The delights of collaboration

The delights of collaboration was a very special commission that I was asked to create this summer. As it was to be a retirement gift, I had to keep it a secret until now.

Ballerina painting on stand next to vase of peonies

The team who commissioned me knew that their esteemed colleague loves my work and has a few of my pieces in her home already. I felt incredibly honoured to be trusted with such a special leaving gift.

My client and I had some initial deliberations about whether to do a landscape or dancers. Luckily, past conversations with my collector meant that I knew her favourite flowers are purple tulips. I proposed we opt for a tulip tutu painting and include a number of figures so that the painting could express how much the team valued working together with the recipient. The client loved the idea, double-checked it with the team and I quoted for a size that would fit within their gift budget. 

Coloured pencil sketch of 3 ballerina figures in flower tutus Coloured pencil sketch of ballerina figures

I started on the couch with some sketching. Not my usual approach but I’d just moved house and wasn’t quite set up for drawing in my new studio yet. It was fractionally past tulip season and I hadn’t been able to buy a fresh bunch to work from as I had hoped – must’ve missed the last bunch in Otley by a few days. Luckily I had lots of spring tulip photos that I had taken before I moved house to work from. The figures were sketched intuitively. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I tend not to use reference photos for dancers as I find that the sense of movement and expression gets lost (plus I’m mindful of other creators’ copyright).

I devised a colour scheme that would work with the paintings my collector already owned (in particular a lily flower tutu dancer swathed in green foliage) and really let the purple “pop”. I can sometimes get carried away with colour but this time I was very deliberate and restrained in my choices.

The turnaround for the project was going to be quite tight, so I worked in acrylic (which needs considerably less drying time than oils). I really like the zingy purples in the System 3 acrylic range so this was a good choice of medium given the subject too.

Jeanne-Louise holding a paint brush standing next to an easel with a painting on it

The first step for me, after sketching, is often just getting the canvas covered in paint. It was my first painting in my new studio too, so this phase was a joyous dance with paint celebrating being back in action after a long break and celebrating finally having enough creative space to be able to dance and paint in at the same time.

Next, I sketched the figures in paint on the canvas. As you might note from the photos, I considered three figures initially and then decided to add the other two.

 Painting on easel with 5 ballerina figures sketched loosely on the background

I then sketches the flower tutus, taking care to get a range of angles to show off the beautiful flower shapes.

Painting on easel with 5 ballerina figures and tutu skirts sketched loosely on the background

Once the figures and tutus were more substantial, I sent a process image to my client to check she was happy with the direction it was taking. Typically, I find commissions harder to do because you don’t know if what’s in client’s head is quite the same as what is in your imagination. But with this one, I knew instinctively throughout the process that it was going to be good because I had such a clear vision for the project. It’s a wonderful feeling to experience this profound clarity in the creative process.

During the next phases, I built up some more layers and added more details. I would’ve loved to do even more layers on this but it just seemed to paint itself and I didn’t want to lose the expressive movement by overpainting it or fussing the details too much. Easily done because I love adding all the little costume details to my dancers. But the trick with good art is knowing when to stop.

I also needed to allow enough time for varnishing (I do 3 coats of matt varnish on my acrylics) before

Painting with 5 dancers in purple tulip tutus


Delighted to share the lovely client feedback:

“It is absolutely stunning, Jeanne-Louise. I feel very privileged to know someone capable of producing something of such outstanding beauty. Even though I have only been a tiny part of making this happen I will be so proud to present … this special gift.”

Then the long wait for the leaving day and opening of the gift. I was so excited about this one, it seemed like forever.

Worth the wait, I received this wonderful email from the happy recipient:

“Words honestly can't expressed how thrilled I am with the painting. ... It is truly stunning. I love the shape and formation – I love the colours (the green and purple are so striking together) – but most of all I love the thoughtfulness that went into it …. It will always be a treasured possession. I won't have anything on the walls unless they have meaning of some sorts – this has so many layers of meaning. It is one of the most special gifts I've ever received.” 

I’m always happy to chat about potential new commissions. Commissions take longer than you might think they do, and need to be booked in well in advance. So, it’s always best to get in touch sooner rather than later if you have an idea you’d like to discuss.

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