Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Lunch with the Mad Hatter

A friend and fellow artist (who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons) agreed to let me share the following texts about a particularly challenging painting commission. The insights, observations and comments turned this misadventure into a hilarious ride through the dark side of portrait painting. And for the record, no, I do not paint commissions. See postscript for why not.


Monday, March 14
Well, here’s how my lady painting turned out. Most of the family members are happy. I think it could be better/looser/more interesting, but I have no idea how to balance that with the family’s wishes. Not even sure where I could take it at this point, so, I’m done. The Grand Dame of the family has not weighed in. I don’t really care though.

Now I’m going to go read “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.”

Tuesday, March 15
Well, woke up to a list of things that the Grand Dame of the family wants me to change in the painting. Wider neck, add more wrinkles . . . (seriously??) . . .  lower the eyebrows . . . They are actually higher and even more arched, but I just eliminated them a bit and left the rest to the imagination. Sigh. I worked on it all day because one daughter has driven over from out of state and I’ve got a command invitation to the home of the person in the painting tomorrow. Not that the daughter loves the work, but she wants me to watch her and get a good understanding of her facial expressions. Shit, I don’t have time for this. This is a good likeness. Her children, siblings, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and friends far and wide saw the painting on FB, with no indication of who it was, everyone recognized her instantly.

To top it off, when the daughter called to tell me to be at the lady’s home at 2 p.m. it was like an inquisition. “What does your husband do? Where did you grow up” What did your father do?” I wondered if she was going to tell me to bring my tax returns for the last 10 years. I was a bit evasive . . . none of that is her damned business. Sheesh.

I give up. Someone hand me a white flag to wave! I can’t get any closer to a likeness unless I add more harsh lines and shadows.

So I’m hoping tomorrow is better. But tomorrow I must attend the inquisition, so . . . who knows how that will be. I think the old gal and I are both being yanked around by a bunch of surly siblings. I’ll try to be kind, for the sake of the older lady, but I may not stay long. As I understand it, the old gal is in a tizzy that I’m coming over. Insists on having her hair done, but is concerned that her pin curls will be wound too tight. I think it’s her offspring that are wound too tight!

Wednesday, March 16 – 10:14 a.m.
They want me to paint 10 more “just like it” for the children and grandchildren.

Now they want me to leave the wet painting at a family member’s house so the extended family, kids and grandkids can see it. It told them it has cadmium in it . . . so that’s a no.

Word to the wise: Never do commissions!!

2:13 p.m.
Inquisition over. Now just need to paint new nose, eyes, mouth. Daughter wants the features to be momma’s as they were when the daughter was little. Daughter also said, “We all just love that photo we gave you to paint from, except we think she looks tired so her face isn’t animated” My challenge is to paint the momma as her many offspring imagine her. The mother, subject of painting, was an absolute delight. Loved her!

9:58 p.m.
Sooooooo, I just got a message from the daughter. She has sent me a bunch of photos and wants me to paint the right eye from one photo, the left eye from another photo, the nose from yet another one AND wants me to put the mouth together with the bits and pieces of several mouths in several photos. All of the photos are taken in different lighting, from different angles and from different decades. I have done my best, with PLENTY of words in my sentences, to explain that it isn’t possible to arrive at one cohesive facial expression this way. H.O.L.Y. C.O.W. this gal is nuts. It is absolutely comical at this point.

My husband wins the prize for the best remark! “SEND HER A PAINTING OF MRS. POTATO HEAD!!!” he said as he rolled on freaking floor laughing.

Now, more wine. I deserve it.

Thursday, March 17
Other than a lot of “fraudulent” stuff on the painting, and the fact that it is so stinking over-rendered, I’m having a hard time figuring out how to bring the likeness to what they want. They want something that doesn’t look like her – they each want their romanticized notion of the never-aging mother . . . but an image that they recognize as “just like” what each sees in the photo. Yet none of them see the same thing.

I must have fallen down the rabbit hole. Preparing for lunch with the Mad Hatter.

She finally sent me a thumbs up and a smiley face. Maybe the odyssey has ended. Maybe it’s tea time for Alice.

Saturday, March 19
BTW, the people I’m doing this painting for want all the brothers, sisters and spouses to have an appointment to “preview and critique”. Shoot me now.

Finished. They can have it or not, but I’m moving on to more interesting work.

Sunday, March 20
Interesting. I’m getting FB friend requests from ALL of the extended family members of the “portrait lady’. Feeling creeped upon! I think they are wanting to the see the painting and my FB page isn’t public - only friends can see it.

Monday, March 21
Well, this morning I got an email from the family. They are thinking that they would rather have the charcoal drawing that I did earlier. When they first saw it, they hated it because it had been drawn from a photo that no one liked. Now that they are not crazy about the painting, they have come to like the drawing. I know it is just because they’ve kind of camped with that image for a while and are accustomed to it.  It’s on newsprint and I’m worried it won’t hold up.

Sheesh . . . family just sent another photo reference. I am so done.

Monday, April 5
I heard from the Grand Dame and the Brassy Little Sister. They think they “might” like the painting if I repaint the face in different shades and put the mouth back like I had it in the first place. (This makes me want to choose really novel different shades, just sayin’.)

There are so many layers on that painting that it begs to be considered sculpture at this point. Really . . . the burn pile might be the best answer. I could start over . . . but I won’t. Maybe I died and this is purgatory.



Postscript: The family finally decided they loved, loved the painting and purchased both the painting and the drawing. This was definitely a win for persistence and endurance on the artist’s part.

The reason I don’t paint commissions: The answer is fairly straight-forward and also explains one of the main differences between fine art and illustration.  Painting commissions (and illustrations) are controlled by someone else’s expectations and requirements – not the artist’s. I have a hard enough time trying to avoid regurgitating someone else’ idea of what a painting is or should be. I do, however, respect and admire those artists who take on the challenge.