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Backyard Treasures: Using Other’s Ideas to Create My Own Work

Backyard Treasures, watercolor, 2017

One of the most exciting, but difficult, aspects of commissions is turning the clients’ ideas into your own. How do you represent what they want? How do you make all of the elements work together in your own style? Do you even understand what the client really wants? Do they even know that answer?

I have had some really easy commission themes and some more complex ones. One of my simplest subjects was a giraffe watercolor for a baby girl. I chose the composition and made sure the mother would like the work as much as the child when it grew a little older.

What follows is that process of one of my more complicated requests.

The Client’s Requests

I normally create works for children. Some of my works and landscapes adults may certainly enjoy, but the target audience is still children. This work though was for a couple that had recently celebrated their 50-year wedding anniversary. Yay them!

They requested a backyard scene, similar in style to a winter, forest watercolor I had done in the past (Turkey Forest). I could rearrange the elements as I saw fit, but they would like me to include as many of the following elements as possible: a stone bench, a burning bush, a cardinal (in that bush), sunlit snow, and – most importantly - a 50th anniversary stone marker they had been gifted by a creative friend.

My Planning Stages

I went through three initial compositions for them, and after getting some funny feedback about including an unloved architectural component from their reference photos, I did three more versions eliminating the stone bench, the neighbor’s house and adding a garden shed to help balance my height issues. Everything special to them was rather short!

Sometimes, What you Thought and What the Client Meant are Not the Same

So, again, I focus in children’s works. These are generally bright, colorful and bold. My previous work that the client liked was a more muted work. Using the reference photo’s blue sky and my natural inclination to work boldly, I painted the sky a vibrant blue.

Turns out, this is not the peaceful, winter representation my client had in mind. And you know what, THAT IS GREAT. Why? Because she communicated her wishes. Since she told me she wanted a white sky and maybe less vibrancy when I sent the photos for inspection, I could make those adjustments.

Making changes is important for me as an artist and for ensuring the client is happy. So, I muted the sky and the purple shadows and added some subtle darker contrast points throughout the work.

How’d it Work Out?

Well, the new photos were approved of with appreciation on both sides and, as I write this, the work is in the mail.

I love creating commissions and turning other’s ideas into my own. The unique requests are just as special as the simple ones, and often even more so because the client is more closely involved in the process and can share now memories of commissioning their own original work.

Thank you clients!

About Me, Fia Sutton

Hi & welcome to my blog! I am a children's illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. I create handmade collages, 

watercolors & books that celebrate color, acceptance, & discovery. I am a creator of messy mistakes & happy surprises.

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