Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Commission Process - PART II

Well, I spent the last few days trying to finish up the commission that I started to outline in my previous post. This is a painting that has not come easily to me, mainly because there are a number of issues with the subject matter and composition that are dictated by the client. Had I just been told to do a painting of Mt. Evans, I would have painted something completely different that what I have here. I'm okay with that - it's part of the territory of doing commissions - but it makes painting more frustrating than usual.

In my last post, I ended at the underpainting stage (also known as the UGLY stage). At this point, I've just done a quick block-in with acrylics, to give me an idea of how everything will fit together.
As I mentioned before, I could tell looking at the underpainting that the foreground needed to move up a bit and that the shape of the mountain wasn't correct. Items like this are easily fixed when I go in over the underpainting with oils.

My first step was to paint the mountain. This painting is all about the snowcapped peak of Mt. Evans, so I wanted to get the mountain in first and make sure that everything else (values, colors, composition) worked to make the peak stand out. At this point, I have completely painted over the underpainting of the mountain with fairly thick oil paint. Because I use a lot of paint, I work wet into wet and tend to finish each section as I go. I make minor tweaks later, but it's difficult to change anything major once the paint has dried since my brushtrokes are so visible.
At this point, the mountain looks a bit too white. Part of that is due to bad photography (I shot all these under the light in my studio, which isn't as accurate as outdoor light). Part of it is due to the fact that the sky isn't the correct temperature. As a check, I lightly painted over the sky with the correct color to allow me to judge things more accurately.
My preference at this point would be to leave the sky alone, but the client specifically requested clouds, so next I add some clouds. I didn't take progress pictures as I worked on the sky, but I repainted the sky with clouds about five times. I really struggled with finding a pattern of clouds that would direct attention to the mountain peak, rather than compete with it. The following is where I ended up:
Before going to bed, I used some thin paint to sketch in where I wanted to adjust the foreground. Not much to see, but I moved the trees and grassline up about an inch, just to keep the foreground from feeling to cramped.
Of course, I woke up the next morning, took one look at the painting, and decided the clouds had to go (grrr!!!). I didn't like the shapes and felt that they were too distracting. The picture doesn't show this very well, but in real life the clouds were really competing with the mountain for attention.

So - back to the drawing board. I scraped the clouds and worked on the foreground hills and trees, then put in a new sky with more whispy clouds. This was at 11 pm last night, and I was determined to get the painting to an almost finished state, so I slapped some paint on the forground grasses and stream, and called it 95% finished.

Here it is in its current state (fyi - the photograph isn't the best as there is a lot of glare and the foreground looks darker than it is). I can tell looking at this that I need to freshen up the colors in the foreground grasses to make them less dark and muddy looking. There's also a funny line outlining the top of the mountain - not sure if that's just a shadow on a ridge of paint, or actual pigment. I'll have to check it out when I get home. I'm not even going to comment on the sky because I'm so sick of it that I almost refuse to work on it anymore!!
I've really struggled with bringing this painting together, and I can't really see it for what it is quite yet. When I look at it, I see my struggle, and therefore can't judge right now if the painting is really working. It's also tough to do a painting to a client's specifications, and not be able to change things to be the way you'd prefer them. But I thought I might as well post some of the steps that got me to where I am at this point - I'll probably touch this up tonight and send photos to the client for approval.


  1. I think the sky looks great as it is now. They look like active little clouds to me, doing a good job.

  2. I agree with Bart. When I saw the last picture and looked at the clouds, I thought aaahhh, those are right. I think the painting is beautiful and the client won't see your struggles with it.

  3. The process is really fascinating. Thanks for telling us how you do it.

  4. I agree with all that was said about the sky in the final painting. It work well! Thanks for sharing your process--it's always fun to see how other artists work.

  5. Thanks you guys - I'm glad to hear that you didn't see the last photo and think that the clouds look awful!! I don't think I could survive one more revision of them at this point.