By Laurel Daniel
Every now and then, an opportunity comes along that both excites and terrifies. I am in the middle of one of those right now . . . a commission project for three 10-foot paintings. When finished, these pieces will all hang together in the lobby of Houston Methodist Hospital’s new North Tower expansion. It’s an honor to be chosen, and it also comes with high expectations. It’s a challenge that is taking me out of my comfort zone and growing me in new directions. That can be fun and scary!
At first, even the logistics of painting so large seemed insurmountable. A 10-foot canvas is not available at the local art store, is too wide to be supported by my easel, and won’t even fit in my personal studio. Knowing I would need some help, I began to research and ask around. In the end, Davis Gallery (my Austin gallerist and local frame-shop) is custom-building the canvases and delivering them to my front door. Easel guru David Sorg suggested two matching easels placed side by side to handle the width issue, and my resulting double-Sorg arrangement works like a charm. Finally, my sweet husband helped me convert our living room/dining room into a studio space for the duration of the project (he also gets ongoing credit for being my greatest encourager!)
Once set up, I had to figure out how to execute a painting on such a large scale. I typically paint in the Alla Prima method, often en plein air, and I love the freshness of working wet into wet. Even though sheer size would inhibit that process some, my instincts told me to stick with what I know. So I stocked up on paint, got larger brushes, and just got going. Everything took much more time than expected, but I stayed true to my process. I blocked in the composition with a dark neutral, and began working dark to light. I stood back a lot, focused on large shapes, and slowly covered the canvas. I learned to be much more patient with developing a good foundation, and to overcome the drying time issues. Yes, I adapted, but my basic process served me well.
The Finish Line
The first painting of the commission is now delivered and being framed for installation, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment!! But I am not done . . . I have two more giant canvases to go. By the time I am finished with all three, I will have been at it for over nine months — January to September. (And the quoting process started nine months before that!) When the paintings are installed in the new hospital lobby, I will make my pilgrimage to Houston. That’s when I’ll feel truly done, when I visit my ten-foot paintings altogether, in situ!
In addition to painting large-scale commissions, Laurel Daniel is also known for her instructional painting video on Outdoor Painting Basics (preview it here):