Recently, I have completed the largest commission I’ve taken on in my career so far. I don’t mean in the physical sense, but rather, in terms of scope and deadline. It was challenging but I learned a lot from the experience.
I was contacted through Instagram by a woman who was looking to have 5 portraits painted as Christmas gifts. She briefly outlined what she was looking for and once the final details were worked out I was able to give her a quote. She commissioned to paint her lovely and talented dance instructors.
This meant 5 full-figure, 8×10″ portraits complete with fairly detailed backgrounds. I was a little nervous about some of the backgrounds as they aren’t exactly my strong point. I mentioned this to her and she said she’d like me to try anyhow, and we’re both pleased with the results. I’m glad I decided to take on the challenging backgrounds and I feel I definitely improved from working on them.
I needed to have them finished and ready to ship by the end of September, so I had roughly 30 days to complete them all. I do currently work a full-time day job, so it was a bit of a challenge as I’d have to let layers dry for a while before I could continue on each one. Each day after work, I would set aside 2 hours to focus on these commissions. I ended up working on two-three different portraits at a time whilst layers on other ones were drying. This method worked out pretty well and I was able to get them shipped a few days early.
For large projects like this, I realized it’s super important to keep the client updated on your progress rather than simply accepting the commission, getting paid, and then disappearing for weeks until finished. I sent the sketches in groups of two and three until they were all accepted and I could begin painting. From there on, I messaged the client once a week with the progress I’ve made on each portrait to make sure they were looking alright. This was a good balance as there were no surprises on either end, and I was able to correct any mistakes before it was too late.
I have very little experience painting scenery. My style relies heavily on brushstrokes and the textures and colors that come from layering those various shapes. I was worried that having all the extra texture of the background would take away from the instructors as the main subjects. Before starting the backgrounds, I did some mini thumbnail tests in my sketchbook to figure out the best way to approach them. I’m glad I did that, because I was able to find a nice balance between all the detail and texture without distracting from the rest of the portrait. I definitely still have some work to do in terms of improvement here, but I made a good start with this project, and more importantly, the client and her dance instructors are very happy with their portraits!