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the story of a commissioned painting

In Autumn 2023 I started collaborating with Yr Hen Printworks, a local MICHELIN accredited restaurant on a painting they had been thinking about for a while. It's now early March as I write, and I've just delivered the finished work to the restaurant.

It was a big project, in time and size, and a very satisfying one for me personally, so I thought I'd take some time to reflect on the process and share my thoughts.

initial meeting and thoughts

"It'll need to be big, very big." As in 'we're going to need a bigger canvas' big. The space the clients had in mind was not only a very long wall, but tall too, and where the painting would be hung, opposite a mezzanine dining area, was about 12 feet above ground.

Seeing the space allowed me to think about the factors that needed to be kept in mind, not only the size of canvas that would be required for the space; but also:

  • choice of colours that would work best given the lighting that would be available.

  • Colours would need to have an impact, so they stood out from a distance, without being garish.

  • design of the painting - given the long format, the traditional linear perspective wouldn't work given the long, narrow format.

  • planning the placement and size of details, given they would be viewed from a distance, and I didn't want the details to be lost.

  • what put leave in, and what to leave out, whilst ensuring that viewers could recognise the place at a glance.

I was feeling into the essence of the new painting, the ideas discussed, and the opportunities presented by the venue and getting excited shivers. This was going to be fun.

a second planning meeting

then took place to finalise the size and share further thoughts about the painting. As we talked, new ideas bubbled up: what to include in the painting - local places, people, and businesses, a selection of the things that make the area so special. A snapshot of the warp and weft of Welsh history in the making.

I brought along three large 80 x 80cm canvases and we offered them to the wall where the finished work would hang.

They were too small.

So it was agreed to 'go big or go home' and make the painting a huge triptych of three 100 x 100cm canvases. Three metres by one metre. That's when I started to feel really excited about the project. This was putting a fire under my enthusiasm, and pumping the bellows too. (Students who have worked with me will know what I mean by this 'hell yes' moment... and that it HAS to be followed.)

The picture above is from my book in which I make notes about commissions. Each commission gets only one page. In that way, I narrow notes and drawings down to the essence, to 'The Big Idea' for the painting, which helps me focus my thoughts. I find that in the initial bold sketch, the hard work is done.

I feel into the ideas as we talk and the initial sketch is done there and then. I have been working this way with commissions and clients for over 20 years and know that this initial meeting of minds and subsequent 'look at this, here it is on paper' drawing always has magic in it. If I get the 'yes, that's it! response then my job is done. We have lift off.

That initial sketch forms the bones, the basis the 'Big Idea' of the painting. Once this is established, the hard work is in fact done. The rest is studio time, playing with paint, having fun, doing the colouring in.


Due to the size of this commission, I would need to clear at least 8 - 12 weeks of painting time in my diary so a period in December, January and February was agreed.

gathering materials

The choice of canvas needed to be lightweight but with a strong frame that would not warp. I used a 100% cotton fine-tooth canvas, that was gesso primed. Paints used are professional-grade lightfast acrylics, that I know I can trust not to fade. The choice of colours is also important to ensure longevity - some colours are known for their 'fugitive' properties, and will fade in time. These are excluded from my palette. Although I'm known for my use of bright colours, I do in fact like to use historical pigments such as manganese blue and indian yellow, for the depth and softness these give. I compliment these with modern, brighter quinacridrone reds, phthalo blues and hansa yellows, which are more transparent, have higher chroma value and most importantly when mixed create beautiful clean colours.

a start is made

On a dark December morning, the first exciting flash of fluorescent magenta appears on the initial canvas, and I'm saying hello to the start of creating something beautiful.

I know from experience that it's not going to be straightforward, some parts won't work, and wrong turns will be made. But the important thing is that I have made a start, I have studio time committed to each day, I have materials to hand, I have my big idea, and I have the excited spark that ignites the work and shows the way. My job now is simply to show up to follow it.

And to sit, and watch, and drink coffee.


I'm often asked if I sketch out my paintings beforehand. the answer is yes, but not much.

I make a very basic 'big idea' thumbnail sketch, as shown below. To this, I add words to support the 'big idea'. these I'll return to throughout the painting to keep focus.

I once came third in a weekend painting competition at a manor house. It was great fun. I was in the final three, and maybe would have placed higher had I had more sketches. The judge asked to see my sketches and I showed him something similar to this..... he wasn't impressed and asked to see the rest. I couldn't explain to this chap in tweeds that I was scared the magic would be lost if I tried the idea down too tightly, who knows, maybe he would have understood. But at that time, I barely understood myself... now I know for sure. Ideas tied down too tight shrink. Ideas need space, light and love to grow.

So, although I have this light idea in mind for the finished painting, the drawing of detail, which I do in chalk and charcoal, directly onto the painting, doesn't happen until I have the initial background colours laid down. Whist laying down these background colours, my mind is free to make up the rest of the story.

colour schemes

I love colour. It's part of the reason I paint, I find it calming and deeply satisfying. Chagall said, 'When colour is right, form is right'. I agree. Planning the use of colour is for me, as important as sketching, if not more so.

There's a saying - " Value does all the work, but colour gets all the credit" When planning the colour scheme attention needs to be paid to the relative value of each colour (value being the difference you'd see if you looked at an image in back and white). When you know the value of each colour, you know where to place it in a painting to make the painting 'work'.

Colours also set the mood and feel of the painting. With this commission not only did the client's suggestions about the colours need to be considered but also the unusual location in which the painting would hang - high on a wall with little natural light. So the colour scheme needed to focus on the considered placement of complimentary colours, and those colours needed to be of high chroma value, which would carry the viewer's eye comfortably along and around the whole painting, from that distance.

progress reports

As you'll have seen from these photos - big blocks of colour mark out my initial ideas.

Even I don't know exactly what the finished piece will look like at this point, so I hold back on showing the clients until I've coaxed the painting into something recognisable. Initial progress reports are sent via messages, snippets of the bigger painting in progress. I understand that the clients are very interested to see how the painting is progressing, so I keep in touch with them every few days with photos from the studio.

first, second, third and final viewings

Only when I'm certain all the elements of a successful painting are in place (colours, featured elements, design, the feeling of the piece) can I show it to the clients. So, after a few weeks of work, and ensuring the paint is dry, all three canvases are loaded into my van and off we go to the venue, to meet, discuss the progress and see the work in situ. Am I nervous? yes, but I reframe it as excitement. Good to be alive and feel all the feels!

These meetings are an opportunity for me to make sure I'm going in the right direction with the painting, and to discuss any amendments or additions that could be considered. At the initial progress meeting, it is quite an ask for the clients to share the vision I can see developing in the painting, fortunately, they have a good visual imagination and can see the direction it's going.

The second meeting was held when the main features were all in place and some of the detail had been added. There's still a lot to do but it's good for us all to meet and see them, and discuss any additions.

The third time I loaded the van and took the paintings to be viewed was when I thought they were finished. But it wasn't time to leave them, I wanted them back home, and on my wall for a week so I could live with them and make any final adjustments. Having them on my wall at home was no easy matter. The only room in my house big enough was the kitchen, but this was good as saw them everyday, on the wall, as pictures. Rather than in my studio as works in progress

photography & digital file preparation

When I'm satisfied I arrange for the photography. This is something I get help with to get really good images.


The big day arrives - the painting is delivered to its forever home. It's an emotional time for all concerned. I've lived with the idea of this painting and the painting itself for 5 months. There's a big hole on my studio wall - and a lot of tidying up to do.

Is it hard to let it go? to leave a painting that I've been so deeply involved with for so much time. Not at all. I know that sounds harsh. But when a painting is finished, we've had our dance together, and it's time for it to start its new life. We've given each other what was needed and it's done. It's a strange thing, and I don't know how other artists feel about this, but when I next see the paintings in a few months time, on the wall in Yr Hen Printworks it won't feel like 'mine' at all, it won't even really feel like something I have created. I'll remember the feelings we had during our dance together, and that will make me smile.

I'll have a few days now catching up on the other aspects of being an artist - admin, accounts, planning, PR, website updates, writing this blog post, before a spring clean of the studio, putting all the paints away, sharpening the pencils, and starting my next commission - this time of Wallingford, in Oxfordshire. It's the best job in the world, and I am forever grateful for the continued support of people like you, who take an interest in my 'colouring in'.

If you'd like to know more about commissioning a painting, you can read more here.

print editions

This is one of the paintings that I am most pleased with in my career to date, and I wanted to be able to share it with people. As a rule, when people commission artwork from me, although the copyright remains with the artist, I do not offer prints of the painting.

But this one, with its features of so many places that are dear to so many people I felt warranted a larger audience - so that the pleasure could be shared.

I'm delighted to say that Yr Hen Printworks agreed to let me share this painting, and the good news is that prints are available. If you'd like more information about these limited edition prints you can view them here.

a short film of the making of the Printworks painting


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