How to Commission a Painting

Commissions can be a great way to have create a painting exactly to your liking. It might be a special place you have traveled to, a special memory, a piece that is a standout in your home or one that speaks a certain mood. It can be an exciting and rewarding experience. The end result is a painting like no other in the world!

My intent in this short blog is to outline my commission process and hopefully address any questions or concerns you might have.

The first step is to fully understand what you want to achieve. Size and color preferences will be discussed. Are there reference images available? I will ask about the mood and energy if known. If desired, I may come to your home to get a feel for the environment and the location for the final piece. I will capture these important details in a contract and a deposit is collected.

I often encourage the use of a Pinterest folder where you can post other photos, paintings and images that may help convey what you are seeking. We will have further discussions until we are clear on direction, content, colors, etc.

I generally will supply some sort of image plan(s) and preliminary that defines the piece and receive your comments before I proceed.

Next I go to work on your piece and depending on the piece, I might send progress reports and images so you have a clear idea of where I am headed.

When close to completion, I again share either images or a video call to walk through the entire piece in detail. We will discuss any comments you may have and work to address any suggestions.


The piece is then finalized and delivered (if local) or shipped as needed. Final payment is received prior to shipping.

Here is the final installed at the client’s home. A custom frame was added to finish off the look. These are available in several wood finishes.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Thank you


What makes a good reference photo for my painting

I paint from high resolution reference photos supplied by email. The best paintings come from the best images. I will review images and let you know if they are acceptable but here are some guidelines for what I am looking for.

1. Expression: Does your pet have an expression that is meaningful to you? Are the eyes bright? Does it truly display your best friend’s personality?

2. Lighting: Flash distorts lighting and destroys eye details. Please do not use flash photography. Is the animal lit well enough that hair texture is visible? Is there good separation between lights and darks? Images with contrast are far more interesting than flat lighting with no dimension.

3. Focus: This point is critical. Is the animal in crisp focus? I paint from an enlargement of the file supplied. If the resolution is low or the focus is soft, it only gets worse when enlarged and I cannot see important details that I need for a nice painting. I cannot paint what I cannot see.

4. Clear definition: Make sure the animal, particularly the head and eyes, is in full view and not cut off or blocked by another object. I cannot extract an animal from a group shot since details will be blocked from view and shadows will be visible from adjacent objects.

This is an example of a nice source image. Expression is good. It’s well lit. Eyes and hair are clearly visible. Taken with Samsung Note 8

Solution to warped watercolor paper

I often use #140 watercolor paper. Although I stretch before beginning work, oftentimes the final is not completely flat. I have been doing some research on this common problem and can offer a solution. These images show a before and after using a badly warped sheet of #140 Arches.

Severe watercolor paper curl
This same piece was ironed to flatten


I carefully iron the back side with a steam iron, protecting the paper with a completely flat clean bedsheet. Gently rub the iron back and forth, covering the entire surface.

I then stack a large heavy stack of books (coffee table type books) and let the piece completely cool.

If you take to Michaels or similar, they will not take out any ripples that may have occurred. Take the time to check over your piece before framing and follow the above procedure before you take to the framer.


A bird study

In celebration of Bird Day, I am doing a dedicated study of birds. Trying to understand body structure using different watercolor and acrylic techniques from watercolor pencils, to wet on wet loose style to more detailed studies.  If anyone has any specific requests, please let me know. There are many streets in my community with bird names.






Dylan Pierce Workshop

I am attending a 4 day workshop by Dylan Pierce who paints with exacting detail. Much to learn. The painting behind him look him 150 hours! He created with 12 meticulous watercolor washes.

Applying just water in background as we begin


Dylan explains how he does many small painting trials to test color palette and effects to see which best conveys his intended message



My painting process

I wanted to show some details about how my paintings are generally created.


First, I will work with you to get the image that I need. This is Shelby, a cocker spaniel from PA.  A good source image makes a good pet portrait so I am fussy about having a good one. See guidelines.  


Next a detailed pencil drawing is done (called a contour drawing) that marks tonal differences. I then applied masking fluid to all areas that I wanted to keep white. White can be used in watercolor but traditionalists do not use white paint but keep the paper devoid of pigment to show white areas. The image below shows the yellow tinted masking fluid and the first wash. Watercolor is applied in a series of transparent washes.


You can see in these images how washes are applied, going increasing from light tones to darker tonal values.


Here the masking has been removed and I continue to work in details


And here is the finished piece


A word about watercolor

Watercolor (also called aquarelle) is a beautiful media in which pigment is suspended in a water based solution and applied to the substrate, most commonly special paper made for this purpose. Watercolor paper is often made entirely or partially with cotton, which gives a good texture and minimizes distortion when wet. My paper of choice is Arches #140 cold pressed which I purchase in 22″ x 30″ sheets.

Watercolors are usually translucent, and appear luminous because the pigments are laid down in a pure form. Pigments can be in pan, stick and tube form. I have experimented with all and prefer tube.


Framing Options

OK, you have the painting. What do I do now?

Keep the painting flat and protected at all times. Creases or water will destroy a watercolor painting. Its now time to decide how it will be framed.

Many of my pieces are 11 x 15 or quarter sheet and can be framed with a stock 16 x 20 frame with a matte if desired. Glass should always be used for protection.  You can pick up an inexpensive frame from Micheals or Hobby Lobby on sale that may come with a standard matte. You have many additional colored and textured stock matte options or you can have a custom matte cut and still use a stock frame. Stock frames will come with basic glass that will protect the piece from dust and scratches. Keep in mind that this type of glass but does not offer UV protection to be careful where you place in your home.

Another option is to select a custom frame to match or coordinate with your decor. There are frames shops in your area that can offer assistance in selecting a matte color and frame material. They can also explain different glass options including museum quality glass that blocks 99% of UV light so pieces remain clearer and brighter long term.

I always like to see the finished piece so send me a picture when it’s all framed. ENJOY!