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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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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
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Why Create Tiny Water Media Paintings

Tiny watercolor of a pussy willow
Pussy Willow

I was searching the World Wide Web about a year ago when I came across an article about ACEOs.  What the heck is an ACEO I wondered?  Well it is an Art Card Edition or Original.  Okay, that makes no sense at all, so I searched for more information and it turns out there are a world of collectors that buy paintings specifically made on 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards.  Ebay appears to be the best buy and sell for ACEOs.  

I thought, with my level of patience, maybe I should start making ACEOs and selling them.  I can make a complete painting in 1 to 3 hours, mount them and sell them at art shows and my followers can have an original artwork for less than $50.  And so, I have created over 30 tiny water media paintings in the last year.  They are so much fun and rewarding.

Well I looked into the “tiny” art concept a little more and found out there are a lot of different definitions of tiny art and there seems to be a difference in maximum size for these art pieces, some ranging up to 10 x 10 inches. That was kind of surprising to me because most all of my paintings have been 5 x 7 in or 8 x 10 in, so I have been painting tiny water media paintings for most of my artistic career.

Reasons for Tiny Paintings:
  • Small studio space
  • Limited supply storage
  • Lack of patience
  • Experimentation 
  • Set up for larger pieces
  • Just plain cute when done
  • Fun

I think the biggest reason for creating tiny water media paintings is instant gratification.  I have been known to spend 60 hours or more on a detailed medium sized watercolor over the course of a month or more and never knowing when I would be done.  I can remove the tape from a tiny painting in less than three hours and be enthralled with a new work of art.

Leaves from a Eucalyptus branch

    Eucalyptus lea

I also love selling these tiny wonders, because I really love to provide original art to my collectors.  In this digital world there are a lot of wonderful, reasonably priced reproductions and if one is decorating a home, that is a great opportunity to add beauty, but oh, how much more precious is that one of kind piece no one else in the world will have sitting on your desk or hanging on your wall.  

Lantana Flower Close Up
Lantana flower close up

I have accepted my role as a tiny watercolor painter and now I have set up a Facebook Group so other people can join my love of tiny water media paintings.  Everyone is welcome to join, artists and collectors, to share this wonderful tiny art world. Join Tiny Water Media Paintings 

If you are wondering where you can buy these Tiny Water Media Paintings of mine, I always have tiny paintings at art shows, but I make so many that I can’t keep up with posting them on my website.  If the painting is larger than 5 x 7 in, it will be on the website.  The smaller ones I try to show off on Instagram, so check me out using @nanakatespaintings (that works for Facebook too).  I think the newest method is to join the Tiny Water Media Paintings and check Tiny Art Tuesday when I will be posting a new painting for sale.  Check early and often, first come first serve basis.  If you have an idea of a painting you would like me to do, put it in the comments or send me an email and I will see what I can do.  

 

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Three Reasons to Write and Mail a Thank You Note

Okay, I admit it, I sell cards that would be wonderful if used as Thank You Notes.  That was my hope when I created them, but I am not sure if Thank You notes are all that common anymore.  Why would you take the time to purchase a card, write a note, buy a stamp and send it in the mail, when you can just write a text or email for free.

I have three reasons that have come out of recent experiences:

  •  Teaching young people how to mail a letter.  (This could be a little embarrassing for my 12 year old granddaughter, but I think it is worth the risk).  My granddaughter received birthday money from her Great Grandmother.   I encouraged her to write a quick note acknowledging the gift.   I suggested she include her intent for the money, just so Grandma knows that it will be used for something special.  I helped my granddaughter by putting the address and return address on the note and placed the stamp on it as well.  I watched her write the note and place it in the envelope and sent it home with her so she could mail it from her own address.  Well, it was a few weeks later and Grandma had not received the note.  What was the problem?  It turns out that my Granddaughter had moved to a new house and had never mailed a letter, so she had no idea how to put the letter in the mailbox.  Please verify that children know how to mail a letter.

 

  • Let people know you have received their gift.  I recently sent a birthday card with money to another one of my grandchildren and did not hear back from her in any form.  Well, it arrived 10 days late and her mom was nice enough to let me know the problem.  I had mailed it to the wrong address.  I mindlessly copied the address from my cell phone contacts without realizing it was going to the wrong town.  Now this could happen if you send an amazon gift or a card or any other gift through a delivery system, it is good to have a record of receipt from the recipient.

 

  • Its just nice to get something in the mail.  It used to be that getting mail was kind of special.  Hundreds of years ago, people used to send letters to tell about current events and share news or send invitations.  Now we have the internet and instantly we know more about our friends and family than we care to know, so information is no longer special to us.  The mail contains advertisements, political notices, bills, the weekly shopper and other trash that immediately hits the trash can.  So now when a letter or a note comes in the mail, its even more treasured than in the past because it is such a rare commodity.  It expresses a sense of love and caring that can never be reflected in an email or text.  A note or letter can be saved away and read later when  the day has been long and hard and a cheerful message is a reminder that someone else cares.

So send someone a note today.  Thank them for being a part of your life.  I guarantee they will savor it long past your next Facebook post.

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How I Started My Art Business: First Art Show

nana Kate's First Art Show Booth in Aug 2018

It has been more than a year since I set myself up for business.  I started with a website with the allusion that; “If I post it, they will come” via the magic on the inter-web.  That may seem pretty naive and in fact, it was because I had a lot to learn about the internet and especially about how to sell creative works.

I am naturally a curious person so I did some research and found The Abundant Artist Association, which I joined.  They have a lot of marketing courses on “How to sell your Art Online” which I studied, but only implemented a small portion of their suggestions.  I found out that it is hard to sell your art online and that you have to talk to people.  In November of 2017, a guest conference call on art shows with Owen Garratt opened my eyes to the possibilities of art shows, but I wasn’t intending to sit outside in the heat and humidity to sell cards.

I retired in January of 2018 and decided to give this art business a good try, so I started making more paintings and cards.  Well now I have inventory, but I needed customers.  In May, I received an email from my local art association, Mt. Horeb Area Arts Association, that announced the Black Earth, WI Chamber wanted artists for a new art show in August.  I discussed this with my husband and we decided to enter.

After I applied for a booth I remembered the program on art shows and the discounted training materials and purchased the videos from Marketing Tools For Artists .  I found out I had made my first mistake by signing up for a new, unproven art show, but I was going to make the best of it and prepare a booth that would dazzle the visitors.

Dave and I worked out a lot of details with the art booth, a lot of thinking, doing and arguing, but in I think we put together a pretty nice booth for first-time art showers.  The art show in Black Earth wasn’t very good because it was poorly advertised and not very many visitors.  It was a great opportunity to try out our booth and we learned a lot and simplified our signs so the next weekend when we set up for the Bailey’s Run Vineyard show we were more prepared.

Bailey’s Run was another new show (remember never to go with new shows) and we didn’t sell too much, but I am satisfied that if I were to go to a larger show, I could sell cards.  What I learned from my experience is you need to go to shows that have at least 1000 people to find a few that will like your stuff.  You need a proven show and you have to find the right type of person for your art.  I also learned that I don’t like being outside in the heat and humidity and will try to find shows that are inside, but that is a luxury.  I liked talking to people, and it was fun, but it is not a social event so tell friends to meet you after the show and not try to socialize while you are marketing.

I will continue to look for shows and I will continue to simplify my set up.  It is one of the quickest ways to get new names for the website subscribing by having a show giveaway and hopefully, someday, I will be able to get people to buy cards online too.

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The Queen Anne’s Lace Mystery

Queen Anne's Lace in variouse stages of development

I have always liked Queen Anne’s Lace and felt it would be fun capture it in a painting.  It is August in Wisconsin and they are abundant in the fields so it was no problem getting a close up shot with my trusty little camera.  As I processed the various photographs looking for just the right image to use as a reference photo, I decided on a close up that looks like an every expanding network.

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace and First Wash Watercolor Painting
Queen Anne’s Lace Close up and First Wash Painting

In the middle of the flower I found a dark spot that I thought was a bug or piece of debris so I did not include this spot in the transfer of the image to the watercolor paper.  I didn’t think much more about it until I started to research Queen Anne’s Lace a little more, looking for other macro images of the flower.  What I found out falls into the Extraordinary category in my opinion.

According to the information I reviewed that little dark spot in the center of the flower is a single sterile purple flower.  Botanist’s have not determined the reason for this anomaly.  Is it there to attract pollinators or ward off bad bugs?  Who knows, it is a mystery.  I have been looking at Queen Anne’s Lace for over 60 years and this is news to me.

I am inserting a link if you are interested in learning more about this little mystery:  Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up

As I  continue on my painting, I will add pictures of the progress.  Hopefully you will have had a chance to make you own close up examination and find that little purple flower.  Send in a comment when you find the flower and let’s see how many Extraordinarians we can get into action.

The Red Center Flower has been added to the Queen Anne's Lace painting in progress.
Queen Anne’s Lace 21 Aug 2018 with red center flower

I have been away from my painting for a couple of weeks getting ready for my first art show (more on that in future blog).  I added the purple center flower and started to detail the stem colors in the upper right side.  This is going to take a long time to put in all the details so I may not add a section to this blog very frequently, but I will keep you in informed.

Funny thing though, as I work on this picture I can’t seem to get the story of the Danish Queen pricking herself while making lace and leaving a drop of blood in the center of the flower.  Instead of the Danish Queen, I think of Jesus and that a single drop of His blood was all that was needed to blanket my sins so they became white as snow.  The power of the blood, that’s what the song says because just one drop give eternal life.

Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018
Queen Anne’s Lace Progress 05 Sep 2018

I have been away from this painting for a little while as I worked on another painting for a special customer, but I am back at it and wondering why I chose to do something with so much detail.  Each tiny flower needs to have shading added and trying to follow the direction of the stems gets pretty confusing.  I like where this is going, but I can only focus on it for about an hour or so at a time.  I can’t say how long it will take, probably at least another week if I work steady each day, but I think the end result will be pretty intriguing.  Thanks for following along.

Oh, I have also created an Instagram account if anyone is interested you can find me at @nanakatesartcards

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace Squared off from original
Queen Anne’s Lace Closeup

After several more hours of work I have completed the painting and created the card.  Please check out the card in the link below.  I also made a canvas reproduction in a 12 x 18 in size which really looks great on the wall.  Send me a note if you might be interested in one for yourself.

Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up Card

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How I Started My Art Business: Contacting People

Nana Kate handing out cards in a graphic image
Talking by S.M.W.

In January of 2017 after a challenge from my art instructor, David Becker (http://davidrbecker.com)

I thought I would try to sell prints online by signing up with a Print on Demand company.   It sounded so easy and would be a great way to make a little money on my paintings because after a while one just doesn’t have enough friends and family who want your stuff. 

I started to do a little research and found the book “How to sell your Art Online” https://theabundantartist.com/ .  Perfect, that was  all I needed and I would be on my way to greatness.  It would be so much easier to work from home, not to worry about weather with outdoor art fairs.  I would not have to talk to people and be sociable and smile a lot.  I could sit home, paint and put money in the bank.

That kind of naive thinking is the same as finding a pill to make you lose weight.  Oh yes, I am still looking for that pill, but with very low expectations.  But with the sale of art online, I was really thinking this might work, after all, Amazon sells everything online, why couldn’t I do that too.

I read the book, created my web page (it took 6 months for my slow technological learning curve to come up with the most rudimentary website) and then I started to take the Abundant Artist classes.  Well, guess what, the selling online only works if you talk to people.

Selling art anywhere is just like any other business, you actually have to talk to people.  You have to create relationships with people so they get to know you and want to help you grow your business.  Some people like to buy from you just because they like you, Who knew?  Some people actually like your art and your message, but mostly they need to feel comfortable with the person before they will invest in your work.

How disappointing to realize that word of mouth continues to be the best form of sales even in this age of social media that is suppose to increase how we are all connected.  I suppose I should not have been so surprised, Jesus, a pretty good role model, knew that you need to start with a few good men, specifically, eleven, and teach them everything about yourself.  Then when they meet other people they can pass the message along and eventually after a couple thousand years everybody will know your name.  The system works.  I guess I have to start by getting a few good men (or women).

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Why I Started My Art Business Selling Cards

Close up photo of a Pole Bean Flower
Pole Bean Flower

One morning I looked over to our pole bean trellis and saw this tiny little flower that was the sweetest violet-pink color.  Normally I would have just walked past it to my car, but that morning the pink caught my eye and drew me in closer.  It was as if the Holy Spirit was whispering to me, “Come over here, I want to show you something special.”   

As an Extraordinarian, I was obligated to investigate this flower even further, so I took this close up photo with my husband’s help.  It was so beautiful.  In some ways it seemed so frivolous on God’s part to make such a lovely, tiny flower, just to turn it into a green bean.  The real tragedy though is most people probably would never see this little wonder.

That is why I decided to sell cards.  I felt like I had a mission to expose the extraordinary, but if I only sold original paintings or even prints, I would only be able to get my message out to a small group.  If I sold cards, many more people would be able to see the paintings and would have the ability to read about the inspiration for their creation.

I suspect my choice is not the path of great monetary wealth, but each time I look closer at one of God’s creation I am filled with an abundance of His Love that could never be purchased with earthly riches.   I think that is pretty Extraordinary too.

Nana Kate

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How I Started an Art Business

Leaning In

Leaning In illustration
Leaning In by Granddaughter S.W.

 

One Sunday morning our Pastor was talking about his decision to take on a position in a different church.  The process to move or stay involved a lot prayer, but it also involved “leaning in “ to the decision.  It wasn’t a quick yes and go, it was a process of elimination, checking out the options.  At each step a decision was made and a new door opened or closed until eventually everything fit into place.

I never really thought about creating an art business, I just liked painting and making cards for people.  In the summer of 2016, I took a watercolor workshop put on by Dave Becker.  I had a wonderful time and learned more than I will be able to remember.  During that workshop I was asking the other painters what did they do with all their paintings.  Most of them worked for fun, some placed them in local galleries and some had websites, but not many were actively trying to sell their work. 

I hadn’t sold any of my paintings and I was beginning to have quite a few that looked pretty good.  I had been creating Christmas cards for fifteen years.  I also made cards of encouragement for friends.   I would put a message on the back and people seemed to like these cards for both the painting and the message.  Several people started asking if I sold them and I said they were just for fun, but it started my “leaning in” process.

I am still “leaning in”, still trying to figure our how to start an art business. I am hoping to help others by writing down my process.  I have been leaning since January 2017 and hope to have my business running with some income by my retirement in February of 2018.  In future blogs I will tell you how I started my business and maybe you can help me get it going. 

Thank you for visiting,

Nana Kate