Thursday, June 07, 2018

Camilla Dowse: the practice of period house portraiture on commission

Recently I read a post by very popular and award-winning painter Camilla Dowse on Facebook. It was a snippet about her practice when commissioned to paint a portrait of a house. I was intrigued and asked her to talk about her practice of working on commission to paint buildings - and below you can read what she had to say.

The images below include recent past and current commissions - demonstrating the different stages of sketching, studies and final painting she creates when executing a commission.

My work has always featured period buildings and so from very early on in my career I’ve been approached about painting to commission. 

Past Commission (2017) - acrylic on gesso, 41 x 41cm
copyright Camilla Dowse

Past commissions have included everything from small cottages and townhouses to large country homes. One corporate client even flew me to America to complete a series of paintings of the historic buildings found along the Freedom Trail in Boston.

For me, painting to commission is an almost entirely different process to painting for exhibition. There is an additional logistical and administrative responsibility. It’s a commercial process and I think it’s important to remember that I’m being hired by a client who has expectations.

For most people the experience of buying an artwork is simply to pay for a completed piece. But commissioning a painting of a building requires a visit to the location and preliminary work for client approval, so I’ve found it’s useful to break the process down into stages and to charge fairly for each stage.

Whatever the size of the commission the process is the same. I start by visiting the location and collecting reference to work from, then I make some drawings and a small study painting to determine the best composition.

Current Commission - sketches on location
copyright Camilla Dowse

Past Commission (2016) - watercolour sketch
copyright Camilla Dowse
Part of my process is to work from photographs, but only for logistical reasons. It isn’t always possible to tell from my paintings, but often the best angle on a location is found by standing in the middle of the road. Unfortunately with traffic these days that isn’t a practical place to sit and paint.

For this first stage I charge a small fee to cover my time and travel expenses, which is payable even if a final painting isn’t commissioned.

Current Commission: Sketch and Study painting
copyright Camilla Dowse
Past Commission(2017): Study Painting - gouache, 18 x 18cm
copyright Camilla Dowse
Past Commission (2016) : Study painting
copyright Camilla Dowse
Once the client approves the drawings and small study painting I ask them to sign a simple contract and pay a non-refundable deposit before I start work on the final painting. The remaining fee is payable on the client’s approval of the final piece.

Mostly people commission a painting of a building because they have a sentimental attachment it, and it’s great to see faces light up when you present them with a painting they love.

Past commission (2016) - Completed painting (76cm x 76cm)
copyright Camilla Dowse
But commissioning a painting is, for most people, something they do once in a lifetime, so it’s my job to help them through the process and to make them feel as confident and in control of the process as I can, to minimise the chance of them being surprised by something they’re not keen on.

My goal is always to complete the commission to their absolute satisfaction.


Camilla Dowse is opening her studio to visitors as part of the Bucks Art Weeks from 9-24 June 

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