Commissioning a Portrait

It’s true that we are living in a very digital world, but because of this, handmade things seem more precious and cherished. You could say that never more than now has the hand painted portrait had so much resonance and power as an antidote to the millions of smartphone selfies taken each day.

A portrait carries with it so much more than a likeness; artworks like these are imbued with additional meaning and memory, gesture and personality in a way that is unique to the bespoke artwork. Because of this capacity of art to convey so much, each commission is approached collaboratively, with contribution from the sitter, their colleagues or loved ones giving each picture fuller vibrancy and content.

When commissioning a portrait, it’s good to bring some ideas that will help shape the portrait into something you will love. Things to consider might be:

Where the portrait will hang? What will it be surrounded by? Would there be a ‘conversation’ with another artwork or items of importance in the room, or the view out of a window? What’s the right mood for the room? How big might the painting work best?

In terms of the sitter, what would you like the painting to say about them? Are there any important items or locations that you’d like to include? What clothes will be worn? Will they be sitting or standing, active or passive?

When painting adults, I prefer to invite sitters to my studio or visit them in person when planning the work, but also to get a sense of the person and see how they are in their natural surroundings. Some drawing or sketch painting might be done at this initial stage and this is when significant direction changes can be made. A lot of photographs will be taken, which are often used for detail references and contribute to the finished work.

Later sittings are typically required to establish the basic framework of the painting and start to build a likeness. Sittings tend to be no longer than 2 or 3 hours at a time and should take place under the same conditions (position, lighting, surroundings, clothing etc.) each time.

Photographs can be a useful resource and have been part of a portraitist’s toolkit since the technology was invented (and camera obscura before that), however, working from photographs alone is usually only undertaken for child portraits or posthumous works. In these cases, multiple images are normally required to gain some sense of movement, character and volume.
What materials are used?
I mostly paint using oil colours, a traditional medium favoured by artists for its colour vibrancy, durability and permanence. I use high quality paint with long lasting colour fastness. Occasionally, I paint using acrylic or gouache, and sometimes watercolour. Each medium comes with its own habits and advantages and approach.

I typically paint on artists panels, which are made of wood or aluminium with a ground of gesso. I also paint on linen and canvas, as preferred. Works larger than 1 metre in any dimension will be on linen or canvas.

How much will it cost?
There are a few factors, such as media and scale, that affect how long a painting will take to complete, and therefore price, but there are other factors too, such as detail, and numbers of sitters in a single painting. It’s not really possible to have a fixed price ‘list’, so prices are quoted once all requirements, including numbers of sittings, travel, and so on can also be accounted for. However, as a general guide, a small (approx. 20x20cm) painting would start at around £1200, and a standard, life-sized ‘Head and Shoulders’ portrait would normally be around £8000. Portraits in pencil are less expensive. A small study on paper would start at £300

How long does it take?
It does depend a lot on size, but most painted portraits require about 2 months, which includes the sittings and studio work (when the artist is working on the portrait in the studio). Other ongoing commitments can affect how soon a commission can be undertaken, but as projects overlap, its often possible to start fairly swiftly.

Oil paintings take some time to dry enough to transport (usually a few weeks) and cure fully (up to 6 months), A later varnishing visit is sometimes necessary after delivery of the painting. Drawings, depending on scale of course, may be completed much more quickly.

How do I take care of a painting?
While a painting is precious by nature and should be treated as fragile, once an oil painting is fully dry, it is very stable and paintings on hard supports such as panels, are quite robust. Under normal conditions, paintings require no ongoing maintenance. If dust accumulates, use a very soft brush to lightly remove it. Care should be taken not to touch the surface of the painting with bare skin. No other cleaning should be undertaken without consulting an archivist.

Paintings should be hung in a dry, temperature consistent environment, away from sources of direct heat, such as directly above a radiator, or moisture, such as in a bathroom or kitchen. Choose a wall out of direct sunlight.

What about copyright?
The artist reserves the right to be identified as the creator of the image (regardless of reference sources) and all copyright remains with the artist, even after sale. This means that you will own the artwork, but not the right to reproduce it or broadcast it without the agreement of the artist (which can be negotiated).

I am always discreet with my work and will only publish images of the finished work, or works-in-progress on social media or my website with express permission of the client.