The process of commissioning a portrait depends a lot upon the artist you choose. Speaking solely from the perspective of the artist, as I have never commissioned a portrait, but have led many clients through the process, it can be relatively simple.
What do I need to know to commission a portrait?
Your knowledge of how to commission portraits is not nearly as important as the knowledge and experience of the artist who will lead you through the process. Your first step is to choose the artist. You might base your decision on several factors. You might want a particular medium such as oils, pastels, or watercolor, or maybe just a simple pencil portrait. Find an artist whose work you admire and who works in the medium you like. If cost is a factor, you might want to take a look at the artists price list if he or she publishes one on the web. Another factor to consider is the location of the artist. Often the artist will include travel expenses if there is a distance between you. You’ve landed here so maybe you’ve already done this step.
What’s the next step?
After you have chosen the artist you want, then you contact the portrait artist to find out what he or she needs from you in order to begin the portrait process.
Initial Planning Meeting
Most artists schedule an initial planning meeting during which the decisions as to medium, size, how much of the body, color scheme, clothing, background, framing and price are discussed and recorded. This meeting is also when you would pay a percentage of the total price of the portrait. Usually at this meeting, you as a customer will need to sign the artists model release form which gives the artist permission to use reproductions of the portrait for promotional purposes. You will be the owner of your portrait, but the artist always retains the copyright to the portrait so if you want copies of the final portrait you have to go through the artist. Most portrait artists will provide prints, upon request, for a fee per print.
If there is considerable distance between you and the artist, this initial planning meeting will be scheduled either the same day or the day before the appointment for sketching, and photographing in order to keep the travel cost to a minimum. If that isn’t an issue, the planning appointment can be scheduled a few days before the modeling day.
So the day of the sketching/photo shoot it will be a lot like “Senior Picture day.” The clothes you want in the portrait should be brought to the agreed upon location which is often your own home or an outdoor location. I personally use natural outdoor light and take as many pictures as possible. We can look at them immediately on a laptop and know if we have one that will work well for a reference photo. Often the client will want to take home copies of a selection of the photos to get other family members involved in the decision making process. Copies are easily transferred to a flash drive or CD. They just contact me later with info on which photos they want according to the numbers of the digital files. Sometimes I will do some color reference sketching at this meeting to make sure my colors are correct.
Is there anything else I need to know about how to commission portraits?
Once the photos are agreed upon and all the questions have been answered I proceed with the portrait and will usually have it done within 3 weeks, maybe longer depending upon the complexity of the portrait and my work schedule at the time.
Really, you are not the one who needs to know how to commission portraits. It is the job of the artist to know the process, and if the artist is experienced, you shouldn’t have to know anything else.
I’d love to know your thoughts! Please leave a comment below or contact me to get the portrait creation process started!