Demonstration: Painting a Landscape on Commission, Part I

- The RESEARCH Phase -
Information Gathering & Visual Materials

I estimate 40% of my time invested in this particular painting will be in what I call the "research phase". Hard to believe? As you'll see, if less time is spent, I'll surely have to redo the painting or spend countless hours painting several images. This is the phase some artists want to short circuit or skip altogether. This front-end planning will save time in the long-run, make my painting experience enjoyable, and will more likely satisfy the client.

Interviewing the Client
I meet with my client in the same location where the new art is to be installed. I ask many questions about what kinds of art they have already viewed, what styles they like and don't like, what colors they like and don't like, whether they think they prefer a pure landscape or one with architecture, whether they want figures, flowers, or animals in the painting, and who else may have input into the planning process, etc. I also ask to see the rest of their home to evaluate other art that's hanging. This will facilitate making something that will be harmonious and not conflict visually with the rest of their collection. As I ask questions I can get a sense of whether the client wants to control the painting or if they are giving me total freedom. This client made it clear that the latter was the case.

[TIP: It is extremely helpful to take a checklist and clipboard for the interview. That way you won't forget to ask anything. Also pack a tape measure, notepad, pen, and few other items to be mentioned...]

Considerations & Sizing Things Up
In this case, my client has a semiformal living room, with new furniture, and high vaulted ceiling in their recently built home. The walls are neutral cream, hardwood floors, some wood furniture, and multicolored upholstery and pillows. The room itself overlooks a beautiful hillside landscape from a lovely bricked balcony.

The client helped me with some of the more lengthy physical measurements. Clients sometimes love to participate in the process, no matter how small the task. This is not always the case. (I knew from creating other paintings for this client that we worked well together.) I took measurements of the spot where the painting would hang, right over a small sofa. Right away, I could see that a typical horizontal painting would visually flatten the open feel of the vaulted wall, especially with the narrow sofa. So I suggested a square or nearly square painting for the space. This would maintain the open feel of the towering wall. We decided on the best finished, framed size for the room.

Next, the most critical step is the color. I asked the client if I could color match a few things. I use Pantone and process printing swatch books, both in coated and uncoated versions (shiny and matte) to match colors with. These resources are compact, convenient, and easier to use actual tubes of paint. I travel around the room with books in hand matching all the colors I can, categorizing as to which are the most dominant and which are accent colors. I even match the hardwood floors and wood furniture. Since this was a new home I also asked the client to make a quick wall paint sample for me as well as supply any actual furniture fabric samples. She had both which was a bonus. I could take these back to the studio for further study. Try to do your color matching during the day. Since the colors in a room are dramatically effected by times of day, you may even want to test at a couple of different times.

The next thing I do is take some reference pictures of the actual room. I don't use these for color as much as to remember how things look. It is tough to trust so much to memory. I refer frequently to these photos when I want to think about being in the client's environment again while painting. Photos also reveal things I missed when visiting the client, like accent pieces or the fact that the drapery material was the same as on their side chairs. I shot photos of this room with and without the lights on to see how the room colors react to light changes.

After all this effort, I may or may not use much of the information collected. Armed with this material however, gives me clues as to which colors to avoid as well as which to integrate into the final painting.

[TIP: Instead of expensive printers' color books, you can make your own color chart, use a printed paint chart, or hang hole punched wall paint chips from a ring.]

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