I recently had the pleasurable experience of working with a client in the creation of a painting inspired by deep and satisfying memories of a childhood home.

I have completed many commissions over the years, thankfully with no rejections. Some commissions are more difficult than others, this one proved to be one of the more challenging. Commissioned work increases in difficulty as the number of specifics required increases. There’s a big difference between a request to “paint something from Oklahoma”, and one that specifies exact location, time of day, season of the year, direction of the light, and inclusion of important structures.

So, when Philip and his wife, Linda, approached me about a painting idea, I could tell that Philip had done some research, for he was absolutely certain I was the right artist for the job. The painting was to be one of his childhood home…a white house with two other structures in a snow covered Indiana landscape. Correct proportion and placement of each structure on the property was critical. Many photos were provided from various angles but nothing that fully met the requirements of the job. My immediate thought was, I will need to build scale models of the structures in order to properly assess their placement and lighting.

These are the scale models Philip built from foam core, place as they appeared on the family plot.

These are the scale models Philip built from foam core, placed as they appear on the family plot. I have moved the garage and its extension slightly forward from its normal placement, experimenting with its most suitable location for visibilities sake.

 

“I can do that,” Philip said, and within days he returned with all the models perfectly scaled and their proper placement marked off on paper…just one of several talents I was to discover this man has.

This is the angle selected for creating the painting; only difference, I had inadvertently placed the barn backwards.

This is the angle selected for creating the painting; only difference, I had inadvertently placed the barn backwards. The dark vertical objects in the foreground represent possible placement of trees.

 

With models set in place, photos were taken from various points of view and the work began on the construction of what was to become “If Only In My Dreams”.

Below are the stages we went through that resulted in a satisfying conclusion:

Compositional study. Charcoal sketch on tracing paper.

Compositional study. Charcoal sketch on tracing paper.

Monochromatic block-in of color study using raw umber..

Monochromatic block-in of color study using raw umber..

Color study ready for client's approval. Oil on paper - 4.5"x 7.5"

Color study ready for client’s approval. Oil on paper – 4.5″x 7.5″

Client wanted to see more of the front of the house. That called for a shift of all the major elements. This shows the beginnings of the monochromatic block-in. Raw umber on canvas - 16"x 27"

Client wanted to see more of the front of the house. That called for a shift of all the major elements. This shows the beginnings of the monochromatic block-in. This too was approved by client before continuing. Raw umber on canvas – 16″x 27″

Palette of choice: Titanium white, ultramarine blue, cadmium red, lemon yellow, and ivory black. Intermediaries were mixed from the three primaries.

Palette of choice: Titanium white, ultramarine blue, cadmium red, lemon yellow, and ivory black. Intermediaries were mixed from the three primaries. The second row of color just shows the addition of white added to the row above.

First lay-in of color over monochromatic block-in.

First lay-in of color over monochromatic block-in.

Sky nearing completion. Working from distance to foreground.

Sky nearing completion. Working from distance to foreground.

Completed work. "If Only In My Dreams" - 16"x 27" - Oil on canvas

Completed work. “If Only In My Dreams” – 16″x 27″ – Oil on canvas

 

Suggested guidelines for commissioned work:

1)    The artist should work directly with the client when possible. The less people involved, the better chance for success.

2)    Client should carefully search for the best artist capable of delivering what they’re looking for. Don’t expect an artist to create something that’s totally uncharacteristic of what they typically do.

3)    Clarity of communication is critical.

a)    Artist must understand fully what the client desires. Ask clarifying questions.

b)    Don’t be afraid to say “No” if you believe you are the wrong artist for the job.

c)    Explain to the client what they can expect to receive from you. Assure them that you will give your best effort, and make sure you do.

4)    Agree on size, price, and payment arrangements before beginning work. A non-refundable deposit is a reasonable thing to consider. If changes are made by the client after they’ve approved the preliminary work, those changes come at an agreed to price. That too needs to be clarified up front.

5)    Keep a record of your correspondence.

6)    Agree to a deadline and make sure it is met.

7)    How will the art be used? Clarify restrictions on its usage. If artist decides to sell reproduction rights, all involved must clearly understand the limits of those rights and a price must be agreed upon for their purchase.

8)    Is the artist responsible for framing the piece? A compromise may be necessary here, but it would be nice if the artist had some say in how the work is presented.

9)    Remember, commissioned work is a business transaction and it should be handled in sincere business-type way. As artists we need to do what we say we will do, and clients must also adhere to their agreements.

Being excited about taking on a commission and all that it requires will really go a long way. Additionally, if the client has done their homework concerning the artist they select, it is very likely the artist will be enthusiastic about the project they are given.

The reward of course is a satisfied client. I must say, Philip and Linda were the ideal clients in every way. I was honored that they chose me for this important commission and deeply gratified that the result was more than they expected. While contemplating the completed work, Philip was inspired to pen the following poem:

If Only In My Dreams

 The glow in the south window, I see you there

In anticipation of my arrival soon to share

It’s been too long for your touch, your gentle smile.

I can hardly wait with you to spend a while.

I know it will be so wonderful for me

To see you and Dad as we gather round the Christmas tree

Just one more time like in days of old.

Where the story of Jesus’ birth you so aptly told.

It will be great to feel your warm embrace

And have your kiss upon my face.

But those days of laughter, work and play

Are only memories and dreams on this very day.

Those memories we’ve had no matter how sweet

Are matters of the past where we can no longer meet.

The days and years quickly passed it seems

So, I’ll be home for Christmas –

If Only in My Dreams.

 

In conclusion, Philip wrote a nice testimonial.

John was able to capture the essence and aura of my childhood home that has been in our family for 67 years.  I was amazed at his careful and thoughtful analysis using models, photographs, and descriptions to ensure the accuracy of the painting.  His talented touch, attention to detail and caring attitude gave the beauty and very importantly the emotional feeling I wanted the painting to evoke.  I can observe the painting for hours, and it elicits fond memories of my childhood and adult visits to my parents’ farm in rural Indiana.  I have enjoyed getting to know John, and working with him was an absolute joy.

 

John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE