Original New Orleans Art by Debbie Ainsworth

First Art Commission – Crystal Preserves

I got my first art commission!! Naturally, I am incredibly excited. A few weeks ago I reconnected with my old Riverdale High School classmates on Facebook. Wow. It’s been wonderful to see names I haven’t heard for 38 years suddenly pop up all over my newsfeed. One of my former classmates asked me to do two 8×10″ canvases for her kitchen. The first one is a painting of the Crystal Preserves billboard in New Orleans. Oh, and there’s a really cute story that goes with this. Her name is Crystal, and her mother was in labor with her and saw the sign on her way to the hospital. So, she was named after the billboard.



I submitted a sketch for her approval, and then went to work. The hardest part of this commission was the lettering. You can probably tell from the sketch that I erased it over and over again. Finally, I opted to do a digital version of the billboard first. I printed that out, then used carbon paper to trace it onto the canvas. On a side note, I had forgotten how messy carbon tracings can be. They smudge very easily. I had to buy some Workable Fixative to keep that from happening. It keeps graphite from smearing, but you can still work with it because it’s not sealed. And wow, the fumes even when the cap is on and before I’ve ever even used it are bad! I wrapped it in a plastic bag and put it in my art cart.


The next phase of the painting is what I call color blocking. I put down flat layers of paint, usually the darkest shade I’m planning on using for that area, just to block out where the main elements of the painting are going to be located, and how the shapes and colors are working together. At this point in the project, I was not at all happy with the bottom part of the painting. I wanted to keep the highway railing, because the view from the car window is an important element of Crystal’s story. Of mine too, for that matter. The Crystal Preserves sign is a New Orleans icon. But how do you make an interstate overpass pretty?



Eventually, I decided to use wildflowers, weeds really, to spruce up the highway. That’s not what the actual railing looks like, but to paraphrase Matisse, that is a painting, not a railing. The guy was a challenge too. He looks so flat, but of course in real life, he’s a drawing. Crystal Preserves may or may not eventually make it to prints. I don’t think the linen texture would benefit this one. I might ought to do this one on the smooth cardstock. You can see my usual fleur de lis in the left hand corner. I’m sort of hoping that both it and my signature will look like graffiti. Follow me on Facebook and let me know what you think.