Creating the brief
The brief is just a list of all the practical details which relate to your commission. The things to think about are:
- Who and what is to be in the portrait. Would you like to commission a single portrait, several portraits or several people all on one canvas? Another option would be to commission a diptych or triptych. This could be a family portrait, it could include pets, your house, your garden or meaningful objects or it could be a simple portrait of one person.
- How big you would like it to be. Don’t forget to include about 4” or 10cm all round for the frame if you are measuring a space, but please be aware that artists normally talk about the canvas size when quoting.
- Which medium you would prefer; oil, pastel, pencil, charcoal, watercolour, tempera, mixed media etc.
- When the work needs to be finished. Often there is a special date such as an anniversary, birthday or retirement.
- The approximate budget .This will define the field of artists. There is no point in wasting time searching among artists who are way out of budget. The price-range for a Member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters would be from £500 for a pencil drawing to over £75,000 for a large work in oil by an eminent artist.
Other considerations would include where the sittings will take place and, eventually, what clothes should be worn. Often the choice of artist has an effect on this or conversely it can affect the choice of artist.
Choosing a portrait artist
Choosing an artist is instinctive. You will know within seconds whether an artists body of work connects with you. Therefore it is best to scan work quickly in the first instance to create a short list of artists who appeal to you. Once you have a shortlist you can then start to think and analyse.
Finding the right artist is where expert help is most useful, partly because choosing an artist can be overwhelming and partly because a mistake at this stage can be disastrous. That is why we have set up a service to help you through commissioning a portrait. Our members are elected on the strength of their work and our experienced consultants can guide you through the portfolios in a face-to-face consultation in our Central London offices or, using your brief, they can shortlist suitable artists for you. The pool of artists on offer is extensive and includes emerging artists who have exhibited alongside our eminent members. You can browse and select portrait artists without the assistance of our consultants on this website if you prefer.
Once you have selected an artist, it is good to meet. An artist’s input is likely to be valuable at an early stage so it is better if they take part in the creative process as soon as possible. These initial discussions are held without commitment on either side.
The number and length of sittings will vary according to the artist’s technique and style. If an artist is working from life, six to ten sittings of about 1 1/2 hours to two hours would be average and most portrait painters are happy to travel to their sitter. The use of photography can cut this down to one or two sittings. Occasionally under very special circumstances, such as when a portrait is posthumous, there are artists who can work from photography alone.
Likewise the length of time it takes to complete a work varies hugely. Three to six months is often the sort of time a painted portrait takes, but each artist is different and the availability of the sitter for the sittings is an additional variable.
Once the details are established, the artist should be able to give you a quote. There are usually two elements to the pricing: the artist’s fee and their expenses. It is worth noting that the price an artist gives you is for their fee only. Framing, delivery, travel and accommodation are not normally included. Most portrait artists take a deposit before starting work and the rest on completion. Three or more staged payments can be made for larger works but a single second final payment on completion is more usual.
A letter of agreement is useful for establishing expectations and for preventing problems due to misunderstandings. Many people are not aware, for example, that copyright belongs to the artist unless it, or part of it, is assigned to another person. This means that you could not create postcards of your portrait, for instance
It is only when you book the first sitting that you become committed. Artists who work from life only will often need six to ten sittings of 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If the artist uses photography they are likely to need fewer sittings. These can take place either in the studio or at your location.
Once the work is finished, the artist will often show you a digital image for approval before the work is handed over.
Framing a commissioned portrait
The frame for a commissioned work rarely forms part of the commission but most portrait painters know what sort of a frame suits their work and who makes them. They will often oversee the process for you.
The completed portrait
We are so used to seeing ourselves in the mirror or in photographs; naturally we appear different when translated through the imagination of an artist. The portrait artist will be teaching you to see things in a new way – the more you look, the more you will see. At the end of the day investing in a portrait is investing in a thing of joy for generations to come.
A commissioned portrait is not only a token of love or esteem, it can also be a great work of art and a legacy to the future; after all Mona Lisa, the Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Arnolfini Marriage are all examples of commissioned portraits.
For help or more information please contact Annabel Elton, Head of Commissions
020 7930 6844 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Header Image: June Mendoza in her studio, photographed by ALIONA ADRIANOVA