January 6, 2008 "Custom" or Commissioned Original Art "Afternoon on the Sassafras" Posted In: Log

Nellie Crockett

Since I no longer publish or distribute prints of my paintings personally, virtually all my time is now spent creating new artwork. Earlier in my career all my art was conceived and created for my studio and sold at auction once every two to three years in Richmond, Va. During those years one could rarely purchase a painting outside this private event which was held in the Grand Ballroom of Richmond’s prestigious Commonwealth Club. This was partly due to the demands of our print business which was all consuming- we published 136 limited editions [or different images] of my art during those nearly 30 years. Due to the staff required to host these occasional, private sales and my desire for a slower paced lifestyle, I no longer stage the auctions.

Today, I still paint originals for myself and offer them via my “Wet Paint” emails directly to the buyer as well as on my Website. However, most of my art is created specifically for “the client”. I enjoy working, one on one, with the person who wishes to own my painting and I enjoy the challenge of bringing their “vision” to life on canvas. This post will discuss the creation of a painting from concept through completion and for reference I’ll use a commission from last year which the buyer and I particularly enjoyed collaborating on.

It began when the current owner of a 1925 vintage Chesapeake Bay buy boat came to me asking if I would do a painting of their beloved vessel. I knew this boat in an earlier day when she was owned by Captain James Ward who berthed “Nellie Crockett” at his dock on Jackson Creek, Deltaville, Virginia. After my friend Captain Ward “Crossed the Bar” as Tennyson phrased it, the boat was purchased by this new family from the eastern shore of Maryland.

It was this gentleman who came to me for a painting of her. He was familiar with my art and even had a limited edition print of one of my early paintings of his boat “Nellie”. He explained that he’d like to see her portrayed at his dock on the Sassafras River. I visited the family, toured the boat which I had not seen in years and was treated to one of the most delicious venison dinners I’ve ever had. The deer was felled by my host and during the meal we discussed what “Nellie” meant to himself, his wife and their two sons and how he’d like her portrayed. I explained to my client and his wife how I wished no surprises for myself and certainly not for them during the creation of their painting. We discussed how the following day I would make additional photos [I had many from the past when she was in Virginia waters and I had painted her] and how I would do sketches and color studies to be sure I was “on track” before I attacked the final canvas. This brought them much comfort as they had never “commissioned” a painting before and since they were not “art collectors” they felt reassured by the process which I outlined. A price was then decided upon. I do all in my power to relive the client of uncertainty at each step of a painting.
After returning to my studio I did the initial sketch. It is simple ink on paper and I emailed it to my friend explaining that this was a but “doodle” intended to determine the basic elements and composition which I felt represented what the client was envisioning. A more finished drawing would follow but only after they’d agreed that we were of a similar understanding. He did approve the “doodle” with a couple comments; one being that he would like his son’s radio controlled model of “Nellie” to appear in the painting. During my visit I had enjoyed seeing the proud young man pilot his home-made model of Dad’s boat around the harbor. It does not appear in this version but “Lil’ Nellie” is on the left in the reflection of the boat house in the second sketch on the right.

The pencil sketch shows much more detail than the initial “doodle”. I emailed [ in the ‘old days’ I would have visited the client or shipped the drawing to them!] the new drawing and they were thrilled with the image and wanted to proceed to the next step which was the oil or “color” sketch. This would give us all our first look at how the piece would come to life with color and atmosphere. The pen and pencil sketches were about 4″ x 8″ and the oil study about 5″ x 10″.

As you can see we have a beautiful afternoon on the Sassafras River and to the right background you see another buy boat which is owned by my client’s best friend who lives across the River in Georgetown, Maryland. The boat model is more visible in the left foreground and the Captain’s two sons’ skiffs
are tied alongside the pilothouse. Again, thanks to digital photography and email, the image was viewed immediately by the family and was met by much favor by all four members. There were discussions concerning minor rigging details of the vessels but for the most part it would be painted on the final canvas just as you see it in the preparatory, oil study.

I then prepared the larger canvas, 14″ x 28″ and drew off the image in pencil directly on the prepared canvas surface. Before long, the finished painting emerged and was photographed. Again, it was emailed to my friends and was a hit all around. You can see this image below. After the client’s email approval, the piece was beautifully framed , the hand- lettered nameplate attached and
properly lighted. Then the clients visited my studio in Richmond for the final “viewing” of the actual piece [ for the first time] and were quite happy. The two originals now hang in their lovely home overlooking “Nellie” at their dock.

So, you now see how the process works! I take great pleasure and pride in my art and have enjoyed the many clients with whom I’ve worked over the years. I feel very fortunate that many of them have become long-time friends.

Another interesting aspect of this project was that the owners of “Nellie Crockett” wished to have a dozen high quality prints on canvas made to be given as gifts to friends and family. There is a studio in Richmond that creates beautiful Giclee prints of artwork. This is a technique for making magnificent reproductions of originals and one may order small editions- as few as one up to 100. I was happy to have these prints made for the buyers and they were able to share their new possession.

*Caveat- do be aware that when one purchases an original piece of art, the copyrights do not automatically convey with the sale. Permission must be granted by the artist before any reproductions may be legally made.

If you’d like to discuss my recreating your vision on canvas, return an email [ use a subject such as “Original Painting” or similar so I’ll not toss your inquiry out with the many offers for Watches or Vitamins. I’ll be happy to add your email address to my “Wet Paint” emailing list which I send out often showing new art straight off my easel!

It’s back to studio for me and to you I wish Fair Winds!



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