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Commissions, a working methodology

Many artists are often asked by friends or through referrals to paint commissions of specific subjects. Negotiating that area between artistic expression, visual license and expectation when painting for a client with a specific idea, can be tricky. Stress commonly accompanies art making when the artist is mindful of the need to produce something pleasing to the client. Colin Christie, UK artist, recently sent us a description of his working methodology for landscape commissions which he has developed so that the painting process is stress free.

The brief for this commission was to produce a painting of his client's yacht set in their favourite bay on the west coast of Scotland.

The first task is always creating a pencil sketch of a pleasant composition but to develop it in such a way that it makes a convincing view of the subject. Getting the scale of the yacht right here in relation to the landscape was achieved by tracing and reworking an actual photo of the yacht in an initial pencil outline on top of the landscape sketch and then transferring it to a pencil sketch on canvas.

This is then followed by a pastel colour sketch to determine the colours to be used in the painting. He uses this method as the quickest way to work out colour relationships, saving a lot of time when the major painting begins.

Following this, step 3 is to create a slightly more detailed colour painting to present to the client as the basis for the major work.

Colin has written,

“The ability of Interactive Acrylics to be reworked by re-moistening saves so much time compared with traditional acrylics……. I can slow up, rework, work additional colours into a section, wipe off if I want. It's very liberating not to feel driven by the paint.
I (used to) do an acrylic under painting to work out all the compositional and colour problems and then complete the work in oils. However, since starting to use Interactive Acrylics I have found the need for an oil finish to be diminishing. Not only are the pigments so good but the flow of the paint allows a great deal more fluidity - the fluidity I used to require oils for.”

After viewing the preliminary painting the client wanted a change in the yacht's presentation. To work out this change in the angle of the yacht, Colin went back to step 1, doing a fairly technical construction to get the angles sorted out, before transferring the amended and enlarged pencil sketch to the final board, 500 x 600mm, gessoed in a warm black ground.It helps a great deal in the final resolution to know that most of the compositional and colour problems have already been resolved.

About Atelier Interactive acrylics Colin says, ” I am also extremely impressed with the colour range. I can develop my pastel sketches safe in the knowledge that I can get the same tones and hues from the paint - Interactive Acrylics are now a core element in my working process.”

Further examples of Colin’s work and contact details can be found in Chroma’s News and Events section,

or Chroma Teacher’s site,

We’d love to hear from you about your experiences of doing commissions and thoughts on the process. Add a comment below.

There are (3) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_13558

    naiveone commented on Avril 16, 2011, at 8:33 am.

    As a professional artist I am often asked to paint commissions. Because the referral is usually word of mouth or by reputation the client is familiar with my naive style. After discussing content, size and price, both parties sign an agreement detailing these items and time line and a one third deposit is paid. I agree that if the client does not like the finished painting I will keep the work and the deposit. The client never sights the ongoing work. I have never had a client refuse their work!
    On payment of the final price plus GST both parties sign a bill of sale including painting details, price and a statement that the artist retains copyright of the work.If copyright is desired by the client an additional cost is paid.
    I must stress the importance of requiring a deposit and retaining copyright. In my case I may then produce prints of the work whenever I wish.
    Hope this helps ,
    Artfully from Naiveone

  2. comment_2_13558

    Jim Cobb commented on Mai 3, 2011, at 3:37 pm.

    I think Colin's meticulous process which I referred to above reflects his background in teaching and design. This may be particularly helpful for an artist who is just starting out and establishing their reputation. How an artist approaches commissions is as individual as their working method.

    If an artist has been commissioned to paint a specific subject the client can be reassured by the artist's approach. On the other hand, the idea of compromising one's artistic freedom and judgment with client feedback is something many artists wouldn't consider.

    Naiveone, thanks for your comment . Commissions can be difficult, so much so that some artists refuse to do them. It can however be a useful source of income, depending on how the situation is handled. This is just the type of discussion I was hoping we might start to help people by exploring some of the benefits, pitfalls and various approaches to commissions.

    I'm sure your approach to the business of commissions will help many people decide weather or not to show a client the ongoing work.

  3. comment_3_13558

    Joan Watkins commented on Mai 15, 2011, at 8:04 pm.

    Naiveone, your are not so a naiveone but very sensible, savvy and thorough in your approach to your business, both article and comment are helpful to anyone contemplating commisions, more power to both!