A few months ago I was asked to do a commission of a home set in the wintertime but not set during the holiday season.
This offered a challenge because I couldn’t rely on holiday lights and decorations to keep a winter scene from looking tired and dull. I wanted this picture to convey the magic of winter while showing off the home. I didn’t know the best way to portray that. I brainstormed and sketched the house during different times of day, with various amounts of snow, etc. I ended up liking several of the ideas but I didn’t love any of them. Then one evening I had to go to the post office. I walked outside right as the colors of the sunset were being reflected in the snow. Oranges, pinks, purples, and blues filled my eyes from heaven to earth and I instantly knew how I wanted to paint the scene. A little over 30 hours later the painting was completed.
My client and I were thrilled with how the colors perfectly showed off the beauty of this hillside home.
I had the fun opportunity to work on a commission that featured a house from my hometown. I grew up only a few miles away and saw this house almost everyday. I went to school with their kids from elementary on up to college. My mom taught them piano lessons and I went to girls camp with their daughters. So when their kids asked me to do a commission of their parent’s home I was ecstatic.
There is something endearing and personal about painting a picture of a home that you know so well for a family that you love and respect.
I know exactly where the home I grew up in is in relation to this house and the mountains featured in the background. As a result I began feeling home sick while painting this picture. I think part of it is that was from knowing I wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas this year for only the second time in my life.
The other reason I started feeling home sick was that painting this made me really reflective of my childhood, the people I grew up with, life long friends I made, and the adventures I went on hiking the mountains in the background. Even though I didn’t always appreciate it as a kid I was blessed to grow up in town I did.
The reference photos that were sent me for this commission were beautiful photos from the previous Christmas. The photos showed off the beautiful pink glow the mountains get as the sunset is reflected on them with the cozy house situated just beneath.
They wanted the house to look and feel like it was Christmas Eve. To me this meant the house needed to glow with feelings of warmth, joy, and love. So much so that it would make you wish you could jump right in and be part of the celebration.
A few weeks ago I was able to complete an autumn themed house painting. This painting was really fun to work on because autumn allows me to use more colors than I traditionally get to use in landscapes. I love it when I can pull out my full Chroma red, orange, yellow, greens, teal, and violet pastels and use them quite liberally.
While painting a home seems pretty straightforward they can actually have their own unique set of challenges. For example, a reference photos might be set in the wrong season and I have to figure out how the yard and house would change with it being winter instead of summer. This commission in particular had several challenges. My reference photos were from the summer and the painting was supposed to set in the fall. I also needed to age the landscaping up. The home I was asked to paint is only a year old without any mature trees in the yard. So I had to research the types of trees they planted in the yard so I could paint them to resemble how they will look in the future. I also had to adjust where some of the landscaping was in the yard including the fence so it didn’t block too much of the house. I also removed the shop behind the house and the neighbor’s home on the right. The extra buildings were distracting and removed the focus from the house.
Like I always do with commissions or complex pieces I used a quick sketch to work through any potential problems. Doing the sketch I was able to figure out the sizing for the house, proportioning of the trees, how I want the branches to grow, sky to look, and shadows with the sun setting on the left side of the house.
Thankfully, the final piece ended up being over 4 times the size of the sketch and was more able to accommodate detail. The texture and detail of the house was more important on this home than on my previous home paintings. Because this house has rock, brick, and stucco it was really important to differentiate the difference surfaces so that the house didn’t look flat. When a home is all siding its really easy to imply the surface with just a few horizontal lines.
Lately, I have been into adding unusual colors in in areas of the painting toward the end of the painting process. With this autumn scene I really loved the effect that teal, bright purples, and royal blues had in the shadows. I particularly loved what it did to the shadow side of the tree trunks. It kept them visually interesting without being distracting.
I was really excited to with how this painting turned out and was excited to give it to its new owner in person. Seeing her face light up when looking at is the reason why I paint.
I wish I had had a chance to get a better picture of it before I delivered it but my tight schedule didn’t allow for me to wait for natural lighting (an increasingly scarce resource with winter setting in). The colors in this picture are even more stunning in person.
The other night my kids were all asleep by 8 PM (Hallelujah!) and my husband was gone working a 24 hour shift at the hospital. It had been a rough day; the morning was spent fixing things that hadn’t gone to plan. Kids fought, my three year old decide he didn’t want to poop in the toilet anymore, naps/quiet time didn’t happen (not for lack of trying on my part), and the list goes on and on. My anxiety and stress levels were high and all I wanted to do was binge watch TV shows on the couch while carb loading on cake. As I was about to turn on the TV I asked myself if that would really help me feel better. The answer was no. TV doesn’t help me de-stress and sugar certainty doesn’t. In fact, they usually make me feel worse because I feel regretful about the wasted time and sick from the sugar hangover the next day. Thus, causing me to feel worse and more likely to repeat it again the next day.
So with my answer I got up and made my way to my studio, A place that I had barely been in the past few weeks. Between going to visiting family, family visiting us, potty training previously mentioned 3 year old, and then getting a kidney infection there hasn’t been much time left to paint. This lack of studio time is a big reason why I could the stress and anxiety building up inside me. Painting is my job but more importantly it is what brings balance to my life. When I feel like my personal identity is threatened to be washed away by the demands of my husband’s schooling, motherhood, owning a business, and just regular adult stuff I retreat to my little studio. I shut the door and spent time with beautiful colors. On this particular night I turned on some dancing music, picked out a reference photo, and started. The picture I picked was a sunset picture from our summer trip to Seattle. I wanted to get right to work so I just used the pastels that were already sitting out.
My Goal that night wasn’t to create my best piece of work but to break the cycle of putting off painting until I had time or felt inspired. It was to feel the stress leave through my fingertips with each stroke of the pastel. It was to change my perspective of the day. Instead of feeling bad that the first part of the day went so poorly I could be happy that my kids went to bed easily and early thus, leaving me with the entire night to paint. Instead of feeling bad that I hadn’t seen my husband awake for more than an hour the day before and wouldn’t be seeing him for another fifteen hours I could be glad that he has a job he loves. Painting gives me time to process and gain perspective on my life.
I came upstairs a few hours later feeling rejuvenated. The responsibilities that are still on my shoulders felt lighter and more like an adventure pack taking me on new adventures instead of a punishment.
Ps. This painting was actually really difficult to do with it such having such strong contrasting in colors. I will have to try it again on a large piece of paper and I use what I learned from this sketch.
We first came up to the Billings area to look for housing it was the middle of winter. There was two feet of snow on the ground and it was surprisingly warmer than the southern Idaho we left. Billings was a roasting 5 degrees while Idaho was -25 degrees (not counting wind chill). One of the first things I noticed about Billings was the amazing sunsets you could see from the rim rocks. The sky was so massive that I instantly understood why Montana was called “the big sky state.” It was so big that the city seemed to disappear below me, making it feel like alone in the clouds with the golden sunset light shining on me. Seeing that sunset confirmed to me that Montana was the place I needed to go to develop my skills as an artist.
I had been to the western areas of Montana many times as a kid and had always been amazed by its beauty. We would drive through Yellowstone; go to through Bozeman, and then up to glacier national park. However, in all those travels we never went east of Bozeman. Having never seeing the plains side of the state I didn’t know what to expect. But seeing the farms, mountains in the distance, rolling hills, and snow made me feel right at home. Now it’s the height of summer and Billings still isn’t disappointing. The snow has melted away to reveal beautiful farmland growing things like barley and hay. Powerful thunderstorms roll in almost weekly. The magic that happens when the bright pink sunsets make the fields and rim rocks glow in its light.
A few weeks ago we were leaving a friends house only to see the beautiful sunset. Instead of going home to put the kids to bed we decided to chase it. We spent the hour driving around Billings snapping pictures of the sunset and basking in its glory. It was a fantastic way to spend a warm summer evening. That evening drive inspired me to pull out my pastels and do my first pastel painting of Montana. This will be the first of many paintings of Montana particularly, of the Billings area.