Getting a custom piece of artwork can be one of the most special and everlasting ways to commemorate a moment, a place or a person –– or simply to tailor a piece to your style. In this Art Discovery, artists Judith Dickinson and Heidi Rosner share how they go about commissions.

Regardless of the subject matter, one message that resounded from this panel was the importance of attention to detail and communication when working on a commissioned piece. For Judith, a portrait artist, she spends a lot of time with the individuals she’s painting, learning about their unique style and character so that essence comes out in the portrait. For her, capturing the subtleties and nuances in the face are essential to the success of a piece. 

“With portraits, they have to look like the person,” said her husband Gary, who helps with the business. “The eyes really have to be spot on. Facial features have to be exactly right.”

And to reach that point, it often involves time spent with the client. 

“It’s almost impossible to do a portrait project without becoming friends with the client. It’s relationship building. Frank [a long-time collector of Judith’s work] would tell me stories about each of the people I paint and I feel like I really get to know them,” she said.

For Heidi, there are so many variations in colors with watercolor so she’s extra diligent with the preliminary work creating small studies and color samples first to make sure she does it right the first time. 

“I’m a planner, but with watercolor you need to have that,” she said. “You get one shot with watercolor. You can’t go back and add white highlights at the end or make it lighter in value.”

While Heidi doesn’t do portraits, some ways collectors have commissioned her have been to commemorate places, recreate a photo they took on a trip or simply recreate a piece she already created but in colors that go with their style or decor, or adding in specific elements to make it more personal to them. In one instance, she was asked to paint a childhood home that earmarked a very special time in the client’s life. Heidi took several trips out to the home to take reference photos to make sure the painting would evoke that same sense of specialness every time the client looked at it.  

The bottom line is to never be afraid to ask an artist about what you might be envisioning. If they can’t do it, a good artist will be upfront about it. If you do decide to commission the artist, the most important thing is to trust the process and the artist. Remember you chose that artist for a reason. For more tips on how to commission a work of art, check out this post. And for the full replay of the Art Discovery, see the video below. 


Judith Dickinson

Heidi Rosner