Watercolour sketches towards a commission

I recently finished a commission that I’d started work on some time ago.

I was contacted by someone who had come across my work online, really liked it, and was keen to commission a painting for his wife following the birth of their son.

There followed lots of to-ing and fro-ing while we established which of my paintings he particularly liked and what scene would be suitable. The starting point became the Pantheon in Rome, as they’d enjoyed a special holiday together there.

Also, as their wedding anniversary was approaching, it was felt that this would be an appropriate occasion to present the painting if I could get it done in time!

Next came a lot of image research. Sadly, it’s not a location that I have any personal experience of, and the commission didn’t quite run to cover my flights and accommodation!

I assembled a little gallery of images, from which I selected a couple of views that excited me more than others and which I felt could make a painting from.

Here are my first two studies:

Sketch 1

I really enjoyed this study and thought it was quite successful too. Overall, I thought it was perhaps a little too cool, and I also thought about pulling out a little further to include the fountain and statue in front of the Pantheon:

Sketch 2

Although these two sketches were well received, they did help to steer us towards a clearer idea.

Rather than the Pantheon being the dominant feature, I was asked to pull the view back further to include more of the Piazza della Rotunda square.

Although I was given another image that suggested the viewpoint, I had to make some adjustments and additions to make it work. Here’s my next study:

Sketch 3

I was pretty pleased with this, though my only reservation was the far right of the painting, which seemed to allow the eye to ‘drift’ off the edge of the paper! I wondered if, by adding the suggestion of a figure walking into the painting from the far right, it might help to hold the eye a little better:

Sketch 4

I did like this addition, though overall, I preferred the treatment and handling of the previous version!

By now, time was pressing, and the anniversary was fast approaching! This wasn’t a hard deadline, but it was one that was still achievable and worth aiming for.

I was given the green light, which left me just about enough time to complete the final painting and ship.

All of these studies were small sketchbook studies and all about A5 in size. The commission was for a half-sheet painting – considerably larger than any of these preparatory sketches!

My final sketch was purely for my own reference, and this was a quick tonal study to use as a reference:

Final tonal study

And the final verdict…

…well perhaps I should leave the final words to the person who commissioned me. This is the review that I was provided with after the painting had been presented:

“I commissioned John to do a painting for my wife after she gave birth to our son. I admire John’s work and we are delighted with what he produced for us. The use of colour and light make for a very special painting rich with atmosphere. As well as creating a beautiful painting, John was a pleasure to deal with, it made for a lovely experience communicating with him.

Thank you so much John for a lovely experience and a beautiful painting.”

I really enjoyed working on this and hope that this provides an insight into some of the steps that go into a commission. As with so many things, it’s all about the planning!

The amount of time spent doing the research and the sketches totalled up to much more time than it took me to do the final painting, but without all of the preparation work, it’s unlikely that the final painting would have been successful!

This is also why a commissioned painting is often considerably more expensive than purchasing a painting ‘off-the-shelf’ as it were. A great deal of ‘extra’ time and work is involved in creating something bespoke, but this can also be a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience for everyone involved!

Thoughts on Watercolour sketches towards a commission

4 thoughts on “Watercolour sketches towards a commission”

  1. I rather liked sketch #2 but I can understand their preference for sketch #3.

    I can see the “eye drift off to the right”you were talking about but I find the large figure a bit distracting, but that may be just me.

    I don’t do tonal studies but maybe I should start.

    1. Hi Mary and thanks for this! funny how you found the right hand figure distracting – after I’d finished the final version, we played around with a couple of different crops and ended up cropping that right hand figure out altogether! As for the tonal studies, I don’t do them very often but I think I should do them more often (I see people like Andy Evansen using them to help plan out paintings and they’re often wonderful little studies in their own right!)

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this

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