Commissions, for me, are always a bit precarious. I really enjoy them, but they have a whole different set of ideas to untangle than a painting I do entirely for myself. I’m forced to think about the person receiving the painting and try to find some connection emotionally to the subject matter at hand. In some cases, I can ask questions of the person(s) asking for the commission work. In other cases, like this one, the person asking me to paint the subject was giving it as a gift to his wife, to whom the subject matter was very dear. For most of us, a simple structure, such as this not-in-use roadside stop would not be terribly inspiring. But to one who grew up spending her summers with her grandmother in the Eastern part of North Carolina, rocking on her grandmother’s porch and helping out in the store, the building holds years of sweet memories. Yikes. How does one paint that?
Creative guidance is not just needed, it is an absolute necessity! I began work on this painting with fairly little information. I knew that this was her grandmother’s store, that she had wonderful memories of it, that the house in the background was probably significant, but not sure. I did not know whether the Amoco sign on the front was part of her memories, or a later addition still hanging on the facade of the unused building. There were bars on the windows in the photo…were they there when she was a little girl visiting her grandma? There was nothing but a rusty barrel sitting by the front door in the photo…what else might have been there?? Rocking chairs? A bench? Pots of flowers? Gas pumps? Well, I could only take artistic license so far. I made some decisions, somehow they just “felt right”, and I went with it.
The painting gets framed and given. I, in some senses, hold my breath hoping that all goes well when it is given to her on Christmas morning. I don’t realize until later, upon hearing from her, just how much I had been guided in my choices. The home in the background was actually her grandmother’s home, and the rocking chairs were the very ones on which she whiled away the summer’s evenings. Her uncle now lives in that home. The amoco sign? It was the defining piece about that roadside store.
I’m grateful for the creative guidance I received. Even more grateful to have been asked to be a small part of bringing joy to someone at Christmas; of memorialising sweet memories of days gone by.