Color Theory, Creative Projects

The Anatomy of a Commission

To create a work of art through another person’s Minds Eye is a difficult process.  Understanding what a patron means when they try to describe a finished piece is tricky, when they themselves use a different “language” than the artist.  They are, after all, asking the artist to do something that they themselves cannot do.

I have found that the trick to bridging the request to the finished piece is to understand more of the emotions and feelings behind their request rather than an actual physical description.  One persons description of “simple design” may be not simple at all to the artist, whereas the feeling of restful may be a better jump start to the project.  The artist knows what physical processes go into creating a feeling and simple may not be simple at all.

Occasionally a patron will give carte blanche to an artist knowing that they want what the artist sees, not what they see.  This is a dream to the artist and this happened again to me recently when I created a quilted piece for Danna Truslow.


Danna had previously purchased a finished piece several years ago and has admired it in her office.  As it was a winter scene, in recent years she had taken to replacing it in on the wall during the warm weather months then bringing it back out again in the winter (I rotate my seasonal art too).  This year it occurred to her that it could be wonderful to have a similar piece with a spring and summer scene in the same size.

Danna’s only request was that it included another bird in it like the cardinal in the first piece—an eastern bluebird this time—and she expressed that what she liked about the first piece was that it felt peaceful.  The rest was up to me.  So this is the process I went through…

To interpret Danna’s interest in the piece being peaceful, I employed what I know about color theory.  The use of Monochromatic color only produces less jar on the body’s endrocrine system and therefore less of the  excitable emotions; unlike Complimentary color combinations, for example, that peak adrenalin.  The use of neutral color also helps ground a visual image.  And all though I used all warm hues (because spring and summer are warm) that produce energy, the fact that the other rules were followed made it soothing.

I started first with a loose sketch and a check-off list of ideas.

The I set about painting the fabric to use.  First was the wooden fabric for the trees; under-painted with dark brown then printed with a graining.

Then I painted the back ground of the woods.  I wanted to portray sunlight coming through so decided on an ombre effect. I mixed realistic complex colors rather than straight primary hues, brushed on to the fabric then scrunched to blend the color. When dry, I then stamped over it with different shapes that loosely resembled leaf shapes then finally added lining with a pencil to mimic small trees.  Also at the same time I sun-painted the ground by brushing a green fabric with a deeper green and scattering toothpicks to give the impression of fallen branches. A Shibori technique was used to paint the foreground.

Then I began piecing it all together paying attention to the finished size leaving room for cropping/trimming down.

Then I sandwiched the piece with batting and a backing and quilted it, side ways angles in-between the trees to resemble branches and loose flowing sweeps in the meadows.

The final finishing touch was embroidering the requested bluebird.

My husband builds my large frames and I custom painted this one to flatter the finished work.

“Sunlight in the Woods” Jane Balshaw 2021
Danna Truslow and artist Jane Balshaw with new work just hung in Danna’s office.

To understand even more about my process with commissioned work, read this very flattering article written about me published by the New Hampshire Business Committee for the Arts. Click here

If you are interested in beginning a discussion about a commissioned work you may be interested in, please contact me…I would be delighted. Thank you.

4 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Commission”

  1. You and your art work always inspire me! What a beautiful piece and even more beautiful person!

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