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A Look Behind-the-Scenes at the Process of a Large Custom Statement Piece - Mountain Song

 Mountain Song

Mountain Song

A painter continually searches for the lowest common denominator. The single ‘word’ or brushstroke that will convey meaning in themost economic fashon. The symbols or marks the painter chooses can never be the actual landscape, but they can communicate the same emotion and serve as an analogy to the impression.
— Mitchell Albala

Choosing custom work

It was wonderful reconnecting with Jenny, an old friend from university and catch up on where we were at in life. I was so happy to hear about the newest chapter in her life - graduating from professional school and moving to downtown Toronto to work at a high profile Canadian company. It was here that she reached out and asked if I could create something for her to hang above her bed facing the waterfront.

Of course I was thrilled. Since she wasn’t sure if she wanted something that already existed from my Instagram or something created just for her, we talked about what she had in mind. After discussing that she wanted a landscape painting based on her travels, we settled on a black and white photograph of the Rocky Mountains taken by a friend of her’s. We then discussed size - she wanted something around 4 feet by 2 feet, and after considering the idea of a diptych, we decided that having the painting spread across a single canvas was the way to go. Jenny was a pleasure to work with - having decided that she wanted the painting done realistically, but open to it being in my style with a slight abstract influence, she kindly gave me full creative license to choose whatever colour palette I wanted to go with the black and white photo.

Copyright

Subject chosen and size settled, we then made sure we were both exactly on the same page. I sent Jenny a contract with all the details including size, medium used, and turnaround time. We also cleared copyright with regards to using her friend’s photo. As a person who values the arts and creative work, respecting copyright is so, so close to my heart. Even though the painting is not an exact replica of the photo (but was based on it in my style and colour palette), it was important to me that we were on the same page regarding this. After Jenny had okay-ed the details and a deposit was put down, we were on our way.

An ‘uh-oh’ moment

Before starting work on Jenny’s painting, it was important to me to decide what the overall ‘theme’ or ‘feel’ I wanted to convey in the painting.

There was only one problem.

I have never been to the Rockies. Never, ever, ever, ever.

There is something to be said about having seen, been to, touched and experiencing something live that comes through in what you do - whether it’s a story you’re telling, a recipe you’re recreating, the emotion attached to a piece of music you’re hearing that you had heard in some other place, some other time. You know what I mean. For Mountain Song,  I knew I wanted to convey the sweeping sense of majesty, the vastness of the mountain range, but I just hadn’t been there.

So I made preparations (read: *geeked out*).

I cozied up with a blanket and spent hours watching documentaries about mountain ranges, the animals that inhabit the harsh and lush environments in the various areas and the histories of how these mountain ranges were formed. Along the way I mapped out sketches, studying the varying heights of these landforms, both up close and from a distance.

 

After getting ‘in the zone,’ I blocked off the dark and light areas of the photograph Jenny had sent me, simplifying until I got the ‘essence’ of the photograph, while keeping that sense of scale. So while a photograph captures every tiny detail, I was aiming to simplify these details and tell a story, create a mood, invite you into the landscape. I then experimented with colours to create a colour palette for the piece

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Throughout the process of creating the painting Mountain Song, I kept Jenny updated with when the materials I ordered had arrived and a photo of the painting around its midway point. Once the stretcher bars arrived (36”x46”), I assembled the bars (4 bars to create the frame and 1 bar in the middle as a support) and stretched raw cotton canvas over it. I then put down multiple coats of primer, letting each coat dry overnight, sanded it down to a smooth surface, and put down a wash of colour to reduce the overall intensity of the white from the primer. It was then ready to go.

I started by creating a line drawing in charcoal, then proceeded to block in the dark and light areas with an underpainting. This took a while as getting the proportion and composition right is crucial, otherwise the whole painting falls apart. Once I was happy with how the elements worked together, I started adding base colours, building up depth and a rich tapestry of colour through layers. This went on for a while. I let the painting ‘rest’ in between stages so I could go away and come back with fresh eyes, to see which areas needed touching up and which areas needed to be subdued.

Progress update image sent via email

Around the midway point I sent Jenny a picture to update her on the progress of her painting and to make sure she was happy with it. She was :)

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then came back and added details. Adding details at the end is my absolute favourite part of a painting. I know the overall composition works and so all I have to worry about is adding the final touches. Being a little detail obsessed, this was really fun!

Details upon completion

Once the painting was completed and dry, I finished it with a layer of matte varnish, and attached a wire to it so it would be ready to hang. Included with Jenny’s painting was the following:

- A certificate of authenticity

- Care instructions

The painting was then carefully wrapped to protect it from spills and dents, then taken to the post office to be weighed. It was then mailed via Canada Post’s expedited shipping service and tracked.

Creating this painting for Jenny was a challenge and a joy. While the large scale of the piece lent itself to the sense of scale (vastness and sweeping mountainscape/sky) I wanted to capture, it was a challenge to do so. I wanted the colours to be vibrant, but not so abstract that it strayed too far from the realism that Jenny wanted all the while keeping with my style. It was truly a privilege to create a vacation scene and an escape from the city for a busy professional such as Jenny. Jenny, I hope you enjoy your painting for many years to come!

A good landscape or seascape becomes a good escape.The scenic frame becomes a wondrous window through which the human soul may take wing, then return refreshed, better fitted for the tasks ahead.
— Jack Hamm