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An Artist’s Story Behind a Big-Time Commission

Carla Hall and Mother, oil on linen, 40” x 40”, 2015
Carla Hall and Mother, oil on linen, 40” x 40”, 2015. Courtesy the artist.

It’s always a good thing when someone calls to commission a portrait. It’s even better if they’re also a television personality and share your work on national TV.

“I’m still reacting,” said Rod Dennis, who painted a portrait of Carla Hall and her mother.

Hall is a chef and co-host of ABC’s “The Chew,” which featured Dennis’ painting on the May 6 episode (see the painting about two minutes in). Dennis is a former Art League student based in Arlington, VA and an apprentice of Art League instructor Danni Dawson. He only found out his painting would be featured on air when a producer called the day before.

The hosts of "The Chew" in the May 6 episode.
The hosts of “The Chew” in the May 6 episode.

In the limelight

Since the episode aired, the image of the painting — accompanied by the note “Courtesy Rod Dennis” — has prompted a deluge of inquiries through his website, Facebook page, and Twitter. People want to find out how to commission a painting of their own, or just find out who he is. “It’s just an overwhelming response,” Dennis said.

It was one of Dennis’ first commissions at this level, and a challenging one at that: he needed to capture not only two people, but their interaction as well.

The painting as it appeared on the show
The painting as it appeared on the show

The commission

The process of a commission (when someone asks an artist to create a work of art) is a long one. This painting took over 260 hours, not including the studies and prep work. The real painting begins after the commissioner okays a preliminary sketch.

But even before that, the process starts with a series of interviews, because portrait painting isn’t about replication, Dennis said. It’s about understanding what the subject wants to say. “It’s a communication process,” he said.

In Hall’s case, she wanted to show her relationship with her mom. The painting ended up as a Mother’s Day gift, as Hall revealed on the show, but it was also intended as a tribute.


Dennis started his involvement with art at age five, and while he’s been developing his artwork all his life, his career in art only emerged more recently. He has studied under the late Henry Koener and now with Dawson.

“He’s really good and he’s getting better,” Dawson said of her student. “Every painting he does is better and better.”

When it came time for Dennis’ turn on national TV, it was all about being ready for the opportunity.

“I’m an ardent believer in preparation,” he said.

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