In this economy, you have to set yourself up to take advantage of every opportunity you can get… especially when you’re a Starving Artist. This is a quick story of how I was lucky enough to land a great commission, reconnect with an awesome family, and expand my horizons as an Oil Painter.

Last year around November I got a friend request on Facebook from a super-nice gal I knew from High School, who was a year or two younger than me. After the usual “normal” Facebook pleasantries, I noticed she was a runner, and a marathoner at that. In my glory days, I fancied myself a distance runner, and ran cross-country and track during high school.

But I also had an exceptional coach, who pushed my abilities well beyond my limited running talent. In my response to my new Facebook pal, I made the small talk of offering to critique her training schedule, and share some of my insights, pointers, etc, etc, based upon my coach’s superior training philosophies. With all of this friendly info, I also included a link to my blog, which has my artlinks off to the left. Much to my surprise, within about 72 hours I received a very animated response, with positive  aspirations of not only the running info, but also her digging on my artwork – both the digital and especially my oil paintings.

You know what ‘They’ say… ‘They’ say timing is everything… but luck comes into play as well. But I had put myself into position to “land” a potential Patron of my Art. She and her husband were in the middle of remodeling and expanding their house back in my hometown, and wanted to fill it with some original art. That was music to my ears of course, and we arranged a time to discuss the project after the first of the year. Even though I was anxious to start, they were not ready to chat about artwork until they were in the homestretch of finishing up the construction, which was pretty substantial.

So in February when we finally got the ball rolling, the ‘homework’ I had asked my new Patron to do in the meantime was research what subject topic and budget they wanted me to tackle. I was moderately surprised when she came back to me with a very specific subject matter and style she wanted me to pursue.

However, she was very apprehensive to ask me to paint this subject, which she wanted to present to her husband for her birthday. She even gave me the option to ‘Opt out’ of doing the painting if it didn’t feel right for me, the ‘serious artist’ to paint. Her husband grew up on a working cattle ranch in central Kansas, and she sent me a picture from there, where his parents still lived. She also sent me some very folksy, crafty styles of animal paintings that she liked the ‘style’ of, to give me a frame of reference for the ‘feel’ she wanted me to capture.

1. This is the original picture sent by my patron… which I thought was an interesting composition.

But there was absolutely no hesitation on my part – I looked upon the assignment as a total challenge, not because it was a subject matter I would never pick myself to paint, but because – it was Cows!

‘Man I’ll paint Cows!’ was my enthusiastic reply.

History is loaded with examples of different artists, famous and obscure, of  painting outside their chosen styles, subject matter or specialty. I not only looked upon this as a challenge, but as an opportunity to try different techniques & methods, and also to push myself with composition, light and texture problems to see if I could tackle them.

I actually really liked this original picture – the lighting was interesting, the way the cows were arranged in the picture was kind of dynamic – the middle cow seemed to be coming forward urgently to confront the picture taker, in a confrontational ‘HEY, why you takin’ our picture picture-taker?’ kind of way. And working with morning sun and highlights throughout the piece was very intriguing to me – so I was hooked immediately. The Stonework in the old barn also looked like it would be great to paint – I instantly had a hunch of a technique to use in rendering the wall.

But I also saw two big problems with the picture. I didn’t like the way the legs of the cow on the right were cut off. I wanted to see the whole Cow. And the area around the cows needed to be expanded…  so that the composition would look more uniform and centered.

So I scoured the intra-webs and found some pictures I photoshopped into place to expand the picture and composition as a whole, especially on the left hand side of the composition… adding a fence that looked similar. I expanded in every direction except the top.

I dropped in a new sky, made it more ‘sunrisey’… I wanted it to be a challenge with the variety of colors that happen in ‘the golden hour’ which are so interesting, and difficult to pull of convincingly. I also added fences along the right side, and added to the reddish-brown gate to the left.

I submitted the idea to my new Patron – she really dug it… and with the generous budget she proposed, she wanted the biggest painting possible. Great news, but it posed a new problem… 600+ miles between, so how to deal with shipping. I have heard horror stories of damaged canvases from a number of sources, without spending a fortune on professional art shippers. So I re-proposed the composition to her as painted on six 24×24 inch canvases, so they could be shipped much easier:

2. Mock-up of painting placed in an idealized setting.

Plus, I grabbed a random interior above and photoshopped the painting into place, to help them visualize how the piece would look in their own space. This prompted her to send me a pic of the room she wanted the painting to go into, which was filled with stuff from the rooms they were remodeling:

3. Room where the painting will be hung

so after a bit of photoshopping of that, with minimum tweaking  I was able to pop the mock-up in place, showing about the size and tone of the painting…

4. a quick digital cleanup to show the potential

The above image really sealed the deal.

It put the painting mock up square into the room where it would someday hang and really left nothing to the imagination, which I think is a good thing, But even more so when you are conveying a ‘product’ to sell – and this was my product.

Some people are wired to where they really have a tough time visualizing abstract concepts. I don’t know if my Patron had a problem with this or not, she’s very creative herself, but figured this extra effort was worth it.

Both of us were anxious to get the process moo-ving. ( sorry, couldn’t help myself. ) Since her husband’s birthday was fast approaching, she wanted to print out all of our correspondence and photoshopped pictures and wrap them, explaining the general idea of the commission, which was to be a total surprise for him.  Needless to say he was thrilled with the idea, so I soon had 1/2 of the settled price in my pocket and I was off and running.

In arranging the commission, I also worked into the fee a speed bonus, meaning if I didn’t get the commission done by a certain date I would not get the full fee, rather they’d only have to pay me 7/8th of the total amount, and an additional 1/8 per month taken off until the commission was received. This was great motivation for me to keep my nose to the grind stone, be disciplined and get the work done as quickly as possible.

I had 90 days to finish a 48×72″ painting – the biggest work I had done to date – and I was off and running.

Here’s a Link to Part II of this story – the actual nuts and bolts of how I painted ‘Dawn in Leonardville’ as it came to be known. But as an Independent Artist, I’d have to say that in many aspects Social Media pays off. It seems to be evolving as a business tool for other businesses, but it is in the ‘Covered Wagon Pioneer’ stages of its existence, and is not a great fit for some companies. OR, they haven’t figured out how to utilize it to the optimum advantage.

Come to think of it – neither have I…!

Like I said before, I had placed myself  into position so that I was able to make contact and take advantage of an optimal situation.

Having a Facebook page is one thing – but its in how you present yourself and make it a part of your everyday promotion, or how often your water your garden so to speak, that makes things happen. You plant the seeds, but if you don’t tend to the garden, nurture the garden, grow the garden, nothing is going to come of it.

But for what Independent Artists do, and how I promote my Talents, Ideas and Visions to the world as an Artist and Reality Sculptor®, Facebook ( and to a lesser degree Twitter, which I am still figuring out ) is an incredible way to garner leads and business that would have proven impossible 10 years before.

Oh, and to waste time of course…!

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