Today’s post is about work that’s been commissioned – a process that artists often feel mixed about, but which I’ve found very rewarding, probably because I enjoy the collaborative element, and the people who’ve commissioned me are usually former buyers so they have realistic ideas or hopes about what I can or can’t do! We agree a price up-front that’s similar to my usual prices (on larger projects, artists will usually arrrange a contract and a three-stage approval process).
Having said that, of the hundreds of paintings I’ve made, only a handful have been commissioned, usually because a buyer has liked a work that’s already sold so I paint something for them, other times it’s a specific idea, person or place they’d like painted.
I’ll start with this atmospheric work, which was commissioned by Lynn Carter, who’d bought several of my paintings and knew exactly which aspects she enjoyed most..
It’s called Stormy Sea and I suppose it’s really an amalgamation from imagination, of waves crashing against rocks, quite west coast in feel. Lynn had liked a previous work that had sold, so I offered to paint something similar.
This is the original version below, difficult to re-produce exacly, I think I like the composition more, but the version for Lynn (above) has much more atmosphere and life..
I could never copy a previous work exactly since my paintings involve very experimental elements – splashes, loose work with palette knife, drips etc. Lynn was very clear that she loved that visceral sense of atmosphere – the feeling that you can almost smell the sea and feel the spray of the waves on your skin. My first version, which I sent as a jpeg via email, wasn’t quite right. Lynn knew I could capture more of a sense of atmosphere, and this is the part I really enjoyed – it’s very encouraging to have someone say, in effect ‘but I know you can make it better!’ Lynn mentioned the ‘waxy’ blobs of paint to depict waves and ‘salty, wild sky’ so I knew what she meant.
This second work, On Croy Beach was, in contrast to Stormy Sea, copied from a photograph. The challenge here was to involve a sense of atmosphere so that the painting didn’t look like a straight copy from a photo. The commissioner was Sarah Meddings, a former buyer of my work who wanted to give this as a gift to her sister who loves Croy beach as she spends much time with her family there.
I exagerrated texture in the foreground and added more shimmer and light here and there in the form of light dry brush work (clouds) and palette knife (sea) with white paint. The main challenge was the figures, because though I’m fairly confident with depicting the human form (a rigourous foundation training in life drawing before art college thanks to tutor/artist Bill Gillon!) I couldn’t quite see details of the distant figures. To-ing and fro-ing with Sarah via email helped me pick out certain characteristics to make the figures look somewhat like the actual people, who I’d never met of course!
After these final tweakings, Sarah declared she was happy with the painting, and later reported that her sister was very moved by the gift. (though it’s good to earn a living by painting, the best part that really stays with you, is when someone enjoys the work and responds to it emotionally)
This next painting Emma and Friends, River Tweed, 2009 was commissioned by my mum, it was intended as a Birthday gift last year, but I was so busy on other paintings I never got it quite finished as I’d wanted, so I returned to it in a quiet patch before Christmas.
My mum really enjoys texture in a painting, so although this painting is all about clear reflections and green-glass-like water (I’d normally use more water and pooling/running efects) I used almost a combing technique through thick paint to get the water patterns with a small palette knife, then placed ridges of thick paint to highlight and colour the water paterns. The trees too were created with palette knife and fan-brush. The figures (of my niece and friends) were actually much easier to paint – the main thing I wanted to capture was the way the green water reflected on skin, making them look other-worldly and slightly luminous – like water naiads!
These two works were commissions where a first-time buyer of my work, Milly Van Croonenburg, particularly liked a painting I’d done of the Bass Rock. And another commission by a buyer – Oonagh Reynolds, of a stone tower in Seacliff Bay on the coast of East Lothian. I stayed as faithful to the originals as possible, but it always seems to be the case that the original is bettered in some ways, but perhaps not as good in others. I’ll leave you to decide which you like of these, but I’m not saying which are the originals!…
Lastly, I was watching a programme on BBC about Contsable recently. His technique, using loose brushwork and impressionistic sketches of nature, was revolutionary for that time, and it’s fascinating to see how he attempted to retain the loose vibrancy of his sketches in the huge paintings he submitted for exhibitions. He succeeds, but there’s still something, to my eye, that’s more affecting in the originals. In his later life, freed up because he’d inherited money, his work became even more abstracted, gestural and expressive. His influence stays with us – back then Turner was inspired by his freedom with paint. Here’s one of one of his beautiful sketches of sky, it looks utterly contemporary and fresh. I love it…
Though I wasn’t thinking of Constable when I did these loosely sketched paintings below, they were made when I got into that freedom with paint zone that’s quite elusive, and usually only happens at the end of weeks of intensive painting..