First Commission

In September, a friend of mine approached me with a request. “I want a portrait of my grandparents to give them on Christmas!” He said. “Can you do that?”

A portrait? With actual paint on actual canvas? Of real people? “Of course!” I exclaimed, while the inner me was cringing, “What if it won’t be good enough? What if they won’t be alike? What if you cannot finish it in time?”. But the agreement was done, I had my first commission.

I decided to paint with acrylics on a 30x40cm canvas. Why acrylics? I had two choices, acrylics or gouache (I didn’t know how to use oils yet), and while I personally prefer gouache, I also think it’s a quite “fragile” medium: a drop of water is enough to loosen almost dry paint, and I am known for never waiting enough for color to dry (see also: watercolor soggy mess). On the opposite, acrylics dry quite fast, and once fixed you can paint over them easily. Painting over ugly stuff is my favourite hobby, so I went for it.

I used a grid to copy the reference photo on the canvas (memo: grids are bad. Real artists don’t use them. Bad artist, bad.) and gave a first wash of lime green for the background, then started to sketch the plants. I have been taught to start from the darkest tone and go on to mediums and highlights: well, it works.

background sketch
Grids are EVIL.

I didn’t feel like facing the faces yet (see what I did here? Facing, faces… eheh), so I went onto the clothing. A full color here, a quick shadow there, and I had a nice base to work on.

Quick mass definition for clothing.
Quick mass definition for clothing.

I cannot avoid them forever, can I? So, faces! It was an ordeal to get a likeness from a low-res old photo, so I asked for more recent pics to have an idea of the general shape. Granpa had a mole on his forehead until new references arrived: I then understood that it was only a dirt spot on the photo. Mole surgically removed before anyone could see it.

Mole still visible.
Mole still visible.

Halfway done. Now it’s just retouching, adding details, fixing shadows and contrasts, what and whatnot. The hardest part. It’s a commission, I kept repeating myself, it HAS to be good!

Finished commission, no postproduction.
Finished work, no postproduction.

You can see the final work with ambient light correction in my Portraits gallery.

The guy was happy with the result, or at least that’s what he said (if you’re reading this, please be happy!).

(Com)mission accomplished!