Have you ever been commissioned to paint a picture from a favourite photo. If so would you decline the commission If the image isn’t very good.
I thought I would experience working on a commission to see how feasible it would be. So I asked a good friend to select a favourite holiday photograph that really meant something to him, he presented me with an image of mountains he took visiting the Scottish highlands - it was an interesting experience painting the commission. Well first of all I have not had a lot of experience painting landscape, but I took on the work. So here’s the dilemma - the photo meant something to him, but from my point of view it didn’t work: it had no real focal point and the foreground was void of anything visually interesting - this was my initial thoughts anyway.
I attempted this painting 5 times and gave up 5 times, burdened by my inexperience of landscape painting. And I had thoughts running through my head that this photo just doesn’t lend itself to becoming a viable painting. So at some point I started to think ok I need to change what I’m looking at, use some artistic license to better the composition. But then I thought, wait a minute, this image means something to my friend. So how can I possibly change it.
To cut a long story short, after participating in the recent ‘Copy Challenge’, I thought I would have a last attempt at the Scottish mountain scene (well it probably wouldn’t have been - I don’t like to be beaten). I had a larger canvas, nicer paint, and some new ideas under my belt so I felt reasonably confident. I got started, but then after a couple of hours that familiar feeling started to come down on top of me: this is going the same way as my 5 other attempts. This is the point that always trips me up: the ugly stage (or the stage immediately after it). The 'ugly stage’ was a new term to me, and of course all artist go through it…it’s inevitable, just part of painting a picture. But just the sight of it was enough to take the wind out of my sails. I got some encouragement from my partner, what I thought was ugly she thought was good (with just one adjustment). So I carried on and finished it. The painting was better than all my other attempts but I still didn’t get that feeling when I’m really happy with my work.
So to finish up I have to say that I did end up changing things in the photo, but not drastically. I just exaggerated some of the colours put some colour where there wasn’t any, and invented one or two objects in the foreground…that was it. Well that’s the job of an artist I can hear a lot of you saying, and yes your right…I get it now. But I got hung up on presenting my friend with a faithful reproduction of his photograph (I should have mentioned I try to paint loosely, not photo realistically). I showed my friend a photo of my painting over a cup of coffee today. And I have to say that all the attempts at this painting was worth it just to watch his face. He was delighted with it, and I leant a ton: push through the ugly stage at all cost and don’t be afraid to enhance what you see in the photo. After all, although nature is wonderful, it has a habit of leaving the artist to do a bit of work…but maybe it should be like that anyway.
Care to share your experiences of painting a commission?
Not heard of the 'ugly stage’ ? Have a look here: