French village work in progress

The weather's been great here lately, but I haven't had much of a chance to do any plein air painting because I've been working on a large commission. I'm not sharing that today because I want to "unveil" it to the client first, but I'm doing a happy dance that it has reached a state of completion that I am satisfied enough with to present it. 

All clients are special, but this particular client commissioned me to create a commemorative piece in memory of a beloved family member. This client is a lovely lady and so very sweet and kind, and the sense of pressure I felt for "getting it right" has been all mine. 

Often times  when I have labored over a large or involved project, there is no better palette cleanser than painting a new small canvas, fast and fresh, of a completely unrelated subject. 

beynacvillagewip_jenniferyoung
beynacvillagewip_jenniferyoung

I almost always seem to forget to photograph the painting after I paint the shadow patterns, but before adding the sunlit areas. Oh well, this is close. I didn't have time to finish yesterday because it was getting late when I started it and I had to pick up my daughter. I like this stage though, because if you get the majority of the shadow areas down in the beginning, you really see the potential and the armature it provides to the design.

Commissions, part III; wrapping it up!

In my last two posts, I took you through the proposal process of one of my recent commissions. If you wish to read this series from the beginning, start with Part I, followed by Part II. Today I'd like to share with you how the commissioned paintings turned out. I also have a few thoughts on commissions in general; both what to expect if you are a collector, and how to consider going about them, if you are an artist.

After having submitted my proposals for both of the paintings, I have now received the go-ahead to proceed. Here are the two completed paintings:

"The Potted Garden II", Oil on linen, 16x12" (SOLD) © Jennifer E Young

"The Potted Garden II", Oil on linen, 16x12" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

"The Corner Shop, Roussillon", Oil on Linen, 16x12" (SOLD) © Jennifer E Young

"The Corner Shop, Roussillon", Oil on Linen, 16x12" (SOLD) ©Jennifer E Young

I’m very glad to say that the client expressed great satisfaction with the two paintings and they are now framed and in their new home.

Commissions are great experiences for artists because they push us to think about our art from a new perspective. Yes, as artists we all want our work to stand on its own. At the same time, nothing exists in a vacuum, and I am ok (and in fact, really flattered) with the knowledge that my paintings will coexist with other art in a collection, as well as other family heirlooms that will be important and valued by a family, possibly for generations.  So it’s a great honor to even be asked about commission work and I am always happy to discuss that possibility and to converse in-depth about not only the art but the environment where the art is intended to be placed. With this in mind, here are a few things to note that make commissioned work a special animal, worthy (apparently) of three blog posts!

1) The Conversation

The conversation ( usually more than one) is probably the single most important element of any commission. This is the artist’s opportunity to gather all of the relevant information about size, environment, and (very important) color preferences. Color, in fact, is the one topic that comes up rather emphatically in nearly every conversation I have with prospective commission clients. It’s understandable, as color elicits so many varying emotions.

Ideally these conversations would be done face-to-face, but that is usually either not possible or practical. Most of my commissions have actually been negotiated, in fact, via email and phone. In these cases, Photoshop is definitely my friend!

2) The Proposal:

This is where I do my best to incorporate the ideas and desires of the client into a work of art. Sometimes, as in the examples I’ve provided in these last couple of posts, I have studies or compositions already worked out. In these cases, I just use my old buddy Photoshop.  More often, though, I am creating something from scratch. In these cases I will submit asketch with color notes, as well as a few of my photo references that I will use to incorporate some elements into the composition. The more visual examples given at this stage, the better.

3) The Approval:

The next step is to await the feedback of the client, or, if things go really smoothly, await the client’s approval to proceed.

3) The Deposit:

This topic is often one that people don’t like to talk about, but it’s an essential part of many artists’ working methods, so I am going to throw this horse right on out there on the middle of the dining room table. As artists, we need to decide for ourselves our best practices so that we feel good about the work we are doing.

Earlier in my career, I did not ask for a deposit for most of my commissions. As long as I felt like I was able to sell the work in a gallery if needed and that it didn’t stray too far from the rest of my body of work,  I felt okay about working on speculation. Times change though and though the vast majority of my experiences were excellent, an odd one or two “hiccups”, as well as certain life experiences (like having a child)  helped to shape my perspective on the boundaries I should set for myself and my work.

Nowadays, with few exceptions I require a deposit to proceed. This would occur once my proposal has been approved by the client.  The amount is either 1/2 down, or, if it is a very large and involved commission, 1/3 down, 1/3 at approval half-way, and 1/3 prior to delivery. Most collectors are okay with this arrangement and understand the whole working -for-compensation thing. I also think they appreciate that that it is to everyone’s advantage that there is a commitment made to secure the agreement.

A deposit doesn’t just cover an artist’s materials, by the way. It also covers her time. Keep in mind that a proposal already commands a good deal of time and effort to prepare. Time is the most precious commodity I have. It is up to each individual to determine how they wish to work and what they want to spend their time working on.

4) Art Direction

Some artists are more ok with art direction than others. Having had a taste of the heavy-handed variety, I can most definitely state that I am not in favor.  [;-)]  This is not to say that I am adverse to hearing client’s preferences and feedback!  This is the whole point of “The Conversation”, and I do welcome it if a minor adjustment is desired. However, I can’t start over with a new concept, (which would mean a new painting) make profuse alterations, or do anything that I feel would greatly compromise the integrity of the painting.

Most clients understand, and I do my best to clarify in advance,  that any painting I make is going to be unique,  nota copy–either of my own work or anyone else’s . Beyond preference in color and subject, a collector commissions an artist because the artist has his or her own voice, and it’s up to the artist, ultimately, to determine the best expression of their idea. In other words….Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

All joking aside, most people are really very happy to let the artist do her thing.  In fact, “that thing she does” is the whole reason the client was attracted to her work to begin with. Nevertheless, it’s good policy, and indeed it’s the artist’s responsibility to clarify all of that with the client so that expectations are managed. Of course, every commission is unique and there are definitely nuances thatcan vary my approach to a certain degree. The key is to keep communication lines open and to be open to honest feedback.

This just about wraps up my commission process, or at least the highlights. If there is anything I have missed, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. If you are an artist, feel free to share how you handle your own commissions. I would most especiallywelcome the thoughts of collectors (or potential collectors) also. Have you ever commissioned an artist? What was your experience? Let me hear from you!

The making of a commission

It's hard to believe summer is almost over. The move of my home and business, along with family matters, tended to completely monopolize my spring and summer, and yet there is still so much to do.   While we are slowly settling into the house, it will be some time before I have a studio. So I have "made do" with either painting outside in the blazing summer heat, or setting up a temporary studio with drop cloths in my poorly lit living room. For those reasons, my painting production has been down and it's been driving me a little crazy. Nevertheless, opportunity waits for no one, and commissions are a special kind of opportunity. Time to pull out the drop cloths and shop lights again! :-)  I have been painting for 20 years, and in that time, I've had a variety of commissions. Some are more "challenging", and some are pure delight. Of course, the latter are more pleasurable, but all commissions have been, to me, opportunities for growth as an artist.

My latest commission, in spite of my less than ideal work environment,  fell distinctly in the realm of the delightful. I met the client during a painting demonstration at the Little Gallery where my work was being featured in June. He happened to love one of my paintings in that show, called "The Potted Garden, Pienza":

"The Potted Garden", Oil on canvas, 12x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"The Potted Garden", Oil on canvas, 12x12" ©Jennifer E Young

The only issue was that the format (square) wasn't quite right. He was looking for a slightly larger, more vertical painting, and a companion piece of the same size to complement it in an adjacent spot.

I loved this little scene and I was happy to explore it again with a different format. So my first task was to convert my square composition to a vertical piece. Luckily, the architectural subject matter leant itself to the task naturally, and I was able to use Photoshop to render a "sketch" for a proposal in much faster time than I would have been able to do free-hand:

italianvillagemockup_jenniferyoung

As you can see, I didn't labor over rendering the upper portion. The purpose was just to continue it upward to demonstrate how it would look. (Photoshop is a very expensive program, but nothing beats it for working out compositional options for paintings!)

In all honesty, because the location of the focal point was in the right position for both the original 12x12"  and the commissioned 16x12" format,  I didn't have to do much to the composition of the original painting beyond extending it. That's not always the case, believe me, but this time things worked out really well. But because I was losing a window on the upper left, I did suggest that I replace the two flower pots under the window for a larger, single hanging basket, as this would give this area more unity.

Once I received the client's approval for my proposal of the first painting, I set to work finding a second composition that I would create as a companion piece. I'll cover that in the next installment. Stay tuned!

Tuscan Sun Wines launch this week in Italy!

I have gotten a number of inquiries about the wine labels I was commissioned to paint for Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun Wines,  and when the wines would be available for purchase. Well my sources (namely Twitter) tell me that the first big launch will be in Cortona Italy this week on July 4th.  It is exciting for me  to see the art finally realized on the wine bottles for which they were intended.

Source: Uploaded by user via Chef Robin on Pinterest

It will be even more exciting to see (and taste) the wines in person; but we here in the U.S. will have to wait for that. The U.S. launch is slated for some time in the fall.

Commissioned paintings for Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun Wines

Speaking of commissions, I thought I would share a few details of what for me was a rather exciting (and consuming) commission this past winter:

Italy painting for Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun Wine labels

Tuscan Sun Wines, LLC of Denver, Colorado, commissioned me to create seven paintings of the Italian countryside for their exclusive use on a new line of wine labels for writer Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.

Tuscany painting for Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun Wine labels
Tuscany painting for Frances Mayes Tuscan Sun Wine labels
Tuscany painting for Frances Mayes' Tuscan Sun Wine labels
Tuscany painting for Frances Mayes Tuscan Sun Wine labels

Each of the seven oil paintings portrays a theme that is central to life in Cortona, Tuscany and “Bramasole,” Mayes villa made famous by Under the Tuscan Sun. Listed here are pictures of my favorite pieces completed for this project. If you follow this link it will take you to the wine distributors website where you can see how the paintings look on finished labels!