Man Cave Art – The Bourbon commission story

A good friend and collector referred her sister-in-law in Florida to me to create something for her hard to buy husband.  She emailed me ideas initially, then we had a phone conversation where she told me a bit about him, what he likes, and where she envisioned the piece going.  I also like to have clients go through my website and tell me what pieces they love, ones they hate, so I can get an idea of the type of work they like.  His “office” housed his bourbon collection and tables made from old barrels.  He loves bourbon and so her thought was to incorporate one of the collectible Blanton corks into the piece somehow.

I asked her to send me some pictures of the room, and there was lots of wood, black accents, and little burgundy leather-a very masculine feel. Walls were light beige so the piece had to be darker to contrast it and show up. A plan started formulating in my mind….. I related it to my client, and she liked all the ideas.  Those things she wasn’t sure about- she said- “you’re the artist!” and gave me the freedom to make some decisions along the way. I have to say a vote of confidence like that goes a long way in keeping a positive approach to a commission, which is always harder than work you make for yourself. In my experience- those pieces turn out best!! So I emailed a contract, listing all the things we had decided on, she signed it and sent me half to get things started. 

Next step was researching images that weren’t provided for me, and spending as much time as needed in photoshop scaling them and playing around with the alignment on the piece.  I like to “audition” the images on transparencies before committing them to the surface.

So I learned a lot about bourbon during this.  I did some research on the barrels themselves, and those guys who make them are expert artisans/craftsman! The strips that make up the barrels are called staves, and they’re aged outside, and then they carefully assemble the whole damn barrel without any glue, screws, or nails because that  would affect the flavor of the spirit aging inside. I also learned that they torch the barrels to caramelize the sugar’s in the wood. So….. that gave me an excuse to use my blow torch! Corners of the piece are torched and singed. The simulated staves I initially inked in, but that wasn’t enough so I went back and gouged them in and then re-inked them so they look like separate panels.. Then there were the “hoops” or black metal strips on the outside of the barrel holding it together.   I dug through my supplies and found an old etching using grays from a metal plate. It’s beautiful. I added paint and inks as needed, then sealed the heck out of it. I searched for brads the perfect size to simulate the “Stave Grommets”(as I learned they are called), and positioned them as they are on a barrel.

And then there was the niche to hold the cork. I wanted the cork to “float” (or appear to) in the niche.  I wanted the interior to contrast the texture of the smooth wood. They use flocking to line boxes of things that are precious or important, so I thought it worked for the piece compositionally  and meaning wise as well. However, getting a metal rimmed object to securely float on a flocked surface was challenging. There’s always some sort of unanticipated challenge!   But this is one of these times when I am very happy that I have a million tools and materials in the studio to tackle just about any situation that crops up!!  

So normally at this stage of the game I invite my patron over to the studio, and we unveil the new piece and drink a toast to the artwork. Since this was long distance, I had to figure something else out- and I wanted to make sure she was thrilled with it before shipping it out.  My friend (clients sister in law) came over and we did a long distance video unveiling with the client, and she thought it was “fricken awesome”!  And then- we had a glass of bourbon to toast!  That is one of the best parts- delivering a piece that the client is thrilled with.   So far, I’ve never had a client that wasn’t thrilled with their piece!!

Below are some shots of the finished piece…..

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