Why Commission a Portrait Painting

subject posing in artist studio for portrait

Why do people have their portrait painted?

This is a question I often ask myself. Commissioning a portrait is not a spontaneous decision. It requires an investment of 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?

portrait of Egyptian artist Tarique M
Egyptian artist Tarique M with my portrait of him, standing in front of one of his landscape paintings

Fear of Death

I have heard it said that portraiture begins with a fear of death – an anxiety about impermanence.
When I lost my late partner to illness, I turned to painting to somehow fix, make real, my fading memory of her. I became acutely aware that with every passing day I had to think harder to recall her smile. I felt compelled to paint her a number of times after her death, I suppose in an attempt to preserve my relationship.
I have countless photos of my late partner, but I find none of them as evocative as my paintings of her.

portrait painting of artist's late partner veronica


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. For that reason 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.

How Much Does a Portrait Painting Cost?

detail of portrait of woman in blue denim jacket

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. 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.

portrait painting with closeup, showing detail

“Portraiture stands apart from other genres of art as it marks the intersection between portrait, biography and history. They are more than artworks; when people look at portraits, they think they are encountering that person,”
Alison Smith, chief curator National Portrait Gallery London.

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.

drawing of still life

“Drawing takes time. A line has time in it.”
David Hockney

The Process

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 can be a challenging medium, what with the fumes and long drying time, 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. It’s just not the same. 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.

portrait painting of redhead with detailed closeup

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.

artist painting a portrait in the studio

Available for Commissions

You can find more information here: How to Commission a Portrait
I have a price guide here: How Much Does a Portrait Cost?

If you’re interested in commissioning a portrait, or would just like more information, please do get in touch. I’m happy to arrange a phone or video call, or a studio visit if convenient. First please email via 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

selection of portrait paintings from the artist's studio
selection of portraits in my studio

Further information about the relevance of portraiture:

Why do Painted Portraits Still Matter? from a lecture by Sandy Nairne, Director, London National Portrait Gallery, given at the Canberra National Portrait Gallery in 2006.

Sotheby’s Talks: Facing Now: Why Portraits Still Matter with Simon Schama, Eleanor Nairne, and Helena Newman