Sunday, June 12, 2016


I recently finished a commission.  I was contacted by somebody who wanted a "portrait" of her parents' house, to include her parents.  This was an interesting assignment for me.  Since the house is nowhere near here, I needed a lot of photos of it.  My client was, fortunately, able to provide quite a few.  I worked up a couple of compositions in sketches and, after a bit of back-and-forth, we decided on the approach.  Then it was time to get to work.

Although I was working from photographs, I wasn't copying them.  No single photo showed everything I needed, and different areas were kinda/sorta covered from different vantage points.  The focus of the photos was generally on the spectacular flowering bushes and other features, and usually from the viewpoint that showed them best, which was never my chosen viewpoint.  And, as you can see, there's a LOT going on in this yard.  To work out where everything was, I had to make a map of the front yard, using all the clues from the photos.  Once I had that, then I was able to determine my viewpoint and accurately place the house, trees, and flowers.  Then it was a matter of creating something that worked as art, as well as being accurate.  So here's the finished painting:

The Williams House
Oil on linen panel, 16"x20"

I knew that the house was going to be the primary focal point, simply because of the straight lines, sharp edges, and dark shutters and door.  But I didn't want it to overpower everything else.  The yard, particularly the flowering bushes, was the secondary focus.  So I made the house fairly small and near the top of the panel.  The flowers were strong reds, pinks, and whites.  To make them pop out, I had to play with the greens surrounding them, which generally meant changing the light/dark values of the greens as well as muting them.  The grass was different: I decided to make that a stronger, warmer green, and make it look almost like a carpet rolling back to the house.  This connected the foreground to the house and provided a nice swooping movement to guide the eye into the painting.  Finally, I put in the surrounding foliage.  I kept it as simple and muted as possible, just enough to read as trees and foliage, and to provide an environment for the primary interest areas to strut their stuff.

Right near the apex of the swoop, I placed her parents.  They're small enough so that they don't become the focal point, but large enough so that they are recognizable for who they are.  Had they been any closer, the painting would have been about them, with the rest of the painting serving as support.  As it is, it's about their home and their creations in the yard, with their figures serving as a supporting element.

Reading back on this, it sounds as if I did this by painting the house, then the plants, then the grass, and so on.  Of course, that's not the way it happened.  I worked up a full-size sketch, transferred it to the panel, then blocked in the house and everything else in one go.  Then it was a matter of developing, adjusting, smoothing, and tweaking over several sessions, keeping all the stuff I wrote about in mind the whole time.

All in all, I'm happy with the way it turned out.  More importantly, my client is, too. 

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