Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Commission Process - PART I

One of the things that has surprised me most this year has been the number of people who have approached me about doing commissioned landscapes. I have information on my website about portrait commissions, but never expected that people would contact me to do landscapes on commission. I guess I just didn’t really think – it does make sense that people might like a particular artist’s style, and want a painting of a certain subject in that style.

Anyhow, I’ve been working (and procrastinating at times) on my first big commission project for a couple of months, and since I’m coming to the end of it, I thought it might be fun to document the process of one of the paintings.

This particular client wanted two paintings done – a 16x20” of the Flatirons (a rock formation in Boulder, CO) and a 24x36” of Mt. Evans (one of the 14,000 ft. peaks that towers over the front range). The painting of the Flatirons was no problem – I had a good reference photo and got to work right away. The painting of Mt. Evans is a completely different story.

Mt. Evans is highly visible from most places in Denver, but it’s nearly impossible to get a good picture of it without buildings or highways filling the foreground. This client wanted a painting of the mountain as seen from Denver, but not as an urban landscape. The best I could do for a reference photo was from a grocery store parking lot up on a hill, and the picture was taken with the 12X zoom of my digital camera.

The result? A reference photo that is definitely not suitable for a 24x36” painting!!

I had an idea of the general composition I wanted to use, and had a sketch approved by the client (below). Now the challenge would be to come up with suitable reference material to allow me to do a large painting.

So, I got creative with Photoshop and started to cut and paste with other foreground and background images. The client wanted a fall scene, with aspens and pine trees, so I put together the following and sent it off for approval.

At this point, the client decided a spring/summer scene with green trees would be a better option. Back to the drawing board!

I went down to the lake by my house and shot some pictures of cottonwoods to use as the foreground, and came up with the following:

This time the client liked the color scheme and concept. We decided to add a small stream in the foreground for interest, add some pine trees, and have more blue sky peeping out between the clouds.

I was finally ready to start, so I started with a loose underpainting in thin acrylic paint on the canvas. This is what I like to refer to as the UGLY stage of my paintings. They all go through it, and my husband is always wondering how I’ll salvage a decent oil painting from the wreckage at this point, but it’s very valuable for me.

Here’s the underpainting for the Mt. Evans commission:

It’s definitely ugly, and the final painting will look much better, but it gives me an idea of how the colors and composition are going to work together. For instance, looking at this, I can see that I want to move the mountain up a smidge so that the foreground isn’t smashed against the bottom of the canvas. I can tell that the tree line needs more interest and that some of the pine trees should be taller to help the eye travel upwards to the snowcapped peak. And the sky is just a mess at this point because I didn’t want to bother getting fancy with clouds. Not to mention that I’ve given Mt. Evans a sharp peak in the middle that it doesn’t really have!

This stage of painting probably takes me anywhere from ½ hour to an hour for a painting this size, and I find it to be very valuable. It allows me to troubleshoot ahead of time, without going to the trouble of doing a separate study.

Now it’s time to lay the oil paint on and let the painting take shape. That will be done over the next few days, so I’ll post my progress as I go and hopefully it will turn out well!!


  1. Thanks for posting the process! Read it with interest.

  2. That is a really interesting look behind the scenes. I didn't realize there was so much pre thought and work just to get prepared.

  3. Hi Stacers, nice to see your process! And I am impressed with your willingness to do commissions. I am far too crabby to have a client telling me what they want! And call me crazy, but I really like the "ugly" stage.

  4. Wow - is this what Denver would look like if we removed the buildings? :)

    Okay - just kidding. Although it is an improvement of sorts.

    Thanks for documenting and sharing this - I found it quite interesting.

  5. This is, oddly, fascinating to me as well. Well, maybe it's not so odd. Creative processes do interest me. And yours is just as helpful to me in my writing as someone's writing process would be. And that IS odd.