Here’s a funny little story that most artists who do commissions can probably relate to. Many years ago I was in Montana gathering reference photos of some cowboys that once worked on the legendary Flying D Ranch, out of Bozeman, MT.
I had saddled a horse for the morning circle, which would be a rather long gather. The guys were gathering around a small mountain, but had to kick some of the cattle from off the top of the little peak. We made the full circle and pushed the stragglers into a small trap.
My circle brought me up last, so I ended up near the end of the herd. Several dudes who were attending a horse clinic nearby worked their way into the gather and it just so happened the rider that fell in next to me, was one of these clinic dudes.
We engaged in small talk while I shot several photos of the moving cattle toward the trap. The gentleman had seen my work and inquired about me shooting some photos of h is wife, who was also attending the clinic, for a commissioned painting. We discussed my price and my terms and he instructed me that I must photograph her in a “Stingray Blue shirt”. (It’s a classic Corvette color, and would be easy to distinguish). So far, so good.
The next day we branded a small bunch, and gathered a small little trap next to headquarters. The Dude and his wife are untrailering horses and she’s wearing an electric blue shirt. I make a mental note to work near her end of the gather to shoot photos for the painting.
Over the course of the morning ride, I got what I needed to do the piece. Typical of my process, I tell the gentleman that I will forward the painting, and if he agrees that I’ve captured the likeness of his wife, then he would send me a check. I returned home several days later, took care of some deadline paintings, and then proceeded to tackle the commission.
The painting was rather cut and dry. The subject was a very attractive woman and she was mounted on a very expensive and superbly confirmed horse. I framed it, boxed it and shipped it with an invoice.
About two weeks passed and the gentleman phones me and says, “We have a problem”. I ask him if he feels like I didn’t capture an appropriate portrayal of his wife. “No, Mark, it looks just like her. I mean, you captured her perfectly and you nailed her horse---the horse looks awesome!”
I’m at a loss for words. “Well, what’s the problem? Do I need to change out the frame?” “No, the frame is perfect. The problem is, Mark, ….” . He pauses for effect. Yes? “The problem is, it’s the wrong Stingray Blue shirt.”
I know I matched the color in the photo perfectly, because I had purchased a new tube of blue that was a dead ringer for the shirt --- almost right from the tube! The gentleman explains to me that the color was perfect, but she wore the short-sleeved shirt, and he wanted the long sleeve shirt. At first, he tried to say that I had missed photographing her in the correct shirt. But I told him that she had only worn one blue shirt during my stay, and this was it.
Long story short, he mails the painting back to Texas from the West Coast, and actually enclosed in my shipping crate, is the long-sleeved shirt for my review. He writes me a note and says, “Here’s the shirt I would like to appear in the painting. Please add sleeves onto the painting and reship it to me.”
First I hit the roof, and then, re-gaining my professionalism, I hit the phone. I explain to the guy that watercolor doesn’t work like oil paint. We don’t just add sleeves. I offer the painting at a wildly reduced rate to save the sale, thinking, “Maybe he’s just horse-trading me.” He refuses. He wants sleeves! I realize the painting is about nothing more than the shirt, and his power. I set my jaw and inform him that I will not be able to accommodate him. We go our separate ways.
But the painting was not wasted. Stephanie, a close personal friend of Pam’s and mine, had desired an original painting for quite some time. She was gifted this one. At least she would appreciate it far beyond the West Coast Dude.
Flash forward a couple of years. I am exhibiting at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, when who should walk into my booth, but the Dude. I recognize him instantly, but he doesn’t acknowledge me at all. I play it cool and continue to chat with Pam. He studies one of my paintings, and then I see him scanning my signature. He turns 180º to look at my booth sign: “Mark Kohler Watercolors”.
I see the blood drain out of his face. He slumps and approaches me and sticks his hand out. We shake and exchange pleasantries. He looks at my wall of paintings, then turns back and quietly says, “I should have kept that painting, shouldn’t I?” I said, “Yes, you should have.” “Is it still available?” “No, I gave it to a collector who really appreciated the subject.” He just grimaces and walks off quietly. Although I held no animosity for the Dude, there was a small amount of satisfaction in knowing he regretted his power play. And there was great pleasure in knowing that Stephanie is enjoying the painting.
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.