foliage. Silvereyes were the next specified birds, with a vineyard in the background, so that led me to placing the little group as if they were nesting in the old, twisted grapevine (which was such fun to paint!) with part of a bunch of grapes - pecked in places - to give a sense of scale and show how tiny these birds are. I was pleased with how rich that one looked. However, the final canvas was left to me completely and, to my mind, it turned out the best because I had all the freedom to do exactly what I wanted. Three New Holland Honeyeaters with banksia blossoms and the graceful leaves flowing across the canvas - it was my favourite of the three.

The other oil I had to paint was a riverscape - a different approach, yet again. My clients had bought a previous painting of the same river which was a very peaceful scene, but when the river is viewed from the other direction there are rocks and rapids and a lot of white water, which is what they wanted. Except, of late I’ve been painting with the new technique of many glazes, and the first riverscape, the one they already own,  was in the ‘old’ technique with lots of thick paint and lots of white paint. In order to do the companion painting so that it would match, I had to revert to the ‘old’ technique with which I’ve never been really comfortable. It seems to have worked OK - they’re happy with it - but I’m glad it’s finished!

I still have two more portraits to do but am feeling portraited-out at the moment, so am taking a break and have begun an oil painting of two black swans in my glazing technique, which is such a pleasure after all of the above!

I did sell another painting at the Trigg Exhibition but wasn’t successful at Mazenod College, which was a shame. This coming weekend there will be an exhibition by Ellenbrook Art Group at Midland Junction Arts Centre followed by another at Guildford Town Hall on 8th/9th October. That same weekend our Baskerville Group has it’s annual exhibition at Baskerville Hall, Memorial Drive, Baskerville and I have several paintings entered in all three exhibitions.  On 15th/16th October La Salle College is having it’s annual exhibition and I have three paintings entered, plus I will be doing a 2-hour ‘artist-in-residence’ session on the Sunday afternoon from 1.00-3.00 pm, so it would be great if people came along and said ‘hello’.

So, with all that going on, I guess I’d better get back to it! Keep those brushes loaded!

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