Commission work

Recently I was commissioned to create a painting from a photograph and asked to keep it as close to the photo as possible. It has been years since I’ve worked on a commission piece after having a bad experience previously, but I felt like this time it was a workable challenge.

The photograph had been shot through the window of a vehicle, and it was quite small — adding to the challenge, but after several consultations we settled upon the size of the finished piece (18×24 inches), medium (acrylics), and style preferred (almost photo realistic). We also discussed what was okay to remove from the photograph (the shed in the distance & random clutter).


I started by making a grid over the photograph in Photoshop to help keep the proportions correct on my canvas panel where I also drew a light penciled grid to match. Then I did a quick sketch to get everything positioned on the canvas.

©Jana R. Johnson

Once I had the general location of my main “characters” I then began to refine the drawing and bring everything into better focus.

©Jana R. Johnson

Then it was time to start painting. Keeping the requests of my client in mind, I painted in the sky first using a couple of different blues mixed with white.

©Jana R. Johnson

I then moved on to the mountain, trees, ground and barn, basically getting the white of the background covered as much as I could knowing I’d be building more layers on top, so I was able to work fairly loose at this point.

©Jana R. Johnson

©Jana R. Johnson

I continued working on the trees, barn, ground and threw some color on the horses. Since one of the horses in the photo looked like it was headless I did some research online, looking for horses in a similar pose and did a few sketches to use as reference.

©Jana R. Johnson

©Jana R. Johnson

Then it was time to finish up the trees and study the rest of the painting to see if anything seemed off.

©Jana R. Johnson

Lastly, I added the fences, finished the grasses and just made sure everything was as it should be. Happily, my client was as pleased with the finished painting as I was, and I’m truly glad to have pushed myself to attempt a commission project after avoiding the possibility for so many years. A lesson to us all — take that step forward you’ve been afraid of pursuing, it’s probably not nearly as scary as you make it out to be!

©Jana R. Johnson

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