The Creation of a Project for a Commercial Space

I have a lot of work to do. I should be painting right now! I’ve just gotten back from an out-of-state trip for an upcoming project and thought I’d share a little of the process. From someone’s initial request, how does the artist get the ball rolling with all the decisions to be made?

I was contacted by my gallery who has clients opening a new restaurant. They’ve actually bought my work in the past and were interested in a large painting of light-filled trees as the centerpiece over the site’s fireplace. I was already planning a trip to the coast, so what’s another few hundred miles to go meet with them—I agreed. I met the owners and their decorator on site, took notes of what they had in mind and photographed the setting, measuring the fireplace width. Then I followed the owner to the location of the trees they wanted in the painting. More notes. I also photographed an idea they liked from a book with a red dirt road, which turned out to be useful later on. I came back in the evening when the light was streaming through the trees to my satisfaction and made the rounds of the area with my camera. I think of these as Light Safaris because I’m trying to be in the right place at the right time to capture the elusive lighting I want in my paintings. I came back early the next morning and did the same thing before heading home.

The gallery had already discussed framing, pricing and sizes in preparation for a contract. My note taking mostly consisted of what they wanted as far as subject matter. Once home, my first step, as always after a photo expedition to a new place, was to look through my raw photos, making a note of which images would work for the project. Next, after waiting a day, I went back to those photos and looked more closely, opening them in Photoshop to begin cropping, resizing, adjusting lighting and color, and placing elements I’ve clipped from other photos. As an example, I actually cropped a section of the red dirt road from the photo I took of the book and pasted it into my photos in a grassy area with the right trees, and it looks amazingly good, though I hadn’t planned on doing this. I saved all these edited photos in a folder for the project, then looked at them the next day, selecting those I thought would look best in the space. I also prepped the image I’d taken of the fireplace in the room of the restaurant where the painting will hang and then pasted each of the painting ideas, to scale, onto the fireplace to show what it would look like in situ. This should give everyone involved in the selection a good idea of the finished piece. Then, I emailed all the photos to the gallery to pass on to the decorator and owners. I will keep you posted on the project.

Painting in Progress: the stages of "Corona"

“Corona” is my newest 36x36 oil painting. I used a limited palette: Torrit Grey, Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cerulean Blue and Quinacridone Magenta. This was painted from a photograph I took on Jekyll Island, Georgia, but I added the sun rays. Here it is in various stages so you can see how I work: (click on the right to advance the photos):

Garden Goals

I’ve enjoyed having a vegetable garden ever since moving to the country 17 years ago. There are always a few flowers included, and zinnias have been slowly taking over the past few seasons. My work keeps me in the studio much of the time, but I make it a point to set up outside for at least one garden painting. Here are some of them (all are sold):

2019 brings a different goal for my garden. As my art career has gotten busier, I have less time to devote to the care of raising vegetables. So my plan is to sow wildflower seeds, shifting its purpose to be more of a painting inspiration. (Okay, I can’t resist throwing few tomato plants in too, and oh yeah, some bell peppers.) The only place I can plant flowers is in my fenced garden space because of the herd of deer that also lives here, eating all my roses, bulbs, blueberries…they’re even chiseling away at the azaleas and camellias, which they didn’t used to bother.

I invite you to check back later this summer when I’ll post an update on the progress of my Artist Garden!

Sowing Seeds

Artists apply for lots of shows, competitions and projects, and I have come to think of this as sowing seeds. Some sprout and come to fruition in wonderful ways we never imagined, and this is the story of one of those instances!

Back in early 2017 I submitted a proposal for a VERY large scale set of paintings for the two-story foyer of a new hospital being built in Jacksonville FL. In 2015 I had provided a large diptych for another branch of this same hospital through an art consultant, so when I saw this listing I was very interested and my wheels started turning. After much development and refining I submitted my proposal, and I was eventually notified that though mine hadn't been selected, I and other artists were being placed on a list to provide artwork for other public areas of the new hospital.

(In the meantime, I went ahead and painted my proposal idea but on a much smaller scale, and that has become a successful series that even led to another recent corporate commission. It has been fun to get to develop my idea anyway and has yielded seven paintings so far…pictured above)

Tick. Tock. Many months pass. Six months later I got an email stating they were still intending on using my art in the hospital. And then another six months passed and I contacted them, but did not get a response. At this point, we were so near the projected completion date that I reasoned they had hired a decorator and gone in another direction.

So I'm working away in my studio as usual and a day comes in late May of this year when I receive one of those emails artists dream about getting. Here is an excerpt:

“....Unbeknownst to you, we have been admiring your artwork from afar for some time now. :) Your paintings are beautiful, bright and evoke such light and energy.  I am drawn to your work and know that our collectors/market would be as well.

I am working on a large healthcare project in Jacksonville, FL and you have been on our "roster" of artist for 18 months. I would love to connect on available artwork for both possible inclusion in this project as well as the opportunity to show your work in our gallery.....”

How exciting! It was from the owner of a gallery I was very familiar with in the Jacksonville area, and it dawned on me that they must have gotten tapped to coordinate gathering the artwork for this new cancer center. There was a very limited amount of time left before the big installation and ribbon cutting, but the gallery was easy to work with and we quickly agreed on four large commissioned paintings and several smaller ones to be used in a waiting room and other public areas. Below are photos of the paintings in situ, courtesy of the gallery, which better shows their scale. Two of them are 36x48 and two are 36x36, and getting this project was a big part of making 2018 by far my best year ever for sales and productivity. It is exciting to have big projects from time to time to supplement my regular work of supplying art galleries and I look forward to applying for more.

Sow those never know what it could lead to.

Follow-up to a Solo Show

As an artist, I see many notices about art show openings at galleries. Exciting as they sound, I don't often make it to the receptions. I seldom see the show mentioned again, and I wonder how sales were. Why don't artists talk about their sales? Well, some do and are obviously excited and in love with the world after a successful show, but usually it's silence. If you're wondering how mine went, here's the scoop....

Earlier this year I was invited to have a solo show at a wonderful gallery in my state. I've had a long career and more than a handful of solo shows, but I've never had one that was wildly successful. Never a sellout, like some artists I've heard about. The best results were six sold at a solo show in North Carolina, but I've had one or two-person shows that sold nothing at all—yikes. (Blessed be the group show, where all the pressure and attention is not on you!) So this time, I had no high expectations.

I had several months to prepare the work, and I was able to deliver twenty new paintings, mostly large, to the gallery in June. They had arranged a painting demo for the morning of the show, which I enjoyed very much. After two hours of talking while painting, I was completely exhausted. Nice group of people though, about half of them artists. Here's the painting I did:

Your Majesty, a 20x20 oil painting (SOLD)

Your Majesty, a 20x20 oil painting (SOLD)

That night's reception went very well, and I was so pleased at getting to meet people who'd bought my work. My husband and I really enjoyed the evening, and as a treat, we got to meet a celebrity who happened to be in town and is a friend of the gallery! Bob Schieffer and his wife came to the show opening and it was a real pleasure to talk with them. He's an artist and is quite good! Here's our picture:

Bob Schieffer from CBS!!!!!!

Bob Schieffer from CBS!!!!!!

As for sales, it was a thrill and a relief to have sold the largest painting the day before the show. Another piece sold at the reception. But I have found, to my utter amazement, that the gallery has gone on to sell most of the paintings from the show in the two months since! This is wonderful and definitely a new experience for me. To other artists, all I can say is that I work very hard at painting; I try to do excellent work; I am receptive to what gallery owners say about my work and what they'd like to have; and I give most of the credit to the galleries and their wonderful collectors. And to buyers and fans of my artwork, my most sincere thanks!

Oak Tree painting in progress

Here are the stages of my 30x30 oil painting King of the Castle. I loved the gesture of this magnificent oak tree alongside the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Its shape reminded me of a chess piece (hence the title), but it was really all about the light.

My Number One Marketing Tip for Artists

There are lots and lots of artists out there pursuing art and an art career. Just as there is no one way to paint, there is also no one path to a successful career as an artist. It is a journey full of growth and learning. 

I come across much that is written for artists about marketing their work. I also come across the work of many artists who are marketing like crazy when perhaps they should be focusing on something else.

So here is my Number One Marketing Tip for Artists. It can be condensed down to two simple words, but here it is in full:  Don't pursue success. Pursue Excellence. Then, success will likely follow. 

If you strive for excellence in what you do, good things will happen and doors will open to you. Galleries will invite you in instead of the other way around. While skillful marketing is a plus with all the online opportunities artists have now, no amount of marketing will compensate for artwork that is not the very best you are capable of. As to what makes art excellent, that is a big mysterious question with many answers! If you're a realist painter, learn the drawing skills needed. If you're abstract, learn about color harmony or composition. And whatever kind of art you make, know what it is you are passionate about and make sure you're communicating that to the viewer.

Best wishes on your journey!

Sunstream Pecans painting in progress

This is a very large canvas (60"x60"). I began by toning it a soft medium green, wiping away a few of the lightest spots. When that dried, I drew the main trees with thinned brown paint. Then I painted the furthest background, gradually moving forward due to all the overlapping branches and leaves.  Sunstream Pecans, a project for Pearson Farm, 60x60.

"How long did it take you to paint that?"

Timepiece 1.jpg

People often ask me, “How long did it take you to paint that?” I have a variety of answers to this common question, some of which I've gleaned from other artists' musings on the subject.

I usually say something like “Oh, I work on it on and off for a week or two—maybe 8-10 hours total” though I don't keep track of or even think about how long I'm taking to paint something. The problem with this answer is that, to them, it might sound like I'm not working very hard or long on artwork that is priced in the thousands. I would like to say that it's taken me thirty years of working to get good enough to paint it in a short amount of time, which would be true! Years of experience means less time “fixing” things in the painting, plus knowing how to begin or lay the groundwork for future stages.

It is also true that I spend an equal amount of time not painting, but planning the composition and subject and then thinking about how I'm going to paint it and what colors to emphasize. I think it is of utmost importance to know what the painting is about. Whether working from life or photo references, it is connecting strongly with something about what you're looking at that is the essence of the painting, and this strong connection will carry you through to the end. You are painting your response to what inspired you to paint. For me, it can be something as small, subtle or vague as a suggestion of a light effect I can emphasize in the painting. Once I've started, I spend a lot of time just looking at it and thinking about how I'm going to proceed. I guess this counts as painting time too.

I am not offended when asked this question, but I do try to take the time to educate people on the process if they're interested enough to ask it!

Timepiece II.jpg

Painting in Progress

Here are the stages of a typical painting of mine while in progress.  My favorite way to begin is to tone the canvas with thinned paint and, using a rag, wipe away the light areas to create the drawing. This also establishes the values and light effect I want right from the start. When dry, I add some lines and dashes of color to get started. I like to work from the background forward, pretty much alla prima. 

Anatomy of a Corporate Art Project....

...or how a broken lawn mower led to a lucrative commission!


Chapter One: Inspiration

Our riding lawn mower was broken and repair took awhile. Spring had sprung, and some tiny little weeds shot up tall in our front yard. One afternoon, I realized how lovely the delicate little sunlit lavender blooms looked against the shadowed azaleas in the afternoon light. I ran for my camera and later cropped the photos into a composition that appealed to me. At the time I had been wanting to paint something with a more contemporary flavor for my gallery in Atlanta.  The result was "Yard," a 40x30 oil, pictured.


A little while later, I painted a 36x48 diptych version on two vertical gallery-wrapped canvasses, changing the flowers to red.

Chapter Two: You Never Know Who's Looking at Your Website

One day I received an email from an agent for a regional corporate art consulting firm. They were interested in my providing a price quote for a large version of the diptych I had painted, "Leaves of Grass." The consulting firm had a large hospital expansion project in Jacksonville, FL and was interested in two 48x60s. I gave them my price plus the cost of shipping/delivering. Not long after, I got the contract! There was a bit of a rush to get the paperwork going so I could be paid a deposit and get started.  At the time, I was in a gallery in Jacksonville and wanted to combine a gallery delivery trip with hand delivering the finished project paintings to the art consultants, who were going to be in Jacksonville installing some of the artwork in a few months. But the agent was in California, I was in Georgia and the art consultants were in Tennessee, which was no problem except for having to buy and install the right software so I could e-sign the contract, etc. That took time, and then I had to figure out how to use the software and sign my name, initial pages, etc.  Did I mention I was in a hurry?  Oh dear....

me with original Leaves of Grass diptych

me with original Leaves of Grass diptych

Chapter Three: A Big Giant Mistake


I got the contract emailed, the art consultants paid me to get started, and I began happily painting away. No, it's never that simple, is it? My car at the time could only accommodate ONE 48x60 canvas at a time, so my husband, who has an extra large truck bed, had to drive me to the art supply store to buy the two canvasses. I really enjoyed the initial stage of painting. As you can see in the photo below, my favorite method to work involves toning the canvas and then wiping away the light areas with rags. This places all the shapes, establishes the value range and light source and creates interesting, exciting little marks and suggestions of foliage. After this initial stage, it's as if everything is in there and I just have to pull it out.

After many hours, starting with the background and working forward into the hundreds or thousands of blades of grass, it was check in time. Per our contract, I was to send a photo of the project at the halfway point. Imagine my absolute horror when I received the following email from the art consultant: "Rani, it looks beautiful, but you do realize it's supposed to be horizontal?" What? Let me read that again! And slowly it dawned on me: I had just assumed that, since they had based this commission on my vertically-oriented diptych, this would just be a larger version of it. I had not read the fine print in the contract due to being in such a hurry to get it signed and returned, and it clearly stated two horizontal 48x60s.  

project in progress. Notice the VERTICAL orientation!

project in progress. Notice the VERTICAL orientation!

Well with no time to waste, I grieved for about a minute and then moved my Big Giant Mistake Diptych to an unused bedroom with the other unsold 48x60s (yes, there are others!). Had to go buy two new canvasses.  But wait! My local store only has two, and one of them is damaged! Had to hunt some down online...I live in a rural area and had I not been able to find two that large, I would have had to get them in Atlanta with another day used up. My sweet husband and his big truck drove me down to a store in Albany Georgia which had what I needed. I painted my hands off: it was difficult having to paint individual blades of grass several feet tall on such a large painting. I painted the edge of a metal yardstick and pressed it onto the painting to make the stems of the weeds straight...and there was twice as much grass to paint now because of the horizontal orientation. But I finished in time! We drove down to the new, vast hospital complex and met up with the art consultants who were on their last day of hanging the artwork. Though a diptych, the two paintings were going to be hung in their own niches separated by a section of wall. It was very gratifying to be present while they were hung and the art glowed coming down the hallway. It was a successful project, not my first, but my largest, and I'm looking forward to more. I have proposals in place with the same hospital's new cancer center and with the same consulting firm for a hospital elsewhere in Florida. We shall see.

But what happened to the Mistake Diptych?  "Leaves of Grass III" is consigned at Stellers Gallery in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and I've got my fingers crossed that they will find it the perfect home!

The moral of this story:  Always read the fine print.

installation view, "Leaves of Grass II" at Baptist South Medical Center, Jacksonville, Florida

installation view, "Leaves of Grass II" at Baptist South Medical Center, Jacksonville, Florida