Sometimes oil painting feels just like doing a jigsaw puzzle

A painting of a house set in a garden with a long drive to the left. Shown against a cream background.

Earlier this year, I was delighted to take on this lovely painting commission. My client wanted a special gift for her husband's birthday. The subject was his grandparents' home that had recently been sold to new owners. Initially, I was a little daunted by the responsibility of doing justice to a subject with such deep sentimental value but honoured that my client trusted me entirely with such a personal, commemorative project. 

The project was also challenging as, usually with this kind of subject, I'd prefer to start by sketching on site. I always find it easier to paint and draw subjects that I have first-hand experience of so that I know the atmosphere and emotion of my subject. But the house was in Germany and we had lockdown restrictions on travel so I needed to work entirely from photographs supplied by my client.

I started out with some rough work and colour swatches, as shown in the image below. In fact, this piece of paper keep evolving as I used it to mix and test out colours and details throughout the project.

A piece of canvas paper with a painted sketch of a house and colour swatches mixed around it.

I started tentatively at first, blocking in the basic forms with a very soft palette so that I could check my client was happy with the basic composition and scale.

Painting in progress on easel with a house set against a soft blue sky and green trees and grass.

I then built up several layers to develop the colour, light and shade, texture and details. So much fun! It reminded me of doing a jigsaw puzzle, paying attention to little nuances in the reference photos like one hunts out particular puzzle pieces and then recreating these with my brushes.

I have to admit that it was looking really good and I almost didn't put the fence in for fear of ruining it (I was working with reference photos from different times so not all of them included the fence). But my client knew the fence was important so I found the courage to paint it. My heart was thumping just in case it all went wrong. But it didn't and then I had a few weeks to enjoy this sweet painting in my studio-cum-livingroom while the oil paint dried. 

Painting of a double-storey house and garden with a long driveway to the left. The painting is on a small easel stand on top of a wooden surface with a painted ceramic jug and a calla lily potplant on the left.

My client was thrilled with the painting when she collected it but I still had to wait to hear the real verdict once the birthday arrived. Lovely feedback: "It's a massive hit! When [he] opened his present today he had tears in his eyes. He loves it! Thank you so much!!!!"

On reflection, I think one of the reasons why I particularly enjoyed this project is because when I was a child my grandfather had a couple of paintings of the family home. So in this respect, even though I hadn't been able to visit the subject of the painting myself, I felt a strong affinity for the project and what it represents.

Thank you to my client for trusting me with this wonderful project and for permission to share the images and feedback.


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