I don’t undertake commissions, I can do without the stress.  What I see and what the viewer/buyer sees are not necessarily the same.  But this was different.  This was for two very special people, who have been so supportive of my work over the years, that I thought this could be a very interesting challenge.

They had very fixed ideas about palette, not my usual needless to say, so that would be a development for me.  They wrote me a brief (he is a designer after all), abstract, textured and huge, 150 x 100 cms, on paper not canvas, accepting that they would need to hire a van to transport, what would be a very fragile glazed work.

Having bypassed a BA, I have not developed the habit of using a sketch book.  I wish I had, it would have been so much more convenient, but I tend to explore ideas as works in progress, where some work easily, some take more effort with the rare exception ending up either downsized, or in the bin.  I decided that it would be opportune to use this experience to build a series of paintings 76 x 56 cms, each exploring a different aspect of the brief.  I decided on a random 10, which I would then discuss with the clients to determine the elements from each that they would like incorporated into the final work.  Due to the way I work and the unpredictable characteristics of watercolour, I would aim to produce two final pieces, from which the clients could choose.  The other would be available for my Pushing Boundaries exhibition at Hastings Arts Forum in July 2020.



The green and darks palette.




Early explorations of acceptable palette, structure and possible textures.


The first introduction of magenta.


The image on the left is considered by the client to be the sort of structure they are looking for.  The image on the right a palette closer to their requirements.


The expanded palette.



The first layers on both final works.  Note the initial works propped around the studio as reminders of the elements that worked.


Close up of sip of painting finally selected.


Second painting wip.


Close up of painting 2, probably half way through.


Painting 2.

At this stage the works reflected the brief and were shown to the clients.  Areas were identified as pleasing, but it was felt the works didn’t reflect what they liked about my work.  It was agreed that I could ignore the brief to develop the works in a way that felt less constrained.


I introduced more subtle variations of colour, added white to create more contrast, added ‘pops’ of interest, continuing to layer until the resultant works felt right.


A particular favourite area of painting 1 that I will produce as a giclee print.

Views of the clients’ final painting.


The final image 150×100 cms.

A five month marathon and a real test of my determination and self belief.  There are 30-40 layers of paint, each layer very wet, taking days to dry, during which time the work could not be moved.  Each layer may have taken a few minutes/a few brush strokes, or may have taken much longer with an intense interrogation of the image.  I work by responding to the image, adding, deleting, making connections, responding intuitively to the resultant work.  This commission tested me and my process to the limit.

I had no vision for the work, just an intention.  Once the constraints of the brief were loosened, I felt more confident, more ‘at home’ with the process and direction the work was taking.  The addition of specific details, a magenta line, a lime soft pastel mark, a white trail, created the visual cohesion I had been seeking and a work that I am proud to have produced.

The new owners live by the sea.  This work references this fact without being a seascape, exactly what they wanted, without the sea being mentioned.  Intuition at its most powerful.

The work has been sealed with three layers of Spectrafix fixative, a casein based product from a recipe used by Degas.  The work will be tray framed and unglazed.

Would I undertake a commission again?  It would take a lot to convince me!

During the time that I was working on the commission I was also undertaking a residency at the Pugin chapel in St Leonards.  The colours of the chapel,  by coincidence, (or design?) are those of the commission.  The works below were the exploratory works for the commission which were further developed to reflect the atmosphere, the artifacts and the occupants of the chapel.

From the left Releasing the Feminine l,  Father, Son,  Releasing the Feminine ll.


Ghosts l, ll and lll.


Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

2 thoughts on “Commission”

  1. Wow! Absolutely fascinating! I love the way you take us along with you in your journey. A sudden end leaves me keen to hear the happy ending!

    Kathleen King Consultant, Coach, Researcher + 44 7803 531947



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