The reasons why people commission me to create a painting for them vary, but it is always a very personal acquisition. Some people have found me online, seen my work on my website or on social media, others have seen my work in an exhibition, hanging in a gallery, a doctor’s waiting room or in a shop. Sometimes it’s as simple as they missed out on buying one of my paintings and want one painting just for them. Or want to mark a special occasion or the passing of a much loved pet and would love a portrait of them to hang at home, so they are forever present. I often work from a photo or picture but as you can imagine, the brief I get from my client is everything, the more detailed the better. It’s so important that the client and I understand one another really clearly so that expectations are not just met, but exceeded. :-)
Recording the journey
As I began this commission I took some progress photographs to record my journey through the commission – it’s wonderful now looking back to see the artwork come to life. Being able to show the progress of the painting is useful for my students – I can show them that we break the process down into stages and build layer upon layer to work towards the finished product!
1 - Initial sketch
Firstly I like to sketch some images familiarising myself with the subject or look through my photographs for inspiration. Sometimes if I’m painting birds all I have to do is look up and out of the studio window as we are lucky enough to have a garden full of birds.
Then I decide the placement of the sketch, very lightly drawing the whole composition using a graphite pencil.
2 - Start painting
The first layer of watercolour is very lightly applied to the drawing.
3 - Eyes
Usually the next step is the eyes, they are the most important feature in any painting of a living creature and will bring the painting alive. If you’ve ever seen a painting where the artist hasn’t quite got the eyes right, you’ll know what I mean – the soul isn’t there.
After the eyes, the following layers seem to come together a lot easier.
4 - Building up the depth
With this particular painting I decided to concentrate on one bird at a time. Each watercolour layer I apply is always a fraction darker to pick up more details. The next layer is then a little darker still and I work up the darker colours on the birds and the impression of feathers.
5 - Adding details
Last but not least, was the wattle. We have wattle growing in our backyard so I went outside and picked a small branch to bring back into the studio, so this part of the commission was definitely painted from life! I love how it adds a real colour burst and a contrast to the brown tones of the birds.
6 - Final Details
When I finish a commission (it’s sometimes hard to know when to walk away, but I’ve learnt over the years that when it’s done, it’s done).
Although I’m very pleased with the result, inevitably there’s always a little anxiety until the client sees it and says “I love it”! As she did on this occasion.
7 - Final Presentation
The final decision is how to matt and frame the finished artwork. In this instance as my client is taking the painting to England in her luggage, we really only need to put a matt around it and package it safely and it can be framed at a later date.
Choosing the right matt is simple trial and error, so after going through quite a few shades of neutral colouring, I found a double matt which suited the painting perfectly. It had a black/dark brown internal matt which just set off the painting beautifully, picking up some of the dark colours.
How do you go about taking a Brief?
Whenever possible, I prefer to meet clients face to face in my studio or in their home where we can talk eye to eye, look at examples of things, agree colours by looking at them – being with one another is very beneficial as we explore the unique piece of art that they’re after. Obviously some clients are abroad or live too far away to visit, so we manage via phone and emails. Some clients are very specific and clear about their commission, with others I help them create the idea and we really benefit from looking at pieces of art as we discuss.
I love chatting with clients and learning why, how and what they would like me to create! There’s always a story behind each commission. This latest commission is for a local Yarra Valley client whose sister lives in the UK and is getting married. She loves Australia and has been out here to the Yarra Valley many times and her fiancee is a keen bird lover, so the commission was for two quintessentially Australian birds native to this region. My client looked through my cards and paintings in my studio and we discussed which birds would work best in the size painting she was after (small enough to fit into a suitcase comfortably) and in the medium she knows her sister prefers (watercolour). Choosing the correct paper or canvas is crucial depending on the subject, as is the choice of medium and these again I always discuss at length with my client. We then looked at a number of beautiful brightly coloured birds that are local to this region and that her sister would know, but with each one, my client imagined the finished product in her sister’s home and the colours didn’t work with her decor. We agreed on a composition of a pair of kookaburras sitting close together that looked as though they were listening to one another (just like couples do in married life)! The neutral tones of the kookaburra’s colouring would work with the decor and we agreed that having the head and breast of the birds closer up, in the smaller size painting, would work better than a far away image of them in a tree. I suggested some native flowering wattle in the foreground as well to give the work another element, a splash of colour and another piece of Australiana.
If you would like to chat to Denise about commissioning a painting, email her via the contact form or call 03 5962 3950.