On Commissionning A Portrait.
So you are thinking about commissioning a portrait!
You are in good company. The idea of memorializing someone with a likeness is a theme that has continued through time.
A painted portrait is a lasting way to capture memories of family love ones, colleagues, friends, or even yourself. As a gift, a portrait is a significant symbol of affection, gratitude, or love when shared with the recipient. And, what better gift is a portrait for that person who otherwise is impossible to buy for. Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, and retirement are all opportunities that may be satisfied with a portrait gift.
It does not have to be expensive.
A small 10 x 8 inch head portrait commission starts at about $300, and makes a wonderful gift. Anyone can make room to hang such a small painting.
Having a portrait painted is a very important undertaking for both the client and the artist. A portrait will last for many generations, long after the family photos have faded or turned to dust.
But there are many decisions to be made,
most of which effect the cost:
Also, in today's busy world, it is not necessary to "sit" for the portrait. I work from photographs. But, since I want to get the personality of the "sitter" into the painting, I insist on taking my own photographs - and by that process somewhat get to know the person.
Often, at the last stages, I like to make final adjustments by actually looking at the real person.
The following may help you determine exactly what is best for you:
A portrait may be of a single person (a solo portrait), or of two or more people (a group portrait):
That choice may be easy, but for each person you have to decide if they should be painted showing just a head, a head and shoulders, include the arms and hands, or even as a full-length portrait. To further complicate this decision, there are the choice of the clothing and each sitter’s pose.
Then there is the consideration of the painting's size:
Small 8 x 10 inch head portraits are great as gifts for birthdays. I have painted several of them for my friends. And I have given such small paintings of my grandchildren to their parents.
On the other hand, years ago it was usual to depict royalty life size (or even bigger than life) in full-length portraits. Of course, they had the rooms to show off such magnificent works of art.
So here is another decision, where do you expect this portrait may hang? That may drive your choice of the painting's size.
Having got you thinking, take a different tack and think about the choice of the artist:
Each artist (including myself) will bring an individual style to the finished artwork. Each will see the "sitter" through different eyes. Also, each artist may offer the finished image in a different medium: oil, gouache, pastel, watercolor, charcoal, pencil, or maybe pen and ink. And, of course there is always the option of a sculptured work.
I work in oil on canvas.
we will have discussed all these decisions and more below, and documented them in an agreement so that we both understand your wishes:
Let me explain how I go about painting a portrait commission, and help you appreciate the issues.
1. Who will be in the portrait – a single person, a couple, children, etc.
When we start the project (after we have signed an agreement), I will arrange to take digital pictures of that person or persons.
Also, if appropriate, I will take images of suitable scenes and objects relatable to the sitter and the painting owner. These maybe shown as a still life painting in the background of the finished portait. I like to take the pictures in a location where the sitter(s) will be comfortable – such as their home or a familiar outdoors setting.
For me to take a hundred or more photographs at a sitting is not unusual. With multiple people in the painting, it could be many more.
2. If the sitter is local, this photographic session is easy to arrange. If it far away, the necessary travel arrangements must be negotiated. They will add to the cost, and will become part of the written agreement.
From these many images,
I will select a handful of appropriate poses.
Using these, together we will discuss their suitability. After discussion, together we will narrow down the project to an appropriate composition.
What To Wear:
3. There are no hard and fast rules as to clothing. Generally it is best to avoid garish colors and loud prints. Neutral tones such as black, brown, white, cream, navy blue, burgundy, and beige will not be tiring to the eye. Also, choosing clothes with a classic style will insure that later the portrait will not look dated. Consider the sitter’s lifestyle and where the portrait will hang in making the choice of a formal or informal look.
Using this data, for all but the smaller portraits, I will prepare a painted sketch. This enables you to appreciate the layout and the details of the planned painting. At this stage minor changes are easy. This painted sketch will eventually become your property.
With your agreement on the details, the painting is begun. The time to actually paint the portrait varies with its complexity and size.
As major parts of the painting are completed, often I set it to one side in my studio for a day or so, where I may glance at it to evaluate. Then I will bring it back to the easel to make any needed adjustments. As I become more satisfied with the work, the evaluations and tweaks become less.
You will be encouraged to visit my studio to see the progress and for you to comment on the emerging painting.
How much does all this cost?
4. Note, the pricing discussed below does not include framing, any needed travel, packing and shipping, or California sales tax if applicable.
Framing of the finished painting is very much a personal decision. Sometimes, I can make recommendations as to an appropriate framer for you to work with.
Also, the actual price for the portrait will depend upon the exact nature of the assignment. The prices discussed below are minimum amounts and assume a simple composition, and a single sitter. Complex backgrounds or elaborate clothing may increase the painting time and consequently the final price.
The total price plus all details of the commission assignment are laid out in the contract document that will be signed by both of us at the time of the first payment.
A third of the price confirms the assignment. It is refundable only if for some reason I am not able to start the commission.
Another third is due upon submission of the preliminary painted sketch. If there is no painted sketch, the middle payment is rolled into the final payment.
The final third is due when the finished portrait is accepted.
Now back to those earlier decisions:
Who will be in the portrait? Each figure requires approximately the same amount of painting time. For group portraits each person is priced separately, with a ten percent discount for the second and each subsequent person.
How much of the person should be shown. Often the work is painted approximately life size, though three-quarter, half-size, or even quarter-size are common.
The size of the painted figure drives the dimensions of the canvas. Since all the canvas surface requires painting, the pricing is closely related to the surface size of the canvas.
The painting task increases with the detail, and the price increases with complexity.
Will the painting show just a head (cut at approximately the top of the shoulders), a head and shoulders (cut at about the breasts), include the arms and hands (cut just below the hips), or be a three quarters (cut at about the knees) or a full-length portrait?
By taking these two last decisions together, the final size of the painting maybe decided. You will have to relate this to where you propose that the painting will be hung.
Finally, what will be the background? The prices below are for a simple abstract toned background. If you wish for the background to be a still life of objects, or a scene, usually related to the sitter, this will cost extra.
The prices below are for a single sitter wearing simple garments and posed against an abstract toned background. The sizes are chosen as examples and refer to the canvas size.
Head: 10 x 8 inches $400.
Head and shoulders: 20 x 16 inches $1,600
Head and including hands: 30 x 24 inches $3,600
Full length: 72 x 30 inches $6,100
An exact price will be calculated depnding upon your precise requirements, and will be stated in our final agreement.
The unveiling of the finished portrait is always an exciting moment.
Some requested final touch-ups after viewing but before delivery, maybe accommodated.
My work is scheduled far ahead. Be sure to allow several months for the completion of most portraits.
All details may be settled after extensive discussions. Contact me to discuss a portrait project.
Updated September 2012