Time: Years ago. I do not even have a record of it.
It is winter: Cold and dreary in Hampton, Virginia
And Cindy wants me to paint a watercolor of her, outside, tending to her summer flower garden. Of course I tell her I can. I show up at her house, trusty 35mm camera in my cold hand. So how are we going to do this?
We go outside where she shows me her garden.
Nothing is blooming or even green.
Only a patch of gray vegetation stubble is visible.
She scoots inside to find and change into her summer gardening dress and hat while I figure out the lay of the land.
I whip out my trusty Nikon and start shooting my “sense of place” photos. Cell phones with cameras are way in the future. I need to get and pay for film plus development so I am very careful about my photos. It is too expensive to waste film. (Today we cell phone users not only shoot everything in sight but keep our fingers pressing down till we have 20 photos!)
My client is an upper middle class wife of a professional. She is self assured and proper and knows what she wants. She is wearing for this painting a thin summer dress and proceeds to mime her way through her garden, pruning and snipping away at invisible weeds and shoots. I notice her goose bumps. Temperatures are around freezing but she does not complain. I feel colder than she looks! I work as fast as I can. Then she provides me with last summer’s photos of her garden in bloom.
I print up my winter garden and client photos, pin them to my easel, and develop a design. I paint my watercolor and all is well. She loved it.
Painting a commission is hard work.
Most family photos are pretty awful. Even today our technology cannot correct poor choices like taking a photo of a child from the elevated vantage point of an adult (imagine giant head, tiny feet). Folks also want their loved ones engaged in activities but only have photographs of them side by side grinning at the camera. Duh.
My standard approach for a commission is to leave nothing critical to the imagination. People can be non portrait- like but their hair color and length are very critical. Even their posture and how they appear in different poses. Although there is rarely a photo that I can actually use as reference. That is Unless I am able to take the photos myself.
Every time I do a commission my family hears me complain that this is the last one. Until the next time.
So the above story does not have photos unless I am willing to go through boxes of negatives in my attic. You will have to use your imagination.
Stay tuned, I have lots of other stories.
P.S. Thought I’d share my latest painting (not a commission though). You can check out other wildlife paintings here.