So, on the same night as the opening of “Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch, The Loneliness of the Soul” in Oslo, Tracey Emin was also exhibiting a painting at the Turner Contemporary Open, in Margate, alongside my painting “American Dreamer”.
I must admit to being very pleased with where they placed my painting. I can see why they did it; the splash of red in my work sits nicely next to Ms Emin’s piece. The whole exhibition has been cleverly arranged with similar decisions throughout. It was an aesthetically pleasing experience going from room to room, and I’d strongly recommend a visit.
An even nicer surprise was when Ms Emin left a nice comment on my Instagram post. It can be a hard slog being an artist. Lonely and largely unrewarding, with prolonged periods of rejection and dejection just briefly interspersed with the briefest glimmers of hope. So it’s nice when someone from the Artistic Aristocracy says something nice to you. Thank you Tracey.
I’m very pleased to have my portrait American Dreamer accepted for the Turner Contemporary Open exhibition, due to open in Margate this Autumn. I’ve been based in Kent for a couple of years now (if you count a year in lockdown), and I haven’t had the opportunity to show my work locally. And it’s very exciting to be involved in a “real world” show again, hopefully with real people milling about looking at the art.
The drawings and photos from this sitting date back to the long hot summer of 2013 ☀️ I remember the day well. It was so oppressively hot, my model felt quite unwell. There was a power cut just as I set up the studio lights, so I had to quickly relocate the sitting to near the window in my lounge. Maybe because of the unplanned nature of the sitting (they weren’t the poses I’d been planning on), I didn’t really bother looking at the material for a very long time.
I suppose it was the chaotic end to the Trump presidency that made me think again of that sitting years before, with a young model sporting a stars and stripes top. 2013 had been a period of relative calm and optimism: No cold war, divided nations, Capitol Hill riots, Brexit, Pandemic or Lockdown. Yes, 2013 seems like a different world. I am hoping, after what feels like a much darker and more challenging time, we may be heading towards a calmer, more hopeful future.
I don’t remember her exact words, but that was the gist of it. She barely knew me, but knew that I was an artist, and had seen my work online. How those words sound to an artist’s ears! Of course I wanted to paint her.
She had been through a lot – had fought enough battles, aside from her illness. And now she wanted to present a positive image of herself to the world; not the image of a scarred or damaged person, but instead the picture of a strong and beautiful woman.
It has made me wonder about the different reasons people have for commissioning a portrait. Most of the enquiries I receive about commissions are someone wanting a portrait of their wife, child or husband, in that order. Although I receive fewer enquiries from people who want their own portrait painted, they are far more likely to turn into actual commissions. It seems they already know what they want before they contact me. But their reasons are not always the same.
There was the ballet teacher. Dance was her life. As she began to look ahead to retirement, she wanted a record of herself as “the dancer”.., before she hung up her ballet shoes for good.
The poet wanted a stark, bare portrait to take on stage, for his act. I think it turned out too stark and bare. He didn’t take it on stage.
A woman wanted a nude portrait of herself, as a gift for her husband. A man wanted a nude portrait of himself for his husband.
I wondered why I had a growing number of enquiries for nude portraits. I’ve tried to promote my conventional portrait work just as much, and didn’t understand this trend.. It turns out that my website ranks highly for “commission a nude portrait” and barely appears in a Google search for “commission a portrait”.
So anyway, if you know any poets, dancers, husbands or wives, or whoever, who wants that special portrait painted, whatever their reasons…, please point them towards my contact page.
I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I can onlyspeak from the perspective of an artist. When I look at the portraits I have painted, I consider them as a record of the time spent with the sitter – whether it was just a single session, or a number of repeat sittings. During that time I was able to familiarise myself with not just the appearance of the sitter, but their overall demeanour and personality. I believe that contributes towards the final artwork being far more than just a record of the sitter in a static pose, frozen in time. The whole process of producing the portrait, from the initial enquiry, through the various stages, is very much a cooperative exercise between artist and sitter.
How to commission a portrait.
Find an artist.It is important to find an artist where you feel a connection with their work. I would have said that art fairs and open studios are a great way to check out lots of artists, but I’m afraid they might not properly resume for quite a while. Thankfully, it is a lot easier now to peruse the work of various artists than it ever was, with most artists having an online presence – whether it’s a website or an Instagram account. Try to find examples of their previous commissions.
Contact the artist. Unless an artist specifies that messages should be directed to their gallery, they will probably welcome enquiries about a prospective commission. Sadly, artists with online presences will attract more than their share of bogus messages and scams, so it might reassure them to give your phone number, or at least your full name, so they can try to verify your identity.
Discuss the brief. An artist cannot provide you with a price unless certain parameters have been decided. The most important will be the size of the finished portrait, and then the type of pose – head and shoulders, half body, full body, two figures. Each adds a level of complexity to the painting, and will incur an additional cost. Even a complicated background, compared to a blocked out colour, will cost a bit more. So it’s a good idea to decide on these things at an early stage. The artist should be able to guide you through the decision making process, and then he will be able to give you a price.
The contract. Some artists will require you to sign a contract and pay a deposit. Others, including myself, may only require that expenses and materials are paid for in advance. However you agree, whether by phone conversation, zoom call or email correspondence, it is important to have that final agreement in writing, to avoid any future misunderstandings. If there’s is completion date, you should make that clear with the initial discussions. Oil paints take time to dry between layers, and some working methods take longer than others.
The sitting. Some artists will work exclusively from life, whereas others will work only from photos. This is something you should consider when first approaching artists (they should make their working methods clear on their website). Can you get to their studio? Is the artist prepared to travel to you? I personally insist on at least one sitting for a portrait painting. I am not happy with painting from supplied photos. I find the initial drawings are an essential element in the process. Apart from getting to know the sitter, the process of looking at the sitter reveals far more about them than a photo can tell me.
So, we’ve arrived at the stage where the artist will commence painting. This is the exciting bit. I find the initial sitting is like preparing the stage for a play. Decisions are made about the background (the setting), and how the performer willpresent themselves to the audience (the artist, and eventually viewers of the painting). This is the most collaborative stage in the whole process. Sometimes ideas present themselves straight away, and other times it can take take some effort to work them out.
So there are a few tips on the first steps in commissioning a portrait. I can’t pretend that it won’t require an investment of time, but it doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment in money. Of course, the first step is find that artist, and get in touch with them.