Mishaps and learning from mistakes: a commission story

There was a crappy misunderstanding about ten years ago with a commission I did for a friend. It was a gift for his girlfriend, featuring women strolling down a street (presumably her and a couple friends). 

It all started smoothly and routinely enough. He indicated interest, I asked for a photo reference, he sent one, we negotiated price and timeline. The one request: could I include another friend, who had taken the reference photo? He sent an additional photo of her for reference.

This was unusual. I paint from photo references, and am typically a stickler with the origination photo, not wanting to deviate too much. But I scrutinized the original photo and the addition and decided, sure, I can swap out one of those women with this new one without too much trouble.

Oops. I did the math on what would make it work for me artistically, but didn’t clarify with him what he wanted. Looking back, it’s super obvious: he wanted the additional woman added to the picture. But what I did was essentially erase one of the women from the painting in lieu of adding the new one in.

I wondered why, when he picked it up, he was less effusive than someone normally is upon seeing a commission. I figured it was maybe something he was going through, and as he darted out the door I moved on with my life.

Some time later, I found out what happened. OH, the sinking feeling!

But I learned from it, and changed.

Example of a recent commission outline and agreement.

Now, if you commission me, it’s still an easy but more formalized process. It starts the same: you send me a photo reference and a description of what you’d like, including size range and if you have a timeline in mind. We discuss as needed. Then, I fill out a form. This includes a written description of the commission, a process for checking on progress on the piece (so you can see if, somehow, something was miscommunicated and needs to be adapted), pricing and timeline, and payment methods. We both review, negotiate and clarify as needed, and sign. Then, voila, I’m off to the races.

A recent commission is an excellent example of this.

We went through the above process and arrived on timing and price. I printed the photo reference and picked up canvas, and got to work.

Oh, and in this case I also picked up neon green paint. This is my first aurora painting, but not my last!

I painted and sent periodic progress photos along the way. Then, I arrived at a decision point that I hadn’t thought of earlier in the process.

In this photo, there were smokestacks from the boat in the foreground (from where the person taking the original photo was standing). From a purely visual perspective, I was inclined not to include them. But they might mean something to the client.

To add or not to add?

I consulted him. After soliciting some opinions he decided, yes, go ahead and add the smokestacks! He also advised me that even though they appeared brown in the photo reference, in real life they’re grey.

I added them in and using his guidance, focused on cool, grey/blue and purple tones instead of the warmer yellows, reds, and browns as they appeared in the photo (likely a result of warm light cast against the darkness). 

In the end, he was absolutely right. It was the right move, and adding the smokestacks completed the painting to something original and immersive. From the viewer’s perspective, it was like being on the boat witnessing the scene.


He was as happy as I was!

I share this story both as a piece about lessons learned and growth, both in communications and art (several years ago I would have been uncomfortable changing the tone of the smokestack). But it’s also a call for commissions! I have two more I am slated to complete this fall, and then I have openings starting early December and into 2023.

If you’ve been thinking about commissioning a piece, now is a great time to hop on the dance card. For more information and to get the process started, check out details on my website and fill out the contact form.

Commissions are one of my favorite parts of sustaining myself via art, because I get to see new perspectives, connect with cool people, and learn. To everyone who has commissioned me in the past or thought about it for the future, thank you! I love getting to work with you to bring your vision and memories to life.

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