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  • Writer's pictureEmma Benz

Large painting commission

I was recently commissioned to paint a large single sweet pea with the idea originating from one of my rose paintings that the client had bought at a stockist. The commission was for a watercolour painting on paper, with the image size being an enormous 1000 x 1000mm before framing. Painting an oversized work on paper is in some ways different to creating smaller (A1 and less) paintings, so I will try to outline my preparation and techniques here, as well as the process when commissioning a work from myself.


In order to accommodate such an expansive work my studio had to be moved around to make way for additional table space and a new large drawing board. As I use a lot of water whilst I paint it is essential for me to work flat at all times, so this takes up much more space than say an easel would. In addition to the extra floor space I also needed somewhere I could sketch upright, so it became quickly apparent I needed a new large drawing board and some free wall space where I could prop the board upright. A few studio configurations and a lot of heavy lifting later I had a good space to work in which also still utilised the best of the studio light.


I received the commission right at the start of lockdown, so deliveries were made at a distance. I'm so grateful to all the businesses I spoke to and ordered from as they went above and beyond to help during this difficult time. For the drawing board I needed a solid substrate that wouldn't bow or bend despite the large size, and could take the tension of stretching large pieces of paper if needed. I ordered the board from the local timber merchant and it was very kindly delivered by their materials rep who just happened to be visiting that day. The board is a perfect support for the paper during drawing, but being such a large size it means it is not the easiest to move around. Thankfully now it is in position and propped up in the studio it is ideal as a large drawing surface that I'm going to try avoid moving anytime in the near future.


Before embarking on the painting I made a number of preparatory sketches of different sweet peas which the client could choose from. I am very fortunate that a dear friend has an allotment where she grows (amongst many other things) the most beautiful sweet peas, so she very kindly kept me supplied with fresh bunches while I worked, all safely dropped at the doorstep for me. I whittled down the prep sketches to 3 of my favourites, which were sent to the client to choose. We both quickly agreed on the same flower study and so I set about finding the ideal colour palette to meet the client's brief.


I exclusively use Holbein Watercolours and have done so ever since I was gifted a set as a teenager by a renowned Korean artist who was also fortunately a friend of a friend and happened to be visiting Wales (where I grew up). These paints are exceptional for their intensity of colour and excellent lightfastness. I built up a colour palette from the client's brief of pinks and reds and sent these to the client for choosing. Where possible I would usually meet face to face with a client to discuss all elements of the commission such as colour and design, but as this work came about during lockdown I had to adapt my practice and find ways around the situation. By posting the colour swatches and prep sketches to the client, they were able to appreciate the true colours of the work, which can be often misrepresented if being sent via email and viewed on different computer screens. Once the palette had been decided I was able to commence with the painting.


Sourcing the correct size of paper was thankfully made easy by St. Cuthberts Mill as their beautiful and highest quality professional watercolour paper comes in sheets of 1500 x 1000mm. The paper I use is Saunders Waterford 640gsm cold pressed paper and is the only paper endorsed by the Royal Watercolour Society. It has a beautiful texture and can be painted on both sides, but as there is a very slight difference between these I made swatch tests to determine which side I preferred best for this particular painting. The differences in the texture results from the way the paper is made. The side of the paper that has been pressed against the felted edge of the cylinder has a more random texture and is generally the side most preferred by artists.

The paper arrived on a large wooden pallet which I have now fashioned into an outdoor painting table. The pack of paper is enormous and it is a luxurious material to work with, I love it.


The outline of the flower was first sketched onto the paper in pencil which acted purely as a guide when I came to painting. Before painting began I mixed large quantities of the pigments I intended to use so that there was uniformity in colour across the entire painting. I used larger brushes for this work, as I wanted to create large swathes of colour across the folds in the petals. For this I used Windsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable watercolour brushes sizes 5 and 7. They are in my opinion the best quality brushes and hold their shape beautifully.

For the interior parts of the flower I placed the paper on the floor so that I could reach it easily and have a good, overall perspective on the work as it progressed. I was able to move the painting back onto the table for the outer edges of the petal. Once I begin a painting I like to continue working on it as continuously as I can until it is finished. This often means putting in many long hours without leaving the studio which I find helps me focus. I was really pleased with the results and very happy to say the client was too!

If you would like to commission a work or discuss a new painting please contact me via email:

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