In mid-January I wrapped up work on two paintings for friends of ours, a couple who just moved into their home. They are new parents and are nesting with furniture and art.
I think commissioned artwork, when done correctly, is a collaboration between the artist and the patrons. It’s not just work for hire. Everyone works together to find a balance between desires and aspirations, costs, available space, and that gut feeling when you know something is right.
My friends wanted big expressions of color, but weren’t decided on subject matter. I had plenty of source photography and ideas buzzing around. I started with a mix of trees and technology.
In Sketch I combined leaf / petal shapes with towering trees, utility poles, and elevator buttons.
Close! But not quite right. The natural themes and geometric shapes worked, but industrial components didn’t resonate. I’ve filed these ideas away for later.
Next I tried floral imagery, and repeated circles and dots.
This was getting closer. After talking and thinking about it, the star in the center image wasn’t quite right. One more iteration the star becomes a starburst shape.
Ok! So how big? I was convinced that three 24” square pieces would be great. My friends weren’t so sure. I saved my sketches as PDF files and used Acrobat to tile the images across many pieces of paper then printed it all out at low quality. When you’re figuring things out, it’s helpful to keep things cheap and rough. If it looks to polished you might be afraid to make changes.
With the pages all taped together, I had three sets of three images at three sizes. 18”, 20”, and 24” square respectively.
Turns out that 24” square was a great size, but with only two of the three sketches. This fit nicely in the space and didn’t feel too same-y with another set of three images in an adjoining room.
Now to get to work.
I printed the images onto canvas with my shiny new Epson printer and mounted them onto birch panels.
Once mounted, I skim the surface of each canvas with clear acrylic medium. This protects the surface from layers of paint and the abuse I’m about to inflict.
Along with the photographic imagery, I included thin hairline guides for my layered geometric shapes. I match tape to these guides with stencils, rulers, and my eyes and then cut away the to reveal the regions to be painted.
After cutting, I seal the edges with more acrylic medium, which allows me to paint over the tape without fear of seepage. Once I’m happy with the application of color and texture, I peel off the tape and pile it up into a sticky, wet mess.
I tried to fill the geometric areas with layers of color interact with the imagery below…so it’s visually unclear which is on top of the other. I like to leave bits of transparency here and there so the photographs leak through.
Each layer of color takes a several hours to dry to the touch and cure. Afterwards I can touch up and make additions or enhancements.
I sat with each painting for a couple of days, then came back to make some visual enhancements in places, tweaking some color, painting over some awkward places in one of the photographs. This pulled everything together and made it feel whole. Once dried, I coated each panel with UV protective varnish.
I took a lot of care with how I assembled these–I want them to last. I think they will. While they were being hung, a hook gave way (old house, plaster walls), a painting crashed down and dented the baseboard. The painting was fine.
This was a good collaboration. Our friends are happy and so am I. I broke in a new printer, got some good work produced which immediately found a home. I also have some new ideas to get after soon.