Most emails I get from the contact page on my website are spam. So I was really excited when I discovered a message from a woman right here in Des Moines who had found my website while looking for an artist to hire. She sent me some images, described her situation, and invited me to her house for a look at the space.
We instantly clicked over a bottle of champagne. Two hours flew by as we went from talking about art to travel, family, books we're reading, and many other topics. Learning about Tracy and her husband helped me come up with ideas for the personal objects in their paintings.
The couple wanted two narrow, vertical canvases to fit their space. Tracy liked the circular patter and tie in The Escape (the header image for my website). They had a very specific color scheme in mind--right down to a paint chip! I picked up the chip and got to work.
First, I sent them several sketches so they could see what I had in mind and make suggestions of their own.
The ideas for the chosen images came from my own desk and a chair I saw at Pittock Mansion in Portland this summer. The ottoman was one from the Grant Wood house at 1142 in Iowa City.
It took me a long time to realize the value of an underpainting. For most of my college classes I was in such a hurry to finish by the deadline that I would try to get the color and detail right in the first layer of paint and move on to the next area. After spending part of a summer doing ONLY underpaintings for my professor John Dilg, it finally sunk in that there was a better approach. Now, I try to cover the entire canvas in a layer of paint right away and work up to the colors and textures as I add more layers of paint to the surface.
I haven't done many commissioned paintings, and I struggled with how to make them meaningful to me as well as to the couple. When making work for sale, it's tempting to watch TV while you paint since it seems all the decisions have already been made. I didn't want that to be the case--I wanted to make something that still had significance in my body of work. Obviously the change in color palette was a learning experience, and the furniture with objects representing the couple fit in with my usual themes. But how to make it personal?
The relationships, of course. The connection I felt with Tracy throughout the project as we communicated with emails, had meetings in person, and shared ideas. The new friendship made in a new city. And, in this case, the idea that someone who never met me was moved by my work! There is even more to come from this couple next month.
Here are the finished paintings. See below for images of both from start to finish.