When Brent, a friend-turned-client approached me about helping him create a meaningful painting for his friends’ wedding, I jumped at the opportunity. Having just had my own wedding last year, I was thrilled to help him revisit a treasured memory shared with friends and create something beautiful and lasting out of it in the form of a painting.
The shared memory Brent wanted painted comes from a meaningful moment created while working as a camp counsellor with the couple. Together they created a model of a boat at sea during a stormy night, with footsteps emerging from the vessel. The entire model was to represent courage. The wedding gift was meant to be more than a simple throwback to this time, but a way to commemorate the summers spent together, and the happy memories shared between friends.
Brent was kind enough to send - along with a picture of the model - a few pictures of him and his friends at camp, which helped provide a deeper context for the environment in which those memories were formed. Here is a picture of the model, aptly named ‘The Dusk Trudger’:
This was a rush order. While it would be done in time for the wedding, both Brent and I were trying to save him some shipping costs when he came to visit (the next week!) so I had to buckle down and move some things around.
It was a challenge since it was my first time painting stormy seas.
With contract sent and signed, I got to work. Brent had given me lots of room to develop my own vision within the parameters he wanted - a boat on stormy seas, with footprints coming from the boat and the name of the boat visible. I created sketches and researched how artists in the past had approached stormy scenes. This was when I stumbled across ArtUK.org - an AMAZING resource library of art belonging to public collections across the UK. The art history geek in me did a little happy dance on the inside!
Here is a small selection of paintings that influenced how I approached Brent’s commission:
Here are a few of my own photos that 'Step Out of the Dusk Trudger' was based on
Using a limited colour palette
Below are a couple pictures of prep work done while brainstorming how to best put together Brent’s commission as well as creating a limited colour palette to work with. Limited colour palettes produce more cohesive paintings so instead of adding every favourite shade of blue, I added and subtracted lighter and darker tones using the same base colours to express a range of emotions in the scene while keeping the overall look united.
Due to the time crunch, I used a store bought artist grade canvas that was already prepped. This means I skipped the step where I would normally stretch the canvas myself. While the canvas came pre-primed, I added three more coats of primer and sanded it down until I was happy with the surface it created. I then added a wash of colour called a tone ground to take the stark white surface down a notch.
Once the surface was dry and ready to go, I marked out various elements of the painting with charcoal and began blocking in light and dark areas, creating an underpainting.
Most of my pictures of the final painting coming to life takes place in… my closet. Yup. Since my guests were staying in the living room, I had to relocate and make space in my bedroom. This meant the closet! The overhead lighting wasn’t great, but thankfully the cooler light complemented the colour scheme of the painting and it all worked out.
Creating work with others around - that ‘in the zone’ private space
I found from experience that I’m much more of a private painter. The feeling I get when I’m painting publicly is a panicked ‘I’ve lost the ability to paint…!’ So this means I struggle to create my best work when there are others around. The only exception to this fact is my husband Ben and any cats we may be fostering at the time. So I wasn’t quite sure how Brent’s commission would turn out while we had visitors. Somehow it turned out fine, we were both happy with it and Brent got to see it unfold (I left the door open to allow natural light to flow in). Having friends over meant I had the excuse to take breaks and visit. This also allowed the painting time to ‘rest’ before I came back to it with fresh eyes to finish up the details.
Speaking of the details, we decided not to go with the footsteps emerging from the boat onto the waves. I didn’t think it would work well, but we decided to try it, and if neither of us liked it, we would remove it. We tried it, didn’t like it, so we removed it.
Having finished the painting, I wrote a sweet dedication on the back to the couple from Brent, varnished and wired it, slipped in a note to the happy couple, then wrapped it up in tissue paper and kraft paper accompanied with a fun sketch. Both Brent and I were happy to have it done before he had to travel back home, saving him a little extra on shipping.
Here are some final pictures of the painting taken outdoors. I ask that you kindly ignore the dreary setting…!
Some final thoughts
What an honour it was to create something so special - a thoughtful gift both meaningful and unique as a wedding present. Brent, Shelby and Jeremy, I hope ‘Step Out of the Dusk Trudger’ has helped to create new memories to cherish as well as serving to bring back fond memories!