Creating a Portrait

initial drawings

I recently had a callout for volunteers to pose for portraits. These are some images from the sitting I arranged with the first volunteer. I think they give a good idea of how I set about making a portrait.
I start with initial drawings, and once I’m happy with the pose and lighting, I commence with the painting. This painting is still in its early stages, but I’ll be able to finish it now using reference photos I took in the sitting.

First marks on canvas
Still early days, but the structure is there now.

This is an ongoing project, and I’m always on the lookout for volunteers. If you can get to my studio in London SE12 and can spare a few hours to pose, please do get in touch.

Commission a Painting

Me posing in front of two commissions and a self portrait. Leegate Open Studios 2018.

Following on from my recent post about commissioning a portrait, I thought I’d add a quick post about less conventional portraits. Over the years, I would say that the majority of enquiries I receive about commissioning a painting are for nude portraits. Mostly they don’t lead to anything, as people often don’t appreciate the investment of their own time that is needed, if they want a successful outcome.

The two nude paintings in the photo above make an interesting case study. Both clients already had a vague idea of how they wanted to be portrayed. Subject 1 (female sitter on left), was able to pose in their own home, and had few restrictions on their time. The first sitting was spent making sketches of various poses. In the second sitting I produced a more detailed pencil drawing, from which I was able to start the painting. There followed a few painting sessions, each lasting about three hours. In between I was able to work from a reference photo to bring the painting forward.

Subject 2 (male model in centre, behind me) chose to pose in the studio. We were able to compress the whole process into one sitting. We started with preliminary drawings, and then spent the rest of the sitting taking photos. I was then able to complete the paintings from those photos. Although I’m happy with the final painting, it would have made the process easier, and might have had a different outcome, if I had organised a few more sittings.

I hope that sheds some light onto the process involved in commissioning an artwork. Exactly the same applies to a conventional portrait painting. If you have any questions about a possible commission, please get in touch via the email on the Contact page.

How to Commission a Portrait

How do you commission a portrait? Well, having recently posted the short video above on Instagram, I thought a more in depth guide would be helpful.

Firstly, the most important thing is to find an artist whose work you like. I would suggest that factors such as the collectability and market value of an artist are less important when commissioning a portrait. You’re not looking for an investment, but instead want a sympathetic rendering of yourself or a loved one.
You don’t need to go through a gallery or agent. If the artist has a website with a contact form or email address, or has a social media profile, then they will almost certainly welcome enquiries about commissions. Otherwise they will have something like “contact *** gallery for information”.
Some artists may be happy to produce a painting from a photo you provide, but most serious portrait artists will want at least a short sitting, even if it’s just to work out the best pose for reference photos.

Art fairs and open studio events are a great way to discover new artists.

Once you start searching, you’ll probably be surprised by the wealth of artistic talent that’s hidden nearby. Open studio events, group shows, regional art competitions and art fairs are a great way to find local artists…., and of course, there’s always Instagram.
Once you have a shortlist of artists that you might want to approach, you will have to give some thought to the type of portrait that you are looking for. Price will depend partly on size, but also complexity. For instance, two figures will take longer to paint than a single figure, and a plain background will be easier to paint than the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Harsh lighting can add character to a portrait. Female portraits have traditionally employed softer lighting.

The lighting and setting will depend on the subject. Harsh, directional lighting might add character while softer, flatter lighting is generally considered more flattering.

Props and setting can say a lot about the sitter.

So you’ve decided that you want to commission a portrait. What do you want this painting to say about the sitter? Historically artists would include props to indicate the trade or position of the subject, but in present times people would probably not choose to be defined by their job, but would instead prefer to emphasize some other skills or attributes.

It’s quite popular to have a family group portrait, but bear in mind that for most artists it will add to the cost – two figures takes longer to paint than a single figure. And of course the chosen size of the painting will affect the price.

Artist are very often the targets for online scams. I receive far more phoney emails than I do legitimate enquiries. If you do choose to contact an artist about commissioning an artwork, it might help to include your contact details, or a link to your social media profile, just to help persuade the artist that you’re genuine.