Commissions and Personal Work: One Fuels the Other
I split my studio time about equally between commissioned work and personal work. With a one-year-old and a part time job at the Seattle Art Museum, I guard my painting time carefully. My priority is always to finish commissions on time, and that sometimes means putting off other paintings.
With plenty of ideas to begin with, paintings can be put on the back burner for years. A series of nine paintings of black cats was one such series but between my commissions and a backlog of other personal work, that project is at least two years away. You can imagine I was very excited to receive a request to paint this portrait of the black cat, Tank!
I love how the painting came out, and it gives me the feeling my black cats project is not so far away. It eases a sense of urgency and being short of time, by getting some of my ideas out of my head and into the world. In so doing it also helps to inform my future work. When I finally paint my black cats series, (future Monthly Miniatures perhaps?), I will have a better idea of what I want to explore, having already ‘pulled back the curtain’ and taken a peek.
I am thankful for this invitation to paint Tank and the opportunity to explore the mystique and beauty of black cats! I am so lucky to do work that lets me feel so thankful, so often. If you have a black cat, I would love to paint his or her portrait. Read about commissioning a pet portrait at my commissions page. Tanya and family also commissioned two duck stuffed animal paintings that were both a delight to paint.
…we love tank’s portrait
It was hard to convince my mother it wasn’t a photograph
When I first started painting pet portraits, I never imagined I would paint so many in memoriam. It’s a hard thing to explain why a painting should feel more significant than, say, the photo it’s based on, but I think it’s the care put into making it. I love that all the smiling dogs and bright eyed cats that I’ve painted will be just as happy and alert in their portraits for hundreds of years to come. They will not only bring a moment of joy to their much loved companion, but also to countless generations of viewers after all of us are gone. It’s an honor to make these paintings.
Hicks was one such special dog. I painted his portrait for Megan, whose husband was very close to Hicks. Our time with our pets is brief, but the love we experience is profound. We dread the moment of loss almost from the first, and it is always too soon. I know how it feels to lose a dog so well loved, and I think that is why I never get tired of painting memorial pet portraits.
I have a little portrait of Buster, my favorite companion who I lost six years go, hanging where I can see him every day. His portrait honors our connection and keeps his memory warm in my heart. It also gives me occasion to talk about him more, and tell stories of special memories. Painting it and having it helped me turn my grief at his passing into a celebration of our friendship. If you are considering a similar gift for yourself or a loved one, let me personally encourage you. If you have any questions about it, you may read my Commissions page or reach out to me directly.
Oh my gosh. It’s amazing!! I have tears in my eyes writing this. My husband loved it. It is so beautiful. I can’t thank you enough.
5″ x 5″
oil on aluminum
Painting pet portraits is a journey of discovery
Years of training in traditional painting techniques and my past pet portraits form the foundation for each new piece I make. Yet with each portrait I still learn new things. Mixing just the right color still feels like making magic, and finding the precise technique to create a new texture of fur or feathers is an enchanting challenge all its own.
A perfect example is my recent cat portrait of Shiro, a fluffy white fellow with piercing blue eyes. In this case, the key technique to capture the luminosity in those beautiful eyes, as well as the soft sense of fluff, was glazing.
Glazing is a little like magic
Evidence of glazing is found in the earliest examples of painting. The idea is to apply transparent layers of oil paint atop the dried lower layers. I use Gamblin’s Galkyd media for the upper layers of my paintings and when glazing, I increase the medium enough to create transparent layers, which offer a sense of optical depth. This is one reason why painting always look better in person than when reproduced. In reproductions all the colors are flattened out and the transparent layers are lost.
Glazing is typically used in just a few key areas of a painting. The areas of optical depth attract the viewer’s eye more than surrounding areas of opaque paint, so it’s a great way to help direct the eye of the viewer around a composition and create focal points. Gamblin has a list of pigments that are ideal for glazing on their website. I used Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, and a touch of Indian Yellow in Shiro’s eyes.
We absolutely love the picture. You rendered him so beautifully! We have a special spot in the house to hang the picture so we can look at it every day and it looks amazing.
Thank you again. It is such an honor and a treat to have a piece of your art and it is so special that it is of Shiro who we love so much.
Thanks so much for the commission, Dawn!
See more examples of my paintings on the Pet Portraits page and learn about the commission process on the Commissions page.
Corina, oil on aluminum, 2.25″ x 2.25″
It’s never too late…
Sixteen years after Corinna passed, she is still fresh in the mind of her favorite person. I have been very honored to be given this commission to create a memorial portrait that pays tribute to a sweet and loved little creature.
An image taken in the mid 1990’s and lots of very helpful tips about her unique colors from Aaron, helped me bring her to life on my small disk of aluminum. She has such unusual eyes and fur and I loved mixing such a lovely combination of colors. As the painting began to unfold, I couldn’t help but imagine petting her soft little nose. Thanks you for the commission, Aaron. I hope that this painting helps bring fond memories of your loved little Corinna to you often.
Oh Rebecca, it’s wonderful! That’s Corinna. Expression, subtle pink color, eyes, everything. You did it! I’m blown away. It’s more like her than any photograph. I can see, or feel, that it has a little extra love in there. Thank you.
Henry at his new home
My latest french bulldog portrait painting traveled across the country and has arrived in his new home.
I’d been looking forward to working on Henry’s portrait and it went almost too quickly! The wait list for one of my painting is currently about eight months. Though it seems like a long time, the anticipation is part of the fun both for clients receiving the paintings and for me to get working on them. What better way to spend your day than to look at that cute little face? I already miss him in the studio.
I found three miniature antique plaster frames and they are to be used for the portraits of two dogs (Oliver and Henry) and a cat (Corinna). For my pet portraits, I mostly work from photos taken by my clients, so I can take commissions from just about anywhere in the world. These three little paintings will split ways and make their independent journeys to California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. If you’re interested in a portrait of your own, please visit my Commissions page to learn about the process or contact me to get started today.
oil on aluminum
2.25″ x 2.25″
Just received my portrait of Henri. It’s so small and so perfect! I love it.
Thank you again, Rebecca
Portrait of Wilson
oil on aluminum
11″ x 14″
I was asked to make a painting of Wilson as a surprise Christmas gift and I loved the assortment of high quality images that I was given to choose from.
Photography is a skill to be mastered just like any other, and his owners have certainly been working hard to perfect their craft. Wilson is a willing muse and he is quick to give the camera his winning smile when asked. He is clearly a very happy and well loved pooch and I enjoyed the opportunity to capture him in oils from images taken when he was out hiking, one of his favorite things to do.
Check out his Instagram account where you can see an assortment of adorable photographs while you follow him on all sorts of adventures.
“I wanted to…let you know that the painting was the perfect gift. Olivia absolutely loved it! I can’t thank you enough for the work you did on it. It goes without saying that you have some very happy customers (Wilson included!)”
oil on aluminum
4.25″ x 3.25
Remember when I said I had a dozen more mock up’s for rabbit paintings?
Thanks to Nicholas Dorman, painting conservator at the Seattle Art Museum, I was able to squeeze a few more paintings of rabbits into my busy schedule last year. As you may know, I currently split my studio schedule equally between personal and commissioned artworks and these paintings were a combination of the two!
The paintings were commissioned for his wife, whose maiden name is Rabbitt and their two children, whose middle names are also Rabbitt! I sent him all of those rabbit mock up’s that were on the back burner while I was working on a new monthly miniature project and he picked his favorite three. I feel so humbled and honored that he wanted to add some of my paintings to his collection when he gets to travel the world with the museum to conserve so many amazing paintings.
Setting Sail, pictured above, was inspired by a pose my rabbits struck in the studio. I like thinking of this one personifying Nick and his wife contemplating their adventures. Nick’s art history background influenced the other two paintings he chose for his son and daughter. The paintings were inspired by historical works by Hans Hoffmann and Matthias Withoos. I replaced Hans Hoffman’s hare and Matthias Withoos’s mushroom with my house rabbits who share the art studio with me.
Take a look at my Monthly Miniature: Rabbits gallery to see my rabbit miniatures.
A Rabbitt in the Forest, after Hans Hoffmann, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″
A Forest Still Life, after Matthias Withoos – March, 2016, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″
Thanks so much! I love the paintings…They really are beautiful.
From his wife:
We absolutely love the rabbitt (rabbit) paintings! Thank you so much!
Oliver, oil on copper, 2.25″ x 2.25″
What could be a more perfect gift for someone you love, but a miniature painting of someone they love?
Many of my commissioned portraits are given as gifts. And while I enjoy creating each and every painting I make, those made for an unsuspecting recipient are made with an extra element of excitement and joy in the air. The charming Oliver was carefully captured in oils as a gift for his owner’s birthday. His owner’s sister, who commissioned the painting, was a big fan of Ollie, and I’m very grateful for the commission.
See the pet portrait miniature of Oliver’s first coat of paint in one of my On the Easel blog posts featuring works in progress. I work in a traditional lean to fat method that ensures my paintings will survive for hundreds of years and this first thin coat is essential to the process. To see more finished paintings, please take a look at my pet portraits gallery and my human portraits gallery. And if you’re interested in commissioning a portrait for of your own, take a look at my commissions page to learn my process and contact me to get started!
“I LOVE him!!!! Ollie looks perfect. Thank you Rebecca for all your patience and guidance. You are a talented artist with a true eye. And best of all I KNOW my sister will love it! It’s a given….”
And here’s what her sister posted in Instagram:
Lucy, oil on aluminum, 3″ x 4″
The portrait painting of the white Labradoodle, Lucy, has made it’s 2,000 mile journey in time for Christmas
I enjoy the searching process in a commission: finding out what my patron likes in my work, how they see themselves or their loved one, how I see them, and how I can portray that. The back-and-forth collaboration that finally materializes in a painting is such a rewarding experience, and I am so thankful for each person who gives me the opportunity to do such satisfying work.
I absolutely love it! Thank you so much. I can’t wait for my parents to see it!
Later she let me know that her parents loved it too. Thank you, Carrie!
Creating a pet portrait that communicates its personality is often a collaborative process with the owner that knows and loves them best.
Leo was an ideal model for a pet portrait painting. He’s a very sweet and patient kitty that loves to be photographed. I spent an evening with him and took dozens of photos and I thought I had several that captured his happy personality. But for Liz, his owner, there was something not quite right, though we couldn’t pin down what. Two months later, Liz sent me more images of him, showing a very different kitty. His coat changes throughout the seasons, and it was now in full fluff! This was her Leo.
Leo, take one
It’s often hard to describe the little details that express the personality of a loved one, but you notice when it’s not there. Most artists have you approve the final design before they being painting and if somethings doesn’t seem right, don’t hesitate to let the artist know. It’s much better to rework the initial design than have an unhappy patron.
Want to learn more about the painting process? Take a look at the underpainting for Leo and see more detail and in-progress images on Instagram. And if you look closely in the wood chips, you’ll find a little friend hiding on a leaf.
Please take a look at my commissions page for information about commissioning your own portrait and visit the pet-portrait and portrait gallery to see more examples of past commissions.