The Process of Commissioning an Artwork

Commissioned oi painting by Shana James.
Commissioned oil painting by Shana James.

This is a painting I was commissioned to make for Todd and Fiona hanging in their house.  It’s not difficult to commission artwork and no more expensive than buying a ready made piece of art.  The following is a description of the process Todd and Fiona went through to get this big 2.7 metre (aprox 9 feet) oil painting custom made.

Home Visit

I went to Todd and Fiona’s house one evening with a folio containing photos of some of my artwork and some original pieces. Together we discussed what they wanted. We went through the folio and I asked them lots of questions, to get an understanding of their likes and dislikes. This is what we came up with:

  • A large oil painting 2.7m long x 1m deep to go on a white wall in the living area.
  • Green was to be an important aspect of the painting (and I took home a sample of the specific shade of green).
  • Bold, strong and colourful.
  • Abstract-ish – that is with an abstract feel but not a square on top of a square.
  • In this sharp modern house they wanted to introduce a warm, organic feel (they spoke at length about this).
  • At this point the price was also fixed.

Many people at this time will want to think about it, but Todd and Fiona agreed to go ahead straight away.

Making the Picture

I went away and ordered the canvas which being unusual dimensions also had to be custom made.  All my artwork is archival –  made to last, from high quality artist grade materials.  This canvas is 11oz a lot heavier than what you will buy ready made, more heavily primed and it was an absolute pleasure to paint on.
I thought about the painting for a fortnight before I even started it, (as the canvas was being made, I couldn’t have started work any earlier even if I had wanted to).  I had all the things they had said flowing through my mind.  Then when sitting in the garden I noticed a plant growing in a pot.  A succulent  and the vibrancy of the green colour struck me.  I went and got my sketch book and drew a small section of the middle of the plant.

Working Drawings

The tiny sketch for this large painting.
The tiny sketch for this large painting.

The sketch was less than 15cm wide (aprox 6 inches) for a 2.7 metre painting.  The reason I didn’t draw it out in more detail is that I wanted the finished painting to have the freedom and spontaneity of being drawn for the first time, I didn’t want it to look laboured or contrived so it was important to do the drawing directly on the canvas, working from this tiny sketch. (The splashes of colour are from the actual painting, I had the sketch book open on the floor to refer to.)
By the time I got the canvas a couple of days later I couldn’t wait to get started!  I drew it out freehand from my sketch book with charcoal directly onto the canvas, rubbing bits out with my hand and changing it standing back and looking at it.  I wanted the finished piece to feel warm even though it was to be predominately green so I did the under-painting  in warm reddish colours. You can see in this picture I have decided to move the “leaves” in the centre overto the right and I’m just starting to change this.
The beginning stages of commissioned oil painting.
The beginning stages of commissioned oil painting.


Todd and Fiona the future owners saw none of this. I didn’t show them the under-painting or the early sketch, because unless you are an artist you wont understand the process of transformation that takes place.  Oil paintings are made of many layers and often in the early layers I am preparing the surface for subsequent layers of transparent colour.  As I am painting I am envisaging how this will look later in the process.  If you are not an experienced artist you wont be able to imagine how it will be, no matter what I say .  So the buyers need to be able to trust me. I don’t mind showing this image now that you can see the finished artwork. But if you had seen this image without seeing the final piece you probably wouldn’t be too impressed. That’s what I loved about Todd and Fiona, they just left me to get on with it.
When I had finished the painting I contacted them and they came to see the painting in my studio, they loved it. So I varnished it and delivered it a fortnight later. The whole process took about 2 months.
Later when they had hung the painting I came back to see it with my friend John Rice photographer who took the photos of the finished painting in their house, Todd  mentioned how often friends and visitors comment on the painting.  Fiona said ” I’m so happy we got it”
Go to the commissions page on Shana’s website click here Commissions
To email Shana James regarding a commission go to

The whole room with oil painting by Shana James
The whole room with oil painting by Shana James

Unfold oil painting by Shana James
Unfold oil painting by Shana James

2 Replies to “The Process of Commissioning an Artwork”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.