My First Art Commission: Painting Sigmund Freud’s Office with Cats, Books, and Tons of Detail

There are many things I think are true about art commissions: they help artists stay in the art industry for work, they help artists create a larger portfolio, and most importantly, they can help expand creativity and skill. For my first commission, the last of which was the most considerable component.  

After posting my first “commissions are open” post on both Instagram and Facebook, shortly thereafter one of my family friends, Todd, as well as a professor at my school, asked me to create a painting of his wife, his cats, and Sigmund Freud on a whiteboard in his office. Todd’s ideas blew my mind but more than anything – I was over the moon about being asked to create something for someone else. That someone out there had seen my post and thought to themselves, “well, actually …” and even if that person is someone I know, all the better! 

When I was first approached, Todd asked if I could paint his wife, cats, and Freud smoking cigars and reading in a reading room. And immediately, I was elated and the picture started painting itself in my brain. It was not until after winter break when Todd and I met in person to talk about everything. He sent me pictures of everyone and said outside of his ideas, I had total creative freedom! 

With the work being done on a whiteboard in Todd’s office, I was able to practice a lot of my concepts at home. The first part of Todd’s ideas that I wanted to practice was the animals. He has two beautiful cats but I had not drawn any sort of animal in who knows how long. It was between his first message to me and our first meeting, when I thought it would be a great idea to paint my mom with her two dogs for Christmas. It was the most perfect idea and she absolutely loved the painting! And really it was all in inspiration to Todd’s idea for his office! 

More ideas that I practiced at home included things like fun poses and hands with a whole collection of what I like to call “purple ladies.” One thing that I especially had to practice was drawing men, grown men, I always had a habit of just drawing ladies; I ended up creating two paintings of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and found the men are not too difficult to draw. Another piece that I started was a painting of a desk room with my desk and bedroom window – perspective has to be the hardest type of art to master but definitely necessary. 

After finishing a sketch of the concept on my iPad, and getting Todd’s approval, I was a little nervous to start on the actual whiteboard. Let someone see under-done work? Works in progress at the oddest stages? But I had to get over that fact. Over three months, between winter break and all in-person classes being canceled, I was able to create (if I can say this humbly) a really awesome line-art drawing of everything Todd asked for. 

It was just a couple weeks after school was closed when I saw that Todd had messaged me, saying that he was all too happy to look up one day and suddenly the piece was finished! The background was still not as finished as I would have hoped, but what could I do, the whole school was closed. I told Todd that I wish I could have done more but he was still very happy with how it turned out. I also mentioned that I wish I had photos of the piece to work on it at home.

As soon as he sent me the photos, I got started on the digital version. At first, the new endeavor seemed like it would be fairly easy. But then after I finished re-inking my original lines, I realized just how much work was in front of me. Not to mention a total lack of detail in the background of the reading room. 

What I had decided was to look for old photos of Sigmund Freud’s actual office/reading room. And to my surprise, they exist! Although, it was filled to the brim with anthropologic antiquities, which was another surprise! The masks in my painting, in addition to the in-shelf shelf and the glass cabinet, were directly inspired by Freud’s office; the masks may be my favorite part of the entire piece, or at least they are in the top three. 

Coloring and shading something so large, with so many details, was an endeavor in and of itself. Using procreate, I was able to duplicate the canvases and keep the line-art as its own file. According to its statistics page, the line-art only took 19 hours, whereas the entire piece fully finished was 41 hours. Meaning that the coloring and shading took slightly over half the time, but of course, that is the only way to make the lines come alive. Overall, another three months passed before I was completely done! One thing that I did to add more detail was to “Facebook stalk” Todd’s photos for knickknacks and fun memories, which added to a lot of the background detail, like the dinosaurs and mugs. 

I was not sure if Todd knew I had something in the works – I did hint to it very heavily, but a lot of time had passed. So I sent him an email with the subject line as “Surprise!” and sent him a message on Facebook. My heart was pounding down to my stomach for forty minutes before I got a response, “Wow! That is quite the surprise. That is so freaking awesome!” He was so, so thrilled! He was also curious if I could add book titles. And this was something that was weighing heavily on my mind. But I am very glad that Todd asked me to go the extra mile because the book titles gave the painting that extra little spice that made it look complete. 

After finishing again, Todd generously sent me more money – he also asked if I could fix up the eye colors. It turned out that his cats’ eyes were yellow in real life, whereas they were green in the photos. I think the yellow made the cats pop a lot more and I was happy to fix it for him. Todd also asked if I could add an eye color to his wife’s eyes, which is something I have not really done in the past. But of course, I tried and I think it turned out pretty good for my first irises!

As for my first art commission, it was quite an adventure. I think I was very lucky to have some support my art, but also to have it be for that someone I have already talked to and was fairly good friends with made the whole process all the easier. And after this is all over, my brain is now flooded with ideas to get started on.