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What I Learned Doing Commissioned Watercolor Paintings

A commission watercolor painting of a sperm whale
©Katherine J Ford, Sperm Whale, watercolor, 4 x 6 in

Ask More Questions

I had finished some pretty intense, detailed paintings and I had not figured out what my next project should be and mentioned this to a friend.  She spends her winters in Hawaii and thought she might like a couple of new paintings for her house.  I asked her what she would like and she said a whale and an octopus.  Excellent, I have done a whale before and I like octopuses, so I agreed.  I proceeded as if I knew what I was doing and painted the sperm whale painting (above).  I was pretty happy with it, the whale appears to be coming out of the dark ocean background and sunlight ripples over it’s back.  

Failure to Launch

I sent her a photo of the painting and she liked it well enough, but she wanted a humpback whale with a baby whale.  One more question would have been useful to have determined the kind of whale she liked.  I did proceed to create a sperm whale and baby painting, that I believe she loves.  If anyone is interested in this Sperm Whale painting let me know and we can make a deal.

Beholders Don’t Always Know What They Want

A commission watercolor painting of the Star of Bethlehem
©Katherine J Ford, Star of Bethlehem, watercolor, 7 x 5 in

I was asked to do a commissioned watercolor painting for a Christmas Card.  I was quite new to the art business and wanted to please any customer that was willing to exchange money for paintings.  I was also quite flattered that someone liked my work and was willing to send it out to the world.

Creating a Christmas card painting is a pretty general request.  I asked her to provide some ideas of what she had in mind.  I don’t think she had any ideas, but came back to me and said she wanted a star.

Star, well that is a starting point.  As a person with lots of science background, I first thought of a nebula with hazy colored background and no real definition, more or less an abstract concept of a star.  

Then I starting thinking that Christmas cards are generally a little more direct in their concepts, so I started to look up star symbols or images that represented stars.  There are a lot of star symbols and not all of them work well with a Christian world view.  I decided the Star of Bethlehem is pretty well known.  Conceptually a star or the sun has its whitest light in the center and as it cools to the outside it goes to yellow, orange, then red.  It satisfied the criteria for a star and my Beholder was pleased with the result.  It just would have been a little less stressful if she had been a little more specific from the start.

Time Does Matter

The commissioned paintings I have done are usually time-sensitive.  The Beholder has an event coming up like Christmas, birthday, wedding, or anniversary and would like to have the painting ready for that event.  Contracting a commission means you are willing to set aside the necessary time to create the desired painting and meet their timeline.  That means you should know how long it takes you to create a painting. 

Commission painting of trinket box and personalize items.
©Katherine J Ford, Trinket Box, watercolor, 7 x 5 in

One of my more demanding commissioned painting was requested by my mother.  Not that she is that hard to please, but she had no idea what she wanted other than a wedding gift for her cousin’s daughter.  

Now, as you might imagine, artwork does not always make a great gift.  Mom did not know this young women.  She did not know her likes or dislikes and creating a watercolor that would be desirable for an east coast, ivy league graduate, living in New York City, was a bit of a challenge.

One thing we both had in common was her Grandmother Katherine.  Katherine was my Great Aunt and my namesake.  She had passed many years before and I had kept a few personal items from her auction.  I thought perhaps putting them together as a Memory Portrait would make a welcome gift.

 
Timing is Everything

I was still working full time when this request came in and the wedding was quite awhile out, so I felt I could accomplish this goal.  It seems like such a small painting should not have taken up too much time, but I was not aware that my lack of experience and demands on daily life became distractions for the work at hand.  I did finish the painting in time for the wedding and the gift was well-loved.  

In Summary, What Have I Learned

  • Ask Questions
  • Know your limits
  • Know how long it takes to make a painting
  • Be committed to meeting Beholder’s timeline
  • Be ready to say no if it is not a good fit

Commissioned watercolor paintings is a wonderful way to stretch the imagination, become closer to understanding the Beholder’s desires to overwhelm them with joy.  I will be working on my Creative Workbench Series for the next twelve months, I am more than willing to take on commissioned projects that fall within this theme.  If you would like to capture a special someone’s creative space in watercolor, please fill out the contact form so I can start asking questions.

Have You Commissioned Art

If you have commissioned art before, would you please take a little time and share your experiences below in the comment section.  Please share the good and the bad so we can all learn how to make the experience the best it can be. 

Thank you

Katherine J Ford

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Searching for Childlike Wonder

Two cousins walking through a field of Queen Anne's Lace getting ready to play ball.

 

 

 

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”      George Bernard Shaw

What does Childlike Wonder Look Like

It was a beautiful cool Saturday and I was sitting near my art booth when two small boys (5 and 7) came running over to see myTiny Wonders original watercolors.  I had one painting of a vintage red race car and the older boy just had to pick it up and look it over very carefully.  The younger child quickly checked out all the other paintings and was squealing with delight.  I could not have been more pleased.  It was refreshing to see how my paintings brought out so much joy in these young people.

Where Did Our Wonder Go

A little later there was a young man, perhaps around 26 who also came over to the admire the Tiny Wonders.  He looked at all the paintings quite intently and after awhile I said hello and made a comment on the weather.  I explained all paintings were originals and he confessed his admiration for my work.  You could see delight in his eyes but no squealing like the young boys.  He was well mannered and controlled, probably did not want to overly express his interest for fear I would ask him to buy something.  It became very clear to me that this young man’s childlike wonder was still present but suppressed.

Wonder gets stolen from us at an early age.  Squealing is not appropriate behavior when entering a art gallery or museum (except for children’s museums).  How fun would it be to go to the Louvre and roam the floors with youthful  excitement seeing the work of the world’s most creative geniuses and exclaiming with delight the whole time.  Your heart would sore and your imagination would go wild.  Can you image the looks from people around you and the scolding you would get.  Instead of joining your expression of pure joy, you would be required to suppress you enthusiasm so the more sophisticated art lovers could peacefully admire the works.  They would have read their guidebooks so they knew which works they should like and the appropriate reaction displayed.  Your wonder would be suppressed or stolen away completely.

Can We Find Wonder Again

I have the dearest, sweetest, most naive husband ever.  Each day he demonstrates what it is like to retain wonder.  He does not allow my cynicism to squelch his childlike enthusiasm.   When we first starting seeing each other, I took him on a vacation to a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, called Vieques.  He was not a sophisticated traveler at that time.  He had served in the army in Germany over 20 years earlier and that was the last time he had flown.  On the flight from Chicago to San Juan, we had the opportunity to share one of the three seats with a young girl from San Juan.  She spoke no English and Dave spoke no Spanish.  As we started to fly over Puerto Rico you could see Old San Juan, beaches, a fort, and cargo ships.  Both the little girl and Dave were glued to the window, exclaiming with excitement with each recognizable sight.  She would take Dave’s face in her two hands and point his face toward the window.  Language and age were no longer a barrier, only wonder and joy. 

Join the Search for Wonder

I am on a search for my childlike wonder.  My search starts with finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.  It started with flowers and taking macro photographs to look for unseen details.  Flowers are an easy place to start because they are such amazing creations, you can’t help but wonder how the little bugs catch the nectar and pollen and distribute it to the right place. 

I take these photos and interpret them into watercolor paintings.  I am not very quick at painting, so as I contemplate the details, I become mindful and that often creates moment of wonder on how this flower was created. 

I know life is busy and time slips away, so I hope my watercolor paintings will help you discover a world you may not have found.  I would love to have you share in my journey and you can do that by becoming an Extraordinarian.  Click here for the path forward.   

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Watercolor Painting Inspired by the Milkweed Plant Flower

Milkweed plant in flower
Milk weed Plant in Flower

I live in an area of Wisconsin known at the Driftless Area.  I am not a geological expert, but I understand during the ice age, the glacier covered most of Wisconsin and skirted this area leaving a completely different landscape with unique rock formations.  This driftless concept was never explained to me during my informative years and has only recently been thrust forward because of my interest in watercolor painting.  I began hearing this driftless term when looking for art shows and found some special shows devoted to driftless area artists.  Then recently when our local historical museum expanded, it reinvented itself as the Driftless Historium, kind of a cool name with a bit of a Victorian nature.  In my quest for locations to display my watercolor paintings, I approached the Driftless Historium with some new products and as a result, they suggested I paint prairie flowers because they fall into their Driftless concept.

I have done several floral watercolor paintings and this seemed to be a logical step, helped limit my scope of subjects and I found myself in research mode.  During the research process, I found a local remnant prairie on Instagram called Moely Prairie.  It is only 30 miles from my home and I was permitted to use their wonderful photos, which was great considering it is tough to photograph prairie flowers in the winter.  During my quest, Moely Prairie posted a Milkweed Plant Flower as a reminder of the connection between Milkweed plants and Monarchs.  My normal tendency is to zoom in close to a flower to extract the more interesting details within the flower itself.  I had never looked a Milkweed plant flower before, but I became captivated by the five little nectar cups around the floret and the petals that pointed down instead of up as most flowers try to display their pretty parts.  I started to look into the reason for this interesting display.

I became a bit obsessed after awhile when I started to read about the claw-like thorn that came up from the cavity around the cups.  Instead of nice little pollen granules that stick to the bee or insect, a pollinator slips off the downward turned petal and a sac of pollen attaches to its leg.  It has to be pretty strong to pull its leg out or it may stay stuck on the plant and die.  It is pretty hard to explain how this works, so I have placed a YouTube video below so you can get a better explanation.

The other cool thing about the Milkweed plant is the connection with the monarch butterfly.  The monarch caterpillar eats milkweed exclusively because they are not affected by its toxic sap, but birds find the caterpillar unappetizing.  Unfortunately, the number of Milkweed plants is diminishing because they aren’t a flower garden plant and prairies are dwindling so Monarchs are dwindling also.  I recommend doing some research of your own and look around for opportunities to spread Milkweed seed if you get a chance.  Maybe plant some in your yard where they can co-exist with other perennial flowers, or contribute to a prairie restoration group to help the Monarchs continue to thrive.  Below is the completed Milkweed Plant Flower painting and the original was given to my Granddaughter for her birthday.  I have provided the Driftless Historium with Watercolor Print Blocks displaying this and other prairie flowers and they will be for sale at their gift shop soon.  Keep the wonder going Extraordinarians.

Close up watercolor painting of a milkweed flower
Milkweed Flower