Monday, August 30, 2010


Commissions can be a tricky subject for artists. You want to make the client happy and you want to paint a good painting.

Commissions can feel like an episode from the old TV show, Mission Impossible.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to paint a pack of wolves chasing a mountain lion, which is chasing a deer, which is leaping over a turkey, which is ....
Just then, your paint brush blows up in a puff of smoke.
Peter Phelps would probably die of a stroke with that mission. And any artist would probably disavow any knowledge of such a com(mission.)

I just finished a commissioned painting from the perfect client and thought I would share the various stages of the piece.
My mission: paint his hunting dogs.

At first, he wasn't sure whether he wanted one or both dogs painted. Since I was going to be in his neck of the woods (on the other side of the country), I thought I would take reference photos of both dogs. By the time I got to his house, he had decided he wanted both dogs painted. Not sure whether it would be best to have them in the same painting or in two separate oil paintings, we left that open. I would review the images I took with my camera (about 350 photos) at home and then call him. I spent a little over an hour with him and the dogs as they fetched and sat and stood for me. Being with them in person (rather than having some reference photos sent to me), gives me a much better feeling of their personalities.

Once home, I spent hours reviewing every shot, making a list of the best images of the chocolate lab, the black lab, and of them together. From there, I came up with compositions for each dog and one of them together, calculated a variety of proportional dimensions and prices, and called my client. (Note: I had a number of reference shots with both dogs together, but didn't use them for the combo composition. A stronger composition was developed from several shots of each dog.) I was leaning toward a painting with both of them together, but knew I would also be happy with two separate paintings. My client and I discussed the options and he chose a larger painting with both dogs. We talked about how many pheasants and whether his gun should be in the painting.

What made him the perfect commission client is that he left the main painting decisions in my hand. Composition, which reference images, position of the dogs, background. He chose the size and relating price.

Pricing brings up another issue. I like to charge the same for a commission as I would any comparable work. There is something I do a little differently than most artists. I don't collect any money upfront for a commission. I complete the painting and if the client likes it, he buys it. If not, (hasn't happened yet), I will sell it at some other venue. (of course that is not possible with a human portrait, but that is the chance I take.) It ends up being a no-risk for the client and in return, I receive the freedom to make critical decisions to create the best piece I can paint.

Below is the start of the painting with a burnt sienna / raw sienna turpentine wash.

No comments: