Portrait Commissions: Procedure & Fees

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PORTRAITS become heirlooms, they depict history, really, as much as they do individuals. That is why my work is crafted to the highest standards of archival permanence and quality with an emphasis on aesthetic excellence. At its foundation, portraiture is a collaboration between subject and artist and, as such, It is preferable for a portrait painter to be able to work directly from live sittings. However, the reality of today's world is that most people lead busy and complex lives with pressing time constraints, so working from photographic reference is practically and viable option — even a necessity —for modern portraiture.

SITTINGS: Normally, only one photography session, or “sitting”, is needed which can last from about 1 to 3 hours, the latter possibly accommodating a colour sketch in oil or a drawing in charcoal. The best location for portrait sittings is in surroundings that are comfortable for the sitter, such as in the home or, as is often the case for institutional portraits, at a place of work or study. Please note: the photographs used for the portrait reference must be taken by me since it is nearly impossible for a portrait artist to use photos taken by others (unless, of course, it is a posthumous portrait or if I work directly with a professional photographer on the project).

TIMING: The period from first sittings to delivery of a completed portrait in oil can range from a few months to more than a year. But, in all events, the timing is discussed as part of the normal commissioning process. Please bear in mind that, as a rule, it is best to provide as long a period as is possible. A fine portrait in oil needs time for curing of the paint, for contemplation, assessments or adjustments and, preferably, for a permanent varnishing to be applied prior to delivery.

PRICING: The range for portraits is from around $2000 for a head only or cameo portrait, to upwards of $20,000 to $50,000 for a major institutional or 3/4 to full-length portrait. Variables such as whether the sitter’s hands are showing, or the inclusion of narrative elements in the painting may contribute to higher costs. Other factors can also affect the price depending on a client’s specific needs and the individual situation. Posthumous portraits may also incur extra costs. Portrait drawings in charcoal or carbon are also available and are priced considerably lower than paintings.

DIMENSIONS: The scale of the subject in the painting — either life-size or slightly smaller — in part can determine the dimensions of the painting. For example, a typical head-only portrait is around 18 x 14 in. (46 x 36 cm.) and a classic three-quarter length portrait is usually about 50 x 40 in. (127 x 102 cm.).

PAYMENT Schedule and Approval: Although this is quite negotiable, a common schedule is that before work commences an agreement is signed and a deposit paid by the client. The deposit is usually from 30% to 50% of the full price. This is refundable if the contract (oral or written) is cancelled prior to the first sitting. As soon as possible after that first session or sitting, a thumbnail sketch or sketches will be presented to the client indicating the composition options. When a composition is agreed upon, work on the portrait can begin. The remainder of the fee is paid upon final approval by the client.

OTHER COSTS: Artistic and photography materials are the responsibility of the artist. Typically, framing, taxes, shipping, and insurance are the client's responsibility. Travel and accommodations may also be involved as extra expenses in this category.

In the end, all of the above are open for discussion or adjustment. The goal is to create the best possible work of art, whether institutional, corporate, family, or personal, that is within a budget and that is acceptable to both client and artist. The final result of this process — for both artist and client — is a work of art that is a true legacy which honours the sitter or the office, and can be cherished and valued for generations.

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