The Joys of Painting on Commission

One thing I love about producing a commissioned artwork is already knowing whom the work will be going to when the process begins. Already knowing whom the work is for and, sometimes, knowing in which space it will be displayed, gives the yet-to-be-produced artwork an already existent context: a home destination. As I’m working, I keep the person in mind. Thinking about how this work is already theirs makes it something shared between us from the start. This extra element of having the work intended for a particular individual adds a special sentiment to the creative process.

In this case, for what would become “Blue Sunset”, I discussed the theme, the main colours, and the mood of the artwork with the customer. I used the theme (sunset on the beach/abstract) and the main colours (warm blues and greens) to help me select some inspiration. I looked through my portfolio of photographs of sunsets taken at De Haan’s beach. I looked for composition and colours. I kept the mood in mind too: calm/zen/a little mysterious/bright. I find that working with key words like this keeps the mood-intention front of mind while I’m painting.

The Inspiration

While working from a photograph is great for the initial composition and colour palette, the key for me is knowing when to set the inspiration aside and focus on making the painting work by itself. Abandoning the photographic inspiration too soon or, alternatively, not letting it go at the right time, can inhibit the painting from working itself. Like any adaptation, a painting based on a photograph should become its own unique thing, creating another experience from its initial inspiration. My style lends itself well to leaving the inspiration behind since I am not going for a photo-realistic or realistic style but rather something between impressionism (a style interested in colour and light perception) and expressionism (based on feeling/mood/experience). In this case, I also wanted to include an abstract flare to the work.     

What I really liked about this composition is that the image has four roughly equal parts horizontally: a blue band; a light green & clouds band; a darker purple & clouds band; and lastly, a water, sand & reflections band. This gives the painting a strong and simple structure while allowing a lot of room for creativity within those fields.

The Process

I wanted to see how this project would take shape step by step. Here are the series of photographs that I took of the painting from beginning to end. The first steps included doing a wash to get the main colour blocks of the composition. I sketch out the lighter and darker areas. Here I have to resist the temptation to get into details too quickly: the more intricate brush work and mixing of colours is for me the most playful and fun part.

I built up the painting in thin layers. I did this as evenly as possible so as not to work on one area and ignore the others. Gradually, my colour blocks and sketched marks became more solid. I added more layers and focused on mixing colours to further define and build the light and dark effects. As I am building up the painting, my strokes become more confident and I apply a thicker amount of paint. As the painting takes shape, I feel out where the highlights should be and it’s here that most of the experimentation happens. My last marks will usually be bright white highlights.

An essential part of the painting process, which I take with me from the early days of painting class, is to regularly step back from the painting. I take regular breaks and sit or stand back from the canvas to consider the relation of colours and forms as a whole.

Here I am with the final product!

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5 thoughts on “The Joys of Painting on Commission

  1. […] my eye, I take a series of reference photos as a jumping off point. As explained in my blog post, “The Joys of Painting on Commission” , photographic references should not limit a painting. My favourite part of painting is what I […]

  2. […] I’ve outlined in other blog posts (here and here), I like to use photographs for an initial composition and then allow the creative process […]

  3. […] In this previous post, I’ve described my painting process from the first rough sketches to the final highlights. When describing this sketching stage, I’ve used the term “wash”. This is a painterly technique that refers to sketching out the main colour values of a scene: the lights and darks and sometimes specific tones or colours. A wash lays down the composition of the painting, including the larger shapes. By loosely sketching the main lines and values of a scene, I can, at this early stage, assess and potentially amend the proportions of the composition before delving too quickly into the details. […]

  4. […] has remained optional or, at best, secondary to my painting practice. As I’ve described in a previous post, I usually begin a painting by looking through my reference photos and outlining a composition […]

  5. […] most of my studio practice has been devoted to commissioned paintings. In this earlier post, I wrote about the joys of working on commission. In this post, I share my updated process of […]

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