Five steps to commissioning a great portrait
As a charity promoting portraiture, making commissioning easy is part of our remit. We are here to help throughout the process from selecting the right artist to contracting, framing and delivery. Commissioning a portrait is an enjoyable experience with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Being part of the creative process is very rewarding. With our help, it is not complicated and does not require prior experience.
Commissioning a portrait can be broken down into five steps.
How much does a portrait cost?
The artist, size, medium, and the number of figures in a portrait will contribute to its cost. As a starting point, a head and shoulders drawing by a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters start at £1,500 or a family group by a renowned artist could be in the regions of £100,000. With such a wide range is makes sense to set yourself a budget ceiling before completing your brief. Don’t forget that the artist’s fee does not include expenses such as framing, travel, accommodation or delivery.
The brief is just a list of all the practical details which relate to your commission. The things to think about are:
- Size. (If you measure a space, please be aware that artists normally talk about the canvas size when quoting, so an allowance of c. 10cm or 4″ all-round should be made for the frame.)
- Medium; oil, pastel, pencil, etc
- Completion date
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 the artist.
Our Members work in a wide diversity of styles but they have all been vetted by their peers, so the quality and consistency of their work is assured. None the less it is still important to choose the right artist for your commission. Because choosing the right artist is so important, we provide consultants to help you through the process.
You will find that choosing a portrait artist is instinctive. It is clear within seconds whether an artist’s body of work connects with you. Therefore it is best to scan work quickly in the first instance to create a shortlist of artists who appeal to you. Once you have a shortlist you can then start to think and analyse. Our Consultants can guide you through the portfolios with a face-to-face consultation in our Central London offices or, using your brief, they can shortlist suitable artists for you by email. They then remain on hand throughout so that commissioning your portrait is easy and enjoyable.
Once you have selected an artist, it is good to meet to talk around the proposed portrait and to get the artist’s input. These initial discussions are held without commitment on either side.
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.
A letter of agreement is useful for establishing expectations and for preventing problems due to misunderstandings. 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.
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. 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 portrait 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.
Most portrait painters are happy to travel to their sitter.
The frame for a commissioned work rarely forms part of the commission. Choosing a frame that complements your painting is important so but most portrait painters will advise what sort of a frame suits their work. They will often arrange the frame for you too.
The completed portrait
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, but 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.
Seeing a portrait for the first time is strange. We are used to seeing ourselves in the mirror or in photographs; by contrast, we have never seen ourselves when translated through the imagination of an artist before. The portrait will be teaching you to see – the more you look, the more you will see.
Contact Annabel Elton, Head of Commissions on 00 44 (0) 207 968 0963 [email protected]
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For help or more information please contact Annabel Elton
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