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

Display of tools and wired equipment on a wooden workbench
Creative Workbench # 1: Wired

A couple of months ago my son jokingly sent me a message with a photo of his workbench.  It was just full of stuff,  some in-process work, tools, along with some adult beverages.  I laughed when I saw the photo, knowing that my son is extremely inventive, but tends to have too many projects at varying stages of completion.  When I saw the photo, I thought the workbench was a visual interpretation of the many synapses firing in his brain.  Too many to control requiring the need of some fluid refreshments to slow down the impulses.  It was a crazy photo, but after a while I thought wow, wouldn’t that make a great painting.

This started me down the path of a new series I am calling Creative Workbenches.  It will be an intimate look at a variety of work spaces from a diverse group of creative sources.  I have enlisted the help of a jeweler who fixes watches and clock and a fly fisherman who ties his own flies.  I hope to recruit additional artisans over time.  

Value sketches and tiny watercolor painting trying to establish the layout for a new painting.
Katherine Ford’s Creative Workbench

One thing I am learning about creative workbenches is how intimate this project is becoming.  How a person lays out their work area says a great deal about their creative process.   As a messy desk person myself, I need to be surrounded by the materials and ideas associated with the project I am working on, however, I don’t like to mix too many different project at once, so I must put away anything not related to the current project.  The photo above is an example of how I start out to determine the layout of a new painting.   

We are all creative people to some extent, every job has their own creative element and each requires tools for the trade.  I am looking for additional Creative Workbenches: What does yours look like?  Would you like to share and possibly have it made into a painting.  Please leave a comment below if you would like to participate.  If you subscribe to my website, you will be informed on the progress of my creative workbenches.  

The original of Creative Workbench #1; Wired, I will be giving to my son, who provided me with his photo and the idea, but I have scanned it and am able to make reproductions if you are interested please send me a message.   

Keep creating.