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The Anatomy of a Commission

By Robert Genn February 24, 2003

} Anatomy of a Commission Original sketch. I do my rough generally in pencil and felt-tip and reduce in a photocopier. Color notations are done on the photocopy in case something has to be changed. This, as well as the proposal, (price, etc.) is faxed or emailed to the client. Copies are also sent to the dealer. First revised sketch. My original has been reworked and recopied in the photocopier. Erasing or whiting out of the original is a fast and effective way to make changes. Just working for a few minutes with the sketches helps to see problems that might arise. Second revised sketch with phallic device removed. The client chose this one. With the use of the fax the client generally makes a decision quite quickly. If they receive a rough in the regular mail they are more liable to take their time. The canvas has been primed with two coats of opaque gesso in a warm tone. for this sort of painting I'm drawing fairly carefully from reference. The drawing of the poles, which in my opinion must be correct, is the only part that will be drawn in. I'm doing the drawing more or less in raw umber. The background area around the poles is being put in here. I like to have a strong pattern in my paintings and it's important to get that basic design down early in the work. The approximate area and darker tones of the foreground bushes is also put in. With the use of a rag I'm glazing the whole painting. This is in order to pull down the values and establish an overall tone. Pthalo blue is the glazing color used at the top of the painting--gradating down to a burnt sienna glaze at the bottom. The mountain snow is in pure white. Here again I'm thinking of a pattern that will relate to the foreground material--trying to carry through some of the design elements of the main motif. I'm constantly looking for traps I might fall into and down-the-line problems the painting might give me. Here you can see I've worked around the snow with negative areas with a gradation down to the trees. the sky has also been put in fairly flatly in a slightly warmer tone. The idea is to establish the sky and distant tone that will subsequently affect foreground elements. The foreground has begun to take shape. It's really a set-up using the positive elements of the bushes to be able to come in and produce the warm grass area in negative. More glazes have taken place in the meantime--for example the pure white of the snow has been reduced with another glaze. Some tentative forming has been done of the poles. Sometimes it takes a bit of fiddling to establish the right balance of warm and cool. While I'm anxious to have the lower part of the poles reflecting the foreground light, it's also important to get the counterpoint of the gray wood of the poles. At this point the mind is making thousands of tiny decisions that hopefully add to the effectiveness of the whole. Recessions and protrusions, enhanced rhythmic ideas, toning down, brightening up, counterpoint and textural considerations all make their contribution. Much of it is subconscious. A kind of timidity sets in toward the end of the work. There's a search of local problems and with it, a tendency to tighten up. One is often caught on the horns of dilemmas and the great fear at this time is in the possibility of overworking. At one point I just up and say 'enough',' and the job is done. The appendage being produced on a separate canvas. This is to fullfill my need for anthropological correctness. The extra part will be in reserve, cut to shape, taped to the back of the sketches and available to be attached, with Velcro, if required. Final glazing. With the use of a rag, I've put down a wash of acrylic medium cut with water. After that's dry I appy a second coat of Golden Final Varnish with UVLS. This should make the painting color fast for perhaps several hundred years. "Facing West" The finished work ready to go to the dealer. He will meet with the client to choose the frame, and later, hang the painting in its special place. You might notice that the strong colour of the foliage has been reduced. My friend Zoltan Kiss was in the studio last night. We discussed the red colour. We both agreed that the painting would be better with some subduing in this area. Click to View the finished work If you would like to contact Robert Genn to discuss this process or to make any comment -- he is at