Commissions

"What are you Working on These Days?"

My Happy Mess

My Happy Mess

I had a client come into my art studio last week and he asked what I was working on these days. After I recounted some of the projects I’ve got in process, I thought “Wow, I’m really busy!” Thankfully, this has been a very busy season so far and I have lots on my plate and lots more projects I have in mind. So where to start?

  • I’ve got a three month show coming up in the summer at one of the premier hotel/restaurants in downtown Asheville. This will require 10 to 12 paintings, with more waiting “in the wings” to replace pieces as they sell (thinking positive here). Most of those paintings are completed now and ready for the show.

  • I am finishing up a commission (just completed today actually) for a couple that got married in Maine. The wedding venue had an amazing view of the mountains, so that vista was what I painted for their anniversary present to each other. I love creating a painting that’s not only a nice piece of artwork (hopefully!) but actually means something to the client. This one very definitely means a lot to them. How cool is that?

  • I’m also working on a rather large piece for a client that lives on a mountainside just south of Asheville. The view from their back deck is really spectacular so I’m creating a sunset inspired piece from the viewpoint of their back deck. This one is nearly completed now as well.

  • I just finished up a set of eight new pieces and have started a brand new 8-piece set to get ready for our busy summer season. Most of these paintings are on the smaller size (like 16” x 20” and 18” x 24”) so it’s easier on the wallet (since my prices are determined by the size). Come by this summer and there will be a lot to see!

How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?”

  • I saved the completely impractical (but really fun) projects for last in this list. This year, I wanted to depict a very large wave crashing on rocks and I just finished the line drawing of that composition on the canvas last week. The other project is a jagged peak of a mountain (up close view). I know…I’m in Asheville and how do I expect to sell a crashing wave (we’re five hours from the ocean and we only get huge waves here when there’s a hurricane) and we’re about a 30 hour drive from the nearest “jagged” mountains. So the reason I’m painting these two is because I want to. I don’t really care if these sell or not. I may end up with these on my own wall and if that’s the case, I’m very much okay with that. How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?” Seriously, I’d be excited if they don’t sell because I wouldn’t mind ending up with two of my very best pieces (and that’s what I intend to create). That said, if. you like waves and/or mountains, let’s talk. :)

Well, that about sums up the current work load of this Asheville artist. If you’re planning a trip to visit western North Carolina this year, please make sure you include our art studio (in Asheville’s historic River Arts District) in your itinerary. With over 220 artists with open art studios, you could spend a whole day browsing artwork and meeting artists. Cheers!

Recent Projects on my Plate

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My gosh, the life of an artist is so much fun, but can be really busy this time of year! I’m so thankful for that! I’m still amazed I can do what is (for me) the most fun thing I can think of doing and be able to make a living doing it.

Currently, I’ve got twelve paintings in various stages of creation that will end up in my open art studio / gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. These are mostly local landscapes with a few “generic” themed landscape pieces. When I paint for my studio, I have to consider the fact that visitors are mostly tourists that would like a piece of art to remind them of their trip to Asheville. I’ve learned over the years that venturing too far off the path (of local themed paintings) is not a great idea if I want the art to sell (and I do).

And so far, I have six commissions lined up for a January start date! Here are my assignments:

1) 44” x 72” piece that depicts the view off the back deck of my clients house near the tip of Long Island, NY. This will feature some trees in the foreground, and wetlands with cattails and fishing docks in the mid-ground and the sparkling water of the bay in the background.

2) I have a 24” x 72” piece that is a panorama of woodlands at the tail end of summer, so the trees will be mostly green leafed, but with a hint of gold and rust thrown in here and there.

3) 12” x 35” spray of orchids. This will be fun and challenging because the orchids will be built up and sculpted onto the canvas, then covered with the aluminum leaf and paint.

4) Two 8” x 10” paintings of birch trees during summer and autumn (to go with another two I did last year for this client featuring birch trees in spring and winter) so this will make a complete four seasons group.

5) A 36” x 36” painting depicting a scene from the Netherlands. My clients are using their own photo for this one (I love it when people feel the freedom to do that!)

6) A 24” x 40” painting featuring a scene on the Biltmore Estate of an old oak tree overhanging the French Broad River in autumn.

So that’s what’s on my plate right now. That should be enough to keep me busy and out of trouble for a while anyway! Huge thanks to everyone that has asked for commissions! I’m offering a 20% discount on any commission ordered now but that I can start after the holidays. So if you’d like to own one of my paintings at a discount, now’s the time to inquire about it!

Okay, enough blogging. I obviously have to get back to painting!

Steps Involved with a Painting Commission

Yesterday morning, I was in my “happy place”, finishing up a landscape painting I’m working on featuring the meadows and mountains for western North Carolina. My art studio had had several visitors poking in, looking at the completed artwork I have displayed on my walls and stopping to talk with me while I was working.

Around mid-morning, three women arrived and I remembered two of them from a previous visit. They had come in to talk about steps involved with commissioning a painting. Luckily, they had a laptop filled with some really beautiful photos.

These clients live in beautiful home near the eastern tip of Long Island and their home overlooks a bit of wetland and then a bay (Wickham Creek). They showed me photos of their home and some shots of where the painting would be eventually installed. And then we perused photos of their amazing view during each of the seasons.

So the first question to answer was “what is the subject matter for this piece?”. Over the course of the conversation, they decided on a view of the bay with the foreground being a mix of cattails and various wetland foliage. The problem was that there are trees in the way of the view they desired, but I assured them that that was an easy problem to remedy as an artist (I’ll just remove the trees in the artwork!). And this time of year, with leaves nearly all off the trees, they can just give me a good shot through the trees and that will give me the mid-ground and background for the composition.

Then we discussed time of year to be depicted. Their walls are a “golden retriever yellow, so a sundown would be too warm and winter would be too cool. We decided that a late September view (before the cattails were pruned off) would work great. Blue sky with some clouds maybe? Lush green wetland in the foreground with some early autumn rusts and golds (which tie in with the wall color).

It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for.

The only thing left to decide was the size, but they were thinking something around 4’ x 6’ or maybe 3’ x 5’, as it is to be a real “statement piece”, hanging above the couch. As soon as they get home, they’ll measure their couch, and then get back to me. In the mean time, I did a little research and found that the average three-cushion couch is 84” long, and based on that, I did the following three plans:

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I’ll forward the photos to them today, so they can start thinking about the proportions that would work best for them. Then we will be ready to start, and about eight weeks later, the painting will be delivered to it’s new Long Island home!

This is how I generally work a commission. It’s so much fun to sit down and talk through what the client is looking for. Sometimes people know exactly what they want, and sometimes we need to talk it through. Either way, it’s really a lot of fun for me as I begin to imagine the completed work. As we talk, the painting begins coming together as we nail down the plan: theme, colors, time of year, time of day, angle of the shot, best size for the space. All of that is great fun for me and I think my clients really enjoyed it too. The result of all that fun will be an awesome piece of art. That’s not bragging — it’s just really hard to go wrong with painting the view of the bay they were showing me. It’s going to be amazing.

As the plans come together and the piece is started, I’ll document the progress here for anyone interested in following along. Cheers!

Commission Confusion

This last week, I had a visitor to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District who spent quite a bit of time looking at all my paintings I have displayed in my art studio/gallery. They walked around a couple of times, studying each piece. I just assumed they were an artist trying to figure out my technique, so I was politely quiet. :)

I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it…

After several minutes, they left, but then returned about an hour later and went back to a couple of landscape paintings I have hanging near the back of my studio. On my way to my “back of studio workspace (where I do the messy work), I briefly commented that if they had any questions, to be sure to ask. They nodded quietly and continued staring at my painting. That’s fine. After another ten minutes or so, they walked slowly by my front-of-studio workstation and watched me paint. So I got to talking with him just a bit and he said that he REALLY liked a couple of the paintings but was afraid they were both the wrong size for his space. So I recited my standard commissions speech:

“If you would like to commission a painting based on one of the paintings you like, I am very happy to revisit that idea in another size. I can even change it from a summer to an autumn scene or add some sun rays coming across the trees. I don’t charge any more for commissions and I guarantee you’ll be happy with it or I’ll sell it here and paint you another one. And I ship for free, which, since you live in New York, saves you having to pay the NC sales tax…”

“Oh no,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have you do that.”

I was fine with that, smiled and told him to have a great day and to make sure he comes back again next time he’s in town. But honestly, I don’t understand his reluctance to commission a painting. Did he want a “unique” painting? Or did he not want to spend the money for a “commissioned piece”? Or did he think a commissioned piece wouldn’t have the same “artistic energy” from me as a painting that came “from my own heart”? I didn’t ask because, well, I just never would.

Is it unique?

As far as being a unique painting, each one I do is a unique piece of art. I never just “copy” a painting of mine — I always tweak it so each one is unique, but I feel complete freedom to revisit a favorite theme (look up “Monet Water Lilies” or “Money St.Paul’s Cathedral” and see how many iterations he did of the same theme). If Claude can do it, so can I (that’s my reasoning). And honestly, when I try a new thematic idea and it works, when I have gone back and rework it, the new one always turns out better.

The cost of a commissioning a painting?

I never charge more for a commission. It’s exactly the same price as it would be if I just did it to hang on my studio wall and tried to sell it here.

Is a commissioned painting inferior to a piece that “came from the artists’ heart”?

No. Bottom line is that I just love painting. I don’t care what I paint. And commissioned pieces honestly have always been the most fun because I get to paint ALL SORTS OF THINGS I’d never be able to sell here in my Asheville art studio. For commissions, I’ve painted scenes from Scotland, Canada, the Swiss Alps, New Zealand, the canals of Venice, underwater fish “cyclone”, even a sunset over Antarctica. I absolutely love it when someone says something like “I have probably a crazy idea for a painting…” Right there, they have me hooked. Something new and try!

I hope my studio visitor comes back sometime and sees something he likes. But I would really get excited if he said, “okay, I don’t see exactly what I want so let me try to explain it and see if you can do it.”

I can do it, and I promise I’ll have a blast.

Regarding Commissioning a Painting

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I received a super nice email from a potential client a week or so ago. They'd visited my art studio / gallery in Asheville's River Arts District and liked my work. It sounded like they were looking for a specific size but didn't really want to commission something. They wrote:

"I am a bit hesitant at the idea of a commission, because I want the artwork to reflect your vision, not mine."

That struck me in two ways. First of all, it's over-the-top respectful, so bravo possible future client! You won me over! But second, it sort of implies an assumption about how I work: "If the subject matter for the painting comes spontaneously from the artist's head and heart, it will give the artist more joy and the end result will be a better painting." I'm not familiar with the way other artists work and their motivation behind everything they do, so maybe that assumption is accurate for some people, but it is not at all descriptive of me. So I responded:

"I understand and appreciate what you said about commissions, but honestly, commissions and artists have gone hand-in-hand for centuries (over half of  what I paint are commissions). I just really love painting, and I am immersed and emotionally invested into every piece. In other words, it’s not like I give my all to some idea I choose and give half-hearted attention to an idea someone else chooses. In fact, some of the most challenging and exciting paintings I’ve ever done were commissioned by a client. I love every project I assign myself or is assigned to me. I just really like creating."

Every artist I know LOVES commissions. Commissioning a painting give us artists the chance to create something different. Most of what I paint is what I know will sell here in my art gallery in Asheville: Blue Ridge Mountain landscapes, trees in various seasons, local waterfalls, i.e. things that people purchase to remind them of their vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. However, I've been commissioned to paint a Venice, Italy canal, the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a seaport town at sunset in New Zealand, the Alps, and a shrimp boat on a coastal river just to name a few. A couple just came into my art studio yesterday and showed me a really beautiful photo of the view off their back deck and asked, "Can you paint that?" Yep. :)

If you absolutely love doing what you do, then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

The result of a client commissioning a painting is that I'm often entertained and challenged by some new idea I'd not thought of painting before, or I can enjoy painting something (like the Canadian Rocky mountains) that would take a long time to sell here in Asheville where people are mostly looking for Appalachain scenes. Bottom line is that commissions and artists have a long history and that's part of how we stay in business. And if you absolutely love doing what you do (and I do!), then commissioning a painting is fodder for previously unplanned for joy!

That's just how I roll.

"The Trail That Never Ends"

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About a month ago, I had some really nice visitors to my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. They spent some time looking at all my landscape oil paintings and approached me as I was painting at my work station up front. They asked me if I ever did commissions (I LOVE COMMISSIONS!) and after talking them through the process, they gave me a photo of theirs which was taken somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. I was excited to be able to honestly say I’ve now tackled the A.T. 

“it just kept going and going and going...”

This trail is infamous and wonderful. One friend of mine tried to hike it a few years ago and the main complaint was “it just kept going and going and going”. Yes. It goes on forever. 

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, it criss-crosses through twelve states along the eastern seaboard.

Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four makes it all the way. A typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T.

I’ve not actually hiked much of the A.T. but some of my very favorite vistas are on the trial: Max Patch and Roan Mountain. If you’re in North Carolina (or…Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine), it’s definitely worth exploring. And in the meantime, enjoy the painting!

Forsyth Park Fountain

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I love it when an Asheville visitor wanders into my art studio and asks if I do commissions. YES! I love commissions. Some commissions I get are awesome. Then there are some that are extraordinary. This request for a painting was in that second category. In Savannah, Georgia, there is really beautiful fountain in Forsyth Park. So rather than retell the story, I'll cut and paste it from the original email I received that began the commission: 

  • My wife and I met on line a little over 8 years ago and our first date / meeting was at the fountain in Forsyth park. She drove from Atlanta and I from Florida. 
  • We met late afternoon. 
  • Probably from the vantage point in the picture you sent, a wedding was taking place.
  • We stopped a watched for awhile.
  • We went to dinner and came back to the park after dark.
  • Impulsively we climbed the fence surrounding the fountain and proceeded to the center.
  • We sat at the base enjoying each other's company while becoming thoroughly drenched.
  • We have been together ever since and hold fond memories of the fountain and our first meeting.
  • My wife thinks that if you consider the different view points that hundreds of online photos can provide, you will capture the essence of what it means to us.

Cool story, huh? I love that! This was a challenge though because (obviously) these people know and love this fountain. I had to get it right! I hope this piece does that magical moment justice. Gosh, I love my job. 

 

"How do you decide what to paint?"

Johnsen Commission concept photo (for future 30" x 60" painting)

Johnsen Commission concept photo (for future 30" x 60" painting)

WHERE TO START...

One of the questions I'm often asked is how I decide what to paint. That question is most easily answered if said answer is dictated by the desires of a client for a painting that is commissioned. Obviously, for a painting commission, the client tells me what they want. That makes it easy (and usually a lot of fun because the subject could be almost ANYTHING).

When I'm just painting something to fill my walls here at my art studio in Asheville, then the answer is a lot more subjective. I usually am trying to keep an ear open at all times to what seems to be resonating with people as they enter my studio/gallery. That helps dictate what I will be working on next. See, my work station (where I do 85% of my work) is located just inside the door to my studio, so I'm right there, meeting and greeting people (and hopefully) painting. I hear people's comments (sometimes they crack me up!) so I know what is interesting to people. That helps me so much when I need to sit down and figure out what to paint to replace something that's sold.

SEASONAL?

One thing I've learned is to think one season ahead. Right now it's autumn. But right now, I've got an entire wall full of winter themed paintings and I've got more in the pipeline. The winter scenes are hot now through the holidays. As soon as "REAL" winter settles in and we're under snow pack and fighting freezing rain and sleet, then the appeal of snow scenes wears off. But that won't happen until January 1. As soon as it hits January, I'm painting spring scenes and by May, it's full-on summer scenes. I think this is because the human heart loves to anticipate the next season, but when we're "in the MIDST" of that season, we get bored and are longing for the next season. This is all new to me -- I grew up in southern California and we really didn't have much in the way of seasons at all, but the rhythm four seasons in Western North Carolina brings to life is just wonderful I think. I'm so glad to be living now in a place with four real seasons, because I love to paint all four (the Blue Ridge Mountains are spectacular all year round).

When I'm painting an abstract, then usually I just take a look at the "in" colors that are hot for decorating and I use those colors. Usually.

In the end though, I paint what makes me happy. There. True confessions. That's how I decide what to paint. Enough writing now...back to work.

Cheers!

Catawba Falls

North Carolina waterfall

I love Catawba Falls. It's a really beautiful waterfall at the end of a (sometimes steep) trail just down the mountain from us in Old Fort, North Carolina. The trail winds along the river and ends at a cliff and this really beautiful waterfall and pool (great for swimming in summer by the way). 

Joy and I discovered Catawba Falls with the help of my daughter Camden. She had hiked here before and told us about the trail so...we had to discover it ourselves. This is one of countless waterfalls within an hour of our home here in Asheville. What an amazing thing it is to be a landscape painter in the River Arts District, so close to so much...uh...landscape! We try to get out and hike every day off (weather and house chores permitting). 

This painting was commissioned by some very nice folks (Asheville locals) who came into my art studio and asked a question I LOVE to get asked: "Do you do commissions? We have a specific photo of a very special place to us". I love that. Of course, I was excited to talk to them about the project (about half of what I sell are commissions). I love commissions for many reasons. They are a pre-paid painting so uh, that's nice. But it's also a great way to not only get a nice piece of art (I'll keep painting it until it IS a nice piece of art) but it's also the opportunity to create something sentimental to the client. I've painted photos from honeymoons and vacations all over the world. 

So...Catawba Falls is done and is to be picked up this week. If you want directions to the trail, just email me or swing by my Asheville studio. Cheers!

Autumn River Song

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"Autumn River Song". This was a fun one. A while back, I had a gentleman visit my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District and he spent a good deal of time wandering around studying my artwork. We had a really nice conversation and then he left, taking a card.  This was not that unusual. Visitors to the art studio take a LOT of business cards and that's cool. That's what they're there for. But this guy called back a few days later and said he wanted to surprise his girlfriend with a painting of mine. That made my day. I love commissions!

He got on my website and found an older painting of mine that he liked, but wanted a few things changed. Here's the original painting:

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He asked that some of the rocks be removed from the right side and replace the foreground rocks with new moss-covered rocks. And he wanted autumn colors rather than summer greens. I love commissions! And I love it when a client feels the freedom to get involved (he actually spent a good deal of time hunting for the foreground rocks he wanted).

I love revisting a painting I enjoyed the first time, and tweaking it, creating a brand new and unique piece of art. It's like taking leftovers of a great leg of lamb and potato dinner and making stew out of it,  you know? It's like and unlike the original "go-round". I once heard that there really is nothing unique, just unique ways of re-combining preexisting elements, and I think that's right. How many ways can just four elements (ADTP for instance) be combined and recombined to create over 7,000,000 unique individual people? I think this really does apply to art. How many times did Monet paint waterlilies or St.Paul's cathedral? Countless. But each one is unique and he obviously revisted the idea because it gave him joy. That's how creativity works.

And when I see this new piece that combined old and new ideas, it gives me a great deal of joy. That's why I paint. So if you're considering commissioning a unique oil painting, let's talk! It's a blast.