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What I Learned Doing Commissioned Watercolor Paintings

A commission watercolor painting of a sperm whale
┬ęKatherine 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
┬ęKatherine 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.
┬ęKatherine 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