sometimes it's really hard to paint what other people want you to paint. it's hard to picture what they want, or to see what they picture in their head. it's challenging to paint portraits of people or animals you don't know, it's especially hard to "capture" their "essence" from a bunch of poorly lit photos you didn't take yourself. it's hard to create a scene out of thin air, and to make that scene look somewhat believable, adding imaginary elements together in a unified light. and it's hard to match someone's decor, their color scheme. today, i finished a painting that was all of the above. my client asked for a portrait of her two sons with their dog, and asked that it should include elements of water, fish, trees, and piano. she then sent me examples of art she liked, and a photo of the wall it should hang on. i was a little dumbfounded, but i'm always up for a good challenge. this one taught me how to oil paint again, on a large scale. i felt like i was starting from scratch. but i kept at it, i kept making mistakes to correct them, until i finished. for i had taken a lengthy reprieve from oil painting, and had lost the touch, lost the confidence. i sent her a photo of the image in progress, and by some odd miracle of god, she liked it. phew. because it could have just as easily gone either way. and maybe i would have had to refund her money.
i had an unsuccessful commission before. i was asked to paint the deceased dog of a client's parents on a golf green by the coastal cliffs overlooking the ocean. the painting was to be three feet by five feet horizontal. i worked on it, hard, with three blurry reference photos as my muse. i gave it to my client, she strapped it to the top of her volvo, and drove it to their house for christmas. it was their christmas gift. and when they laid eyes upon it they weren't pleased. the colors were all wrong. it looked nothing like him. and so, in the back of a distant dark closet, the painting sits.
i tried not to let it get me down. truly, it was the only failed attempt. because i've had many successes. i painted a wedding portrait from the eighties, and then a large family portrait with ten people all standing in a row. i've painted people's children i've never met opening up their christmas gifts. i've painted people's dogs and cats, or the church they were married in. i painted a guy's five dogs playing poker, drinking whiskey and smoking ciggarettes. i painted a guy's childhood portrait with his first fishing catch, and a farmer's prized pickup...the important stuff. all to pay my bills, and make 'em smile.