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Going large! (Scaling up a commission piece)

Commissions are usually pretty interesting because they will challenge me in some way or another. This particular commission’s challenge was about scale. Now, I don’t usually paint large paintings because I just don’t have the space to store many of them. I have a few but I am not keen to paint many more as and I find it difficult to paint in a crowded attic studio, both on a practical level (if you look at my photos carefully you can see its crowded in my studio) and also psychologically (it starts to bug me).  So if a commission requires me to go large I am quite excited by that prospect. Excited and a bit scared.

This commission was based on a relatively modest-sized painting I had recently painted of Gola Island, Donegal. This is 41x33cm, that’s 16 x 13 inches for non-metric people.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

Up from the Pier (Gola)

As you can see from the studio photo, the original fits on the seat of a chair. It is a favourite of mine. I have many favourite paintings, this is my current one.

The commission canvas size was to be 120 x 80cm (47×32 inches). Which is pretty big for my little studio. The canvas I could cope with, but the cardboard box it was arrived in is annoying me as it’s ended up by the railings by the steps to the attic. It’s in my way.

So I pondered the issues with scaling up this painting. The joy of small paintings is that you can hint at all sorts of things with a brushstroke or two and the brain will do the rest of the work. There’s no hiding place when the canvas is over a metre in size.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Up from the Pier (in-studio)

So the first change in my approach was scale. I printed out my reference photo on a much larger piece of paper. My original photo wasn’t much bigger than 10cm (4 inches) square. Don’t ask me why. I like to print off a lot of images at one time and then ponder which one I want to actually paint. For the commission, the photo was closer to A4 size (7×11 inches) and amazingly, I could see much more detail! So I focused a lot of attention on the buildings and caravan on the horizon. I paint with a small brush get the details of the light on the houses and ruins.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
Sketching out the commission

I generally work from left to right when I am painting so as not to smudge work with my hand and the next part I worked on were the rocks and the grassy verge to the left of the track. The real joy of painting vegetation in Donegal is the many varied greens and yellows. I love picking out the different hues. I have to make sure that my colours match the colours in the reference photo as closely as possible. It sounds daft, but I hold up the paintbrush next to the photo to check I have the right tones.

The grass and bracken in the main part of the painting were carefully reconstructed. Saying that I use much larger brushes than I do for my smaller paintings. I make sure that blocks of yellow ochres and green grass or darker bracken are in the right place. There are both warm and cool greens here. There are splashes and smudges of oranges, pinks, jade and turquoise in there too. I am trying to convey not only colour but the shape of undulating land; where the grass has grown up and in some places, covered completely the old stone walls. The island is covered in lots of wooden fence posts, but I don’t want to paint in all the wires as the eye wouldn’t see them all in that much detail so I pick out just a few of them. I wanted to recreate the spirit of the smaller painting rather than create a new painting so I have to adjust a few patches of grass, on the left-hand side of the painting, so their bluish tones echo the first painting and balance the colours in the whole. The tiny golden yellow flowers that are gathered at the bend in the pinkish track are added.

The sky is painted last. Sometimes I paint skies first, especially if it is a cloudy or stormy sky, but in this case, it’s a blue powdery summer blue and it comes last. It has the effect of bringing the whole painting together.

Painting of Gola, Donegal

The commission next to the study painting of Gola

So the final stage is to sit with the painting and check that it has the same “vibe” as the smaller study painting. I think it has. I regard it as a big beast, but one I like.

I wonder what it would be like to have a massive studio where you could store bigger paintings? Would I paint larger paintings? Well, in the winter when light is short I would still paint smaller works that could be completed relatively quickly, but in the summer months when I have acres of daylight? You bet.

Painting of Gola, Donegal
The artist (*ahem*) with the two paintings
Painting of Gola, Donegal
The Commission piece finished 120x80cm

 

See more Donegal paintings here

Thinking about a commission piece? Find out more here 

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Art as Satire

molly-ivins-journalist-quote-satire-is-traditionally-the-weapon-of.jpg
I paint commissions. Most commissions requests are pretty standard, say a beloved dog, a favourite landscape or the owner’s house. Some commissions, however, are different. I recently painted two commissions that quite different from the typical paintings of animals/landscapes. My client sent me two images, both were photographs cut out of the New York Times, with little or no explanation. They were both clearly political in nature. I was given free rein to interpret them as I liked.
Painting of American internment camp on Mexican border
Suffer the Children
I find these commission interesting as these are not my usual subject matter. I *usually* paint landscapes or observational people portraits. However, in painting these images I am forced to look at them carefully and consider the wider implications of what I am observing. I don’t research the image beforehand only afterwards, I just observe.
The first image I painted was of an internment camp. So with “Suffer the Children”, the tents reminded me of  the 1970s medical comedy/satire M*A*S*H which was set during the Korean War. In its early years, M*A*S*H was clearly a commentary on the Vietnam War but later on the Cold War in general. It often questioned, mocked, and grappled with America’s role in the Cold War. It was funny and thought provoking.
I knew that the figures lined up in my source photograph were minors. Teenage boys, I guessed from their size. I didn’t know where they were, but I guessed that they were somewhere in the USA near the Mexican border.
It eventually dawned on me that the white squares on their colourful T-shirts were actually I.D. tags, a bit like those luggage labels evacuees wore during Britain in the Second World War. Turns out that these were teenage boys who had entered the USA illegally. This is, in fact, is a secret internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, Texas. I call it secret because no reporters have been allowed to visit although the New York Times wrote an onion piece on its existence. The photos were presumably taken with a drone.
New York Times
Internment camp at Tornillo, outside El Paso, USA (New York Times photo)
When I painted this image and shared it on social media there were the usual “likes” but little commentary. Few comments. No one said how terrible it was that children were held indefinitely in these camps, in the “free” west. Or that similar “immigration removal centres also exist in the UK, where people, men women and children, are locked up without time limit. Perhaps, they think “immigrants” and then lose interest. Perhaps people missed the satire of the title “Suffer the Children”?
I drew a very different reaction with the second commission. This was a photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing on a bridge. I know plenty about the North Korean leader and I think that North Korea must be a dreadful place for its citizens to live in, as they are lied to, starved and any disent is swiftly punished with time in work camps. Also know that that we in the west are told a lot of nonsense about the Korean, such as North Koreans only being allowed a choice of 15 “official hair cuts. It all needs to be taken with a pinch-of-salt.
 I initially thought this image had been photoshopped. The two figures either side of Kim didn’t look real. In fact they sort of reminded me of a Pink Floyd Album cover, “Wish you were Here”. If you are not familiar with it , it shows of two men in suits shaking hands. One of the men is one fire.  As the image was made in 1975, those are real flames. Not photoshopped. Which makes the image especially mesmerising.
Man on fire image from Pink Floyd Album
Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”
As I looked athe Kim Jong Un, photograph I realised that two suited men were his security detail. The image was as “real” as the Pink Floyd one, but also just as staged. All photography and images of Kim have to be officially sanctioned. North Koreans can’t draw or paint him unless they are official state artists.
This photograph, then is how Kim wants to be seen. As a relaxed and smiling leader on a modern railway bridge. There are no ordinary North Koreans in sight on the train platform in the distance. If I was a North Korean citizen, the act of making this painting, however, may lead to me and my family spending time in a prison camp, Hence the title “Wish You Were Here” (no question mark) is ironic.
Turns out that this was a new railway bridge in Gwangwon Province and photograph was taken less than a day after Donald Trump called off his planned meeting with Kim. North Korea had said that Kim was still willing to meet Trump “at any time”, so the title is doubly appropriate.
Painting of Kim Jong Un
Wish You Were Here? (Kim Jong Un painting)

Wish You Were Here

When I posted this image on facebook and twitter, hashtagging it #statire, it was met with a storm of outraged comments from people who assumed that it was some sort of endorsement of the North Korean state. I was bemused. I wasn’t expecting this sort of reaction. Is it really very likely that a western artist would paint a fan portrait of a dictator?
There were many outraged comments on how Kim Jong Un killed people in work camps and was an evil man. These came mostly from American and Asian commentators. Interesting, in the light of the fact that Trump’s government imprisons children indefinitely and China also detains muslim uighur people in Xinjiang province. I could go on. Hypocrisy is rife. It’s also interesting, it was only British commentators who got the joke or just commented that it was “bizarre”. I’d be interested to see what sort of reaction I’d get if I painted a portrait of Donald Trump or Putin.
There is a long tradition of satire in Britain and Ireland. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. Hence Jonathan Swift’s famous ‘A Modest Proposal’ which he published in 1729 in which he suggested that the people of Ireland sell their children as food. This outrageous idea was never meant to be taken as face value. Satire is never meant to be taken at face value yet in this social media era things often are, which is why we are all such suckers for fake news, no matter how outrageous it is.
We can scoff at Trump supporters who believed his lies about Clinton and the pizzagate conspiracy but just yesterday a lot of people on twitter in the UK got worked up about a supposed protest by the far right against the new vegan sausage rolls. These sausage rolls had been introduced by Greggs the Bakers. It’s a long story, but a right wing TV commentator Piers Morgan had started the “controversy” when he called the company out on Twitter calling them ‘PC-ravaged clowns’ writing: “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage.”
Tweet1
This tweet appeared in my feed yesterday. So as you can see the tweet was “liked” thousands of times and there were many outraged and puzzled comments about how the far right were pathetic and stupid.
Five hours after the original tweet the person who posted it tweeted, backtracked, presumably after realising he’d got it wrong and another tweet claiming it was a “joke” or “banter”, as he called it.

Tweet 2.png

 The traditional print media put everyone right, eventually.
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Manchester Evening News
So we all need to slow down and think about what we are looking at. Take a minute to see beyond the surface. I’ll leave you with an quote from Jonathan Swift to ponder.
Amazing-Facebook-Statuses-12534-statusmind.com
If you are interested in a commission, satirical or otherwise, please get in touch here.
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My Review of 2018 (part 2)

Paintings by Emma Cownie 2018

Here’s part two of my review of 2018, all the paintings, prints and sketches I have sold via www.Artfinder.com or direct via my own website at www. emmacownie.artweb.com. Quite a few were commissions.

It’s funny to notice the colours I favour in my paintings.  When I put together a collage of all the paintings and prints I’d sold in 2019 there some surprises.  The greens, yellow ochres and blues are to expected as I paint a lot of coast and woods. The reds and oranges, however, are a little more unexpected as I have this idea that I hardly ever use red in my paintings, unlike my husband who says it’s his favourite colour in his work.  The oranges don’t just appear in my urban painting where you’d expect brickwork, but also in the russets of the winter bracken on the Welsh mountains.

It’s not all the works sold as I haven’t included the last two months yet. Watch out on facebook/instagram for an update there.  Once, again thank you to all my collectors, supporters, fans, commentators and family who keep me going.

Oil paintings of Wales

Oil paintings of Wales

Oil paintings by Swansea artist

Welsh Woodland paintingsOil paintings by Swansea artist Emma Cownie

Oil paintings of Gower

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6 Tips for Painting Commissions

6 Tips on Commissions v2

Commissions for Oil Paintings

I am currently working on a commission piece at the moment and have two more in the pipeline. I really enjoy doing commissions for three reasons: Firstly, you’ve “sold” a piece of work before you’ve completed it. Secondly, it’s quite a compliment and boost to the fragile painters’ ego: someone likes your work enough to ask you to paint something especially for them. Finally, it’s a challenge – often you are asked to paint subjects you would not have normally chosen to paint but the results can be very pleasing. Subjects I have painted range from beloved pets (many more dogs than cats), a holiday scene, a family home, a golf course in Australia, a CD cover as well as revisiting subjects that I have painted before which as woodland scenes and Welsh landscapes.

My 6 Tips on Commissions

1. Price – make it clear how much it is likely to cost. I have a page on my website that sets out the sizes and prices. We can negotiate on details such as shipping, packaging (do they want it gift-wrapped, a card with a message included?). Generally, I charge according to how long the work is likely to take and how detailed it is.

2. Deal direct with the collector – I used to do commissions via online galleries but I have found that galleries have interfered with the negotiations too much, and that has discouraged me. Some online galleries even stipulate that if you do a commission through them then the customer retains the copyright to the work. I believe that the artist retains the copyright, whereas the collector has bought for the artwork

3. Turnaround time – make it clear how quickly you can paint the piece (including drying times which can be quite lengthy). It is important not to take on too many projects at the same time. I generally, limit myself to three at any one time.

4. Ideally, secure a deposit before you start working. If nothing else, it helps ensure that the customer is serious about this commission. This gives me peace of mind of knowing that my buyer is serious about commissioning without me being left empty handed.

5. Know your limits. If you are working from a photo, make sure it is of good quality and better still, make sure you have several images of the subject to chose from. The photos need to have been in good light. If the image is not good enough, don’t be afraid to ask for better ones. If none are available, be prepared to turn down the commission. You don’t want to produce a poor quality artwork. No one will be happy with that outcome.

6. Communication – let the customer see the finished painting before it’s dried and communicate about shipping details, when it’s sent, tracking number and check that it’s arrived safely and the customer is satisfied.

© Emma Cownie 2017