I really enjoy commissions. I think I like them so much because the commission’s subject usually is a memory, a representation of a significant individual, or an invaluable concept of the patron’s. My favorite part of any commission is the initial conversation I’ll have with the person asking; they’ll usually give me a story or personal belief that is behind the idea for the drawing, and this is what will drive the composition for me.
Since I don’t limit my work to a simple subject output, like pet portraits or landscape (although, arguably, I’m better at drawing some things than others), I’ve gotten to draw a good range of subjects for commissions. I think this is important, because every drawing influences the next, and varying color palettes, line type and other technical aspects makes for a grand arsenal to draw from.
The commission featured in this post is of a rock climb in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky named Amarillo Sunset. It’s a 50-foot sport climb that gets a five-star rating (the best star rating that can be given to a rock climb) across climbing websites and climber conversation alike. My friend Andrew asked me to make him a drawing of Amarillo Sunset after his trip to the Gorge last fall because it was one of his proudest ascents from the trip. He had seen my drawing of the Brain at Beauty Mountain and wanted something similar.
Amarillo Sunset, watercolor, pen & guache, 10″ x 13″, 2016
I know Andrew from our local indoor climbing gym and was flattered that he’d asked me to draw Amarillo Sunset for him. For one, I freaking love rock climbing, and know how dearly I hold the “hard sends”– the climbs that make your eyes go wide and you dream about for weeks or months or years after you’ve done them (or sometimes not gotten to the top of, but know you will one day).
Secondly, around midsummer last year when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant and climbing immediately became really physically and mentally difficult for me, I would see Andrew training with his climbing partner at the gym; they had designed a regimented system just to see if it might work to improve their climbing. If it didn’t, Andrew explained with a shrug, they were still going to go on their Red River Gorge and Greece trips anyway and try their hardest. It was clear to me that there would be no heartbreak if they couldn’t get up climbs that were at a certain level of difficulty, it was just fun for the two of them to have something to focus on and try out. I love observing people with goals, particularly when they set up realistic expectations for themselves, and it was fun for me to see Andrew’s climbing improve over those next few months. It was a great distraction from the reality of my own situation, that my climbing skills were in decline, I had to take it easy, and I’m still not sure when I’ll be able to really go for it again.
I’ve never been on Amarillo Sunset, so the drawing’s life and content comes from a collection of photographs, the understood emotions of working hard to achieve something awesome, and the adoration of any aesthetic masterpiece in nature. Working on this drawing has made me really excited to get back outside climbing, eventually, after this baby comes out and I recover (I mean, I’ve been excited for that since the winter), and excited for the hard sends and attempts by my friends who truly love a good challenge. It’s also made me not concerned about how well I climb anymore, and just grateful for others sharing their stories with me.