Why would you commission a portrait painting?
This is a question I often ponder over. Commissioning a portrait is not a spontaneous decision. It requires an investment of your time and money. It’s not just about recording a likeness, otherwise a photo will do. So why choose to commission an artist to paint your portrait? And is there a serious role for portrait painting in the modern world, or is it just a niche interest – a curious relic from history.
In the past a portrait was a symbol of wealth and status. But that was mainly down to the cost. Nowadays art materials cost a fraction of what they did, and artists are similarly no longer a scarce resource. A painted portrait won’t afford you the status that it would have in the past, so that’s no longer a reason to commission one. However, the good news is that commissioning a portrait is more affordable today than it has ever been.
It’s not just a moment in time
A painted portrait can be so much more than just a snapshot of the sitter – it is a record of the sitting and the entire time spent posing for the artist. But it can also tell a story. It can allude to their past, and even suggest the future.
I am sometimes asked to paint a portrait to commemorate a special moment in a relationship. It might be an anniversary or birthday, or even a celebration of surviving an illness. I like to think that the portraits I have painted are more than just records of my brief encounter with the sitter, but are evocations of special moments and memories.
The sitting and the importance of drawing
I find drawing is an essential step in the process of producing a portrait. Even when asked to work from photos, I will never skip the preparatory drawing stage. The act of drawing, of closely observing the subject for two or three hours, reveals qualities and attributes that I would not have noticed otherwise. This close observation enhances my understanding and connection with the subject, which I believe leads to a more intimate and informed representation of the sitter.
What distinguishes portrait painting from photography is the extended process required to produce a painting. I will have to go through the same steps that a portrait photographer will go through (choosing pose, attire, lighting, location) but that will only be the very first step in a longer and sometimes arduous journey.
I paint in oil paint. It is an unruly medium: smelly; ruins your clothes and furniture; takes ages to dry, and can be difficult to use. But it is so versatile, and can produce sublime results. I am constantly learning new methods and techniques. I did once dabble with digital art. For a brief moment I was so relieved at not choking on nasty fumes or having to watch for paint splashes and wait for layers to dry, that I stupidly thought it might be the future of painting.
But I soon saw that no computer algorithm can recreate the wonderful unpredictability of oil paint. The same things that are so frustrating about this medium are also it’s greatest qualities. When you load a bristle brush with a lump of oil paint and run it along the coarse surface of the canvas, you can’t predict exactly how it will turn out. It will often disappoint, but sometimes the simplest brushstroke can amaze. When you buy a painting, you are buying the product of that struggle between artist and medium.
Is Portrait Painting still relevant?
So those are some of my thoughts on why commissioning a portrait painting is still relevant in this day and age. In the modern world where all the talk is about NFTs and AI, there is a reassuring beauty and appeal about a traditionally painted portrait. It is so much more than just a likeness rendered on canvas. It is the product of a long process. It’s a journey that starts with the subject sitting down in front of the artist.
Available for Commissions
If you’re interested in commissioning a portrait, or would just like more information, please do get in touch via the email address on my Contact Page.
I have written a few case studies of previous commissions. They show you some of the decisions that had to be made in commissioning a portrait:
Portrait Case Studies