Crafting Painted Stories

A look into the process of creating a custom painting

The story…

This painting was of a childhood cottage that is no longer in the family. We discussed the cottage itself, various memories, and favourite moments. We went over the most important things to include and things that could be or should be excluded. We discussed their favourite pieces from my portfolio, any material and size preferences for the finished piece, and I made suggestions as to how to best capture their story.

I have talked with clients by phone, video chat (Skype or FaceTime), by email, or in person over a cup of coffee. How we have our conversation is usually based on what the client is most comfortable with, where we both live, and how our schedules are aligned. It is great to have at least some photos to look at while we talk.

Gathering References…

Some projects have one photo and some, as in this case, have many. The client gathered together the best pictures of the cottage and of important moments and objects, and sent them to me by email. I spent time looking through the pictures, filtering them into primary and secondary references.

Next, I made a list of aspects to be represented in the painting in order of importance. The order helps me to decide whether I can remove something if the composition or effectiveness of the image calls for it.

  • The key elements of the cottage portrait: the lake, the cottage as it was pre-renovation, the docks, the beach, and the landscape –including certain trees
  • The yellow fall leaves of the trees that surrounded it
  • The family dog hunting for frogs by the water
  • The fire pit around which s’mores and hot dogs were often made with friends
  • The muskoka chairs on the dock
  • The old tin motorboat often used for water skiing and other adventures
  • The red canoe in which the children learned to paddle
  • The pair of chairs made by an uncle

I ensured that I had all the references I needed. I created a mood board (above) of a few pictures that represented what I wanted to capture and put this up in my studio to keep the desired feeling fresh while I worked.


I moved into the sketching phase by making several quick drawings to work out the composition. From these, I selected  a top choice to move forward with (first picture at top of post).

At this point in the process, I’m trying to work out the aesthetic themes of the painting: the lights and darks in the scene, the areas of colour, and where I might put sharper detail to move the eye through the scene.

From there, I decided on the final size, format, paper, and materials. I drew a more finished rendering of the scene to-scale. I went over this with the client and noted a few additional adjustments to make.

The Painted Story…

Once ready to begin the final painting, I transferred the drawing to watercolour paper and made adjustments until I was happy with the scene. Keeping things fluid and lively, I went over the pencil drawing with pen. I then erased the pencil under-drawing and began adding in some of the main colour areas with watercolour. As I worked, I continued to build up the scene until it captured the mood of a crisp fall day and captured a sense of the place.

Digital file and prints…

Once the painting was finished, I moved on to producing a high-quality scan of the image. This is both for my files and for the client to have. Frequently, the client will want to make additional prints of the painting to gift to siblings or family members.

A personal note…

Often, the person gifting the painting would like to include a note. This can be typed or hand-written, which has a warm and personal quality. Even if you are commissioning a work for yourself, you may wish to include a note with your own thoughts and reflections as to the painting’s meaning at this time in your life. I have had several clients choose to mount the note on the back of the framed painting so they can re-read the words whenever they wish.

Wrapping & Shipping…

I take great care in wrapping the painting – both to keep it safe during shipping and to make it a joyful unwrapping experience.

The painting can be sent to you so that you can frame it before gifting it, or it can be shipped directly to the recipient. Included in the package is a framing and care document. All artworks, unless otherwise requested, are designed to fit standard frames, including Ikea.

Each project is unique and I am happy to work with you to have it unfold according to your vision – involving you in more or less of the creative process, as it suits you.


Learn more about crafting paintings from personal memories. I share an artwork I made from a personal memory where there were no photos and talk about how I fill in gaps or create a scene when no photos exist.

To get started on a custom painting for yourself or a loved one, reach out. I’d love to hear your story.

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