My Still-life Commission Process


Sometimes I am asked if I ever complete commissions, and my answer is “yes, I do!” and then I go on to explain how I approach commissions, as my process is not typical… this is because when I work on a commission, I paint three different compositions of the subject matter, and my client gets to select their favorite of the three.

The reason for my process is because I really enjoy exploring a single subject matter from various points of view. In my mind, creating artwork is more than just recording something visually accurate, it is about capturing the essence and meaning of the subject.

And I am an artist who loves to share my sense of beauty and often this is something that cannot be pinpointed but instead is felt and made aware of by experiencing. And by investigating a single topic (or object) in multiple ways, I begin to really understand it and thus am better able to express what makes it so special and beautiful.

This summer I was asked to create a still-life painting of blue hydrangeas, and now I want to share my process and how I created the three different compositions.

The first thing I did after accepting this project was to brainstorm about ideas, thinking about color schemes and potential schematic diagrams of the big geometric shapes and breakdown of compositional space. If you know me in person, you know I am always toting around my “idea book”, a spiral sketchbook where I write down EVERYTHING.

Being a colorist, before I ever began to investigate the compositional formats, I thought about how I wanted to emphasize the blue of the hydrangeas. Often I will amplify the visual impact of a color by paring it with its complementary color and color temperature. So being that I was going to be painting blue hydrangeas, in my mind’s eye I wanted to surround the flowers with warm oranges, peaches and reds.

sketchbook-hydrangea commission{composition doodles}

From my compositional thumbnails and sketches, I became interested in pursuing two trains of thought, one was where the hydrangeas were centered and the central focus of the composition, and the second was where the hydrangeas were part of an entire scene, visually interacting with the other objects in the painting.

Still Life with Cherries and Hydrangeas{1st painting :: Mid-Summer Hydrangeas}

With this first composition I explored utilizing color as a way to emphasize the blues in the hydrangea flowerheads. These hydrangeas were from my garden, so I also got to incorporate the flowerheads at different levels of maturity, the older blooms had larger individual flowers in a lighter dusty blue where the flowerheads that were just beyond being a bud were variegated in color from a pale green shifting into cream in some flowers and in other flowers with deep blue tips.

Ode to Fantin Latour{2nd painting :: Ode to Fantin Latour}

For the second composition, I wanted to explore a vertical format while incorporating a variety of flowers into the bouquet. This painting is also an ode to the French artist Henri Fantin Latour, because I think he is the master of all floral still lifes and is an artist I really look up to. I wanted to create a sense of mystery while also emphasizing the blue of the hydrangea blooms by including notes of orange, yellows, and roses throughout the composition.

During all this time when I was working on these commission paintings, I was constantly looking at other artist’s interpretations of hydrangeas and it was through the process of painting hydrangeas and viewing other paintings with hydrangeas in them that my own opinion about what makes hydrangeas so captivating as a flower crystallized in my mind. To me it is the lace-like quality that comes from the individual flowers of the flowerheads catching light, and of the other individual flowers falling into shadow. The overall round form of the flower heads are punctuated with the delicate edges and details of the individual flowers.

Still Life of Hydrangeas{3rd painting :: Blue Hydrangeas in Blue Willow}

So when I began the third painting, I really strove to focus on the effects of light and shadow, allowing my earlier explorations of color complementaries to take a backseat and to expressly investigate the way the light fell across a bouquet of hydrangeas. Texture and the lace-like qualities were my focus, so I zoomed in and made it a painting about the flowers.

2014 hydrangea commission

And through this process, I gained a comfort in being able to paint hydrangeas, which to me, hydrangeas are some of the most difficult flowers to capture, especially as I paint from life, and if the flowers wilt, I am in deep water if the painting is not complete…

All of these paintings were fun to paint and I learned so much from this process.

The client selected the third painting.


Interested in commissioning  a still-life painting with a special flower or family heirloom?

Please visit the Commission a Painting page to learn more.