Making Treasured Possessions

Making Treasured Possessions

This is the story of a special commission project that became Christmas presents in the December of 2023.


It started in the summer of 2023, when I opened up my home studio for the Hampshire Open Studios event. One of the visitors happened to be Mrs. E, who hadn’t yet purchased a painting from me. Little did I know of the part that my art was going to play in her families’ Christmas celebrations later that year.


When she came to see me, she had a look at the painting sizes that I had previously painted, and the various commissions I had done in the past, especially portraits. Looking at those commissions enabled her to get an idea for what my capacity as an artist was. She was also able to quiz me on whether I could potentially put together various different people and backgrounds from different photos in one painting.


She then went away to think and brainstorm, as well as start gathering photos, both from her own collection and from other family members. All of this had to be done very covertly, lest anyone get wind of what she was up to.


And so it was, that a few weeks down the line we had another conversation about the ideas that had now become clearer for her. She showed me the photos that she already had and also a childhood photo of her being held by her grandparents. She knew for sure that she wanted it recreated, but now with her son in it.


As her son hadn’t met some of the great-grandparents - they had passed away many years before - we couldn’t get any reference photos with all of them in anyway. But after studying the photos she had given me, I looked at the lighting and other features and advised her in the kind of photos she needed to take with her son. This included where the light came from and how she needed to place a hand on her son, so that it would match the pose of the great grandparents’ photo. 


I then used photo editing software to put each couple with their great grandson. You can see how higgledy-piggledy it looks!! Still, this was all I needed. I just relied on my years of painting to help pull it together.


The backgrounds were secretly photographed and supplied by Mrs. E and her brother. One was a great-grandfather’s treasured garden and the other was a family home when the couple had raised their children, one of whom was Mrs. E’s father. 


You may have noticed a robin in the background of one the paintings. It was a special touch requested by Mrs. E to be a source of comfort for her family. For those who don’t know, the phrase ‘when robins appear, loved ones are near’ is a strong belief held by many here in the UK. 

When painting the commission with the house, the proportions of the house to the people in front just did not feel right to me. As Mrs. E was away and the house was only about a 20 minute drive away, my husband and I went there one evening, and took a few photos of the house with me standing in front of it! We hoped that the neighbours wouldn’t become too suspicious of this strange couple photographing a house on their street in the dark!!!

That was key to not just painting the house to scale but also understanding where the rose bush was and the height of it.


You can see the difference between my original sketch and the finished painting. Taking a photograph of the house made a huge difference to making that painting look authentic.

Just to clarify what I mean by initial sketch, this is just a quick painting on watercolour paper to decide on placement, colours and general details. The above was the rough sketch for the painting below.



One of the joys with commissions is that the artworks can be framed with special attention to the commissioner’s preferences. In this case, Mrs. E had already got white frames for these paintings.




So, I could take them to the local picture framers and get mounts that suited both the frame outside and the painting inside. Don’t they look absolutely gorgeous?



In fact, when Mrs. E gave these presents to her family at Christmas, they were first of all shocked to find out that they were actually paintings. They thought they were photos initially! So imagine the joyful surprise when they found out that they were specially commissioned by their beloved daughter/granddaughter. The photos were shared around the world with extended family very proudly indeed.

Mrs. E summed it up really well in her feedback and review. 



Did it bring tears to my eyes? Oh yes!

I’m always up for commissions both simple and complex, big or small. My longest one was 5 feet long and the smallest has been 4x6 inches. What matters is that a parent/friend/grandparent/child/grandchild wants it. 

It’s my pleasure and honour to make impossible dreams possible- how else could Mrs. E’s son be pictured with his great grandparents?

If you have a commissioned painting idea to discuss, just send me a message through the contact form. And I’ll guide, help and work alongside you to make it a reality!

But please, do leave a comment below on what you thought of these commissions and the whole process. I’d love to hear it!

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1 comment

what a wonderful present, and fabulous paintings, they are amazing, well done. xx

Tracy O'Brien

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