The making of a commission

Bridgette Guerzon Mills | Lost Cove, oil, 20×10 inches, commissioned painting

Sometime in December I received a FB message from an acquaintance who asked me if I ever do commissions, and I replied, sure! She had seen my post of an oil painting I did, Red Barn, and it sparked in her the idea of getting a painting made of the very special red lakeside cottage that had been in her family for three generations. (I just found out yesterday that my gallery in VA, RH Ballard Gallery, recently sold Red Barn, hurrah!).

I didn’t start the commission until mid January. But after discussing sizing and pricing, we settled on a size. I did a preliminary rough painting of the cottage in gouache and I was like, hmm, these proportions aren’t going to work. I would end up cutting out the big tree on the left as well as the trees behind the cottage. So I did another one in a longer format that more closely matched the proportions of the photo I had been given.

After sending this image to my client, we both agreed that the longer format was the way to go. She told me too that the big tree on the left is very significant and holds a lot of meaning for her, and that it needed to stay in. I, of course, loved hearing how important a tree’s presence has been in someone’s life and was glad she shared that with me. She had also told me to take liberties with the painting, that it didn’t have to be an exact replica of the photo. I tried to stay close to it, but at the same time I wanted to give the painting a creative energy to it that a brush loaded with paint can impart.

I was excited to start laying in the paint. When I work with oils, I usually start my paintings using my palette knife and just start putting in the shapes and colors.

Slowly, the painting started to get built up. And I would notice things were off and make corrections along the way.

An example of a correction is that one day I had worked on the dog all day and was so happy with it. And then I came back to it at night, and I was like, oh, man, the dog is giant! I had to wait until a few days and completely rework the dog. I loved how the dog crosses his paws.

One of my favorite parts of the painting is this detail, below. I have an obsessions right now with painting trees and foliage, as I’ve mentioned in past posts.

Commissions are challenging in different ways- client expectations, feeling limited, pressure-oh the pressure! But I enjoy doing them as I always learn a lot. I learn from the subject matter, as it’s usually not something that I would do as it’s not part of my lived experience. I think also one of the most important things is clear and consistent communication. I learned that it’s always best to ask questions and to not make assumptions. And also the other good thing about clear communication is getting the personal stories behind the photo. I truly love that part. I’m a curious person by nature and I believe that everything and everyone has a story. With commissions, I get to hear the story and then I get to try to convey the story. For this painting, I felt a tremendous love for this place. What I mean is, not that I loved it, but that it was loved and cherished. And I tried to convey that joy and love in this piece for them.

Last week we met and I handed off the painting and it made me happy to know that the painting I worked on will live on and be part of a family’s history.

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