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Commissioning a Portrait

Aportrait is a highly personal, subjective and feeling process. Commissioning a portrait of yourself is a way to acknowledge the uniqueness of your presence in the world. Commissioning a portrait of a beloved spouse, child, parent, sister, or brother is a way to honor the love that exists in your relationship, and to show your appreciation for that person in your life. Portraits can be special gifts for your family that are much more expressive than a snapshot. Acrylic portraits will retain the vibrancy of color and sharpness of image for generations.

Portrait of Irien

When I paint a portrait of someone, I study the features and proportions of the face and figure and the unique color of hair, skin, and eyes, which is usually a dynamic blend of many hues and shades. I also try to feel and intuit the intangible qualities that makes that person a distinctive individual. I may learn things about the person that add to my awareness of their nature, such as favorite colors, animals, and activities.

For example, the portrait of Irien below shows her holding a unicorn, her favorite mythical creature, and wearing her favorite Chinese dress. This portrait started with a photograph I took of Irien. For the painting to focus on her figure, I had to remove the elements in the background of the photo and highlight her face with a dark background typical of classic Old Masters paintings.

I like using photos of the subject because I can take as much time as I need to develop the painting without submitting the person to the discipline of sitting still for long periods. In our busy world, not many people can take time for extended sittings on multiple occasions.

Your portrait begins with a favorite snapshot of your head, neck, and shoulders that you feel is a good likeness. It should be a high-resolution photo sized at least 5” x 7”, but preferably 8” x 10”, so the fine detail of your features is easy for me to see and render in paint. You can supply this photo for me to work from, or if possible, I can do a photo shoot if you live nearby my home and studio in Lake County, California.

Portrait of Irien

The fun and creative part of designing a portrait is choosing a basic color palette, a background and what kind of clothing the figure should wear. You can choose the look of an “Old Masters” portrait with a plain, darkish background. Go to the One Family: Portraits page to see Stephanie Samuels and Marci Johns as examples of this style. Your portrait can include traditional costume of a native culture. Go to the One Family: Portraits page to see “Girl with Amur Leopard Cub” and “Narumi in Kimono”. Or you can put yourself in a fantasy setting for a romantic, whimsical vision of your creative, imaginative nature (see “Gracie, Mary and Irien” and Christine Tschummi).

The possibilities for creative portraiture are endless! Many of the portraits you can see in the One Family: Portraits Gallery were created together with the person commissioning the portrait, who had ideas about the theme, clothing and colors they wanted for their painting. I totally love it when someone comes to me with creative, unusual ideas! It makes the process so utterly unique and personal.

Check out the various portraits in this gallery to see the wide variety of options that are available as I help you design your unique, one-of-a-kind portrait!

The process happens in four stages. Read about the journey from start to finish of the portrait of Marci Johns as an example of how it works when you commission a portrait.

The Story of Marci's Portrait

Charcoal & Graphite Drawing of Marci Photo of Marci

Portraiture Step One: Choose a photo and discuss the composition. Whatever photo you feel best expresses your personal qualities is the one to use – even if it was taken some time ago. As we discuss the portrait, we may decide not to include some elements of the photo. For example, Marci and I felt that although the black earrings were dramatic, they distracted the eye from her features, so we chose to leave the earrings out of the portrait. We agreed not to include her hands, which were basically holding the fur scarf in place, and thus not essential to the composition. We also decided to emphasize an aspect of the photograph that did not stand out enough in the photo – the gold highlights in Marci’s hair, which are more pronounced in the finished portrait, adding a whimsical, bright quality that expresses Marci’s vibrant, creative personality.

Charcoal & Graphite Drawing of Marci

Portraiture Step Two: Graphite and charcoal drawing on primed canvas. Depending on the size of the painting, the drawing takes from two to three weeks to complete. The quality of the finished painting depends on a well-rendered drawing with values and details well established, so it’s an important step!

Charcoal & Graphite Drawing of Marci

Portraiture Step Three: Look at the drawing and make any desired changes. If my client lives at a distance, I send high-resolution photographs of the drawing as it appears on the canvas. We can discuss the details by phone, Skype call or email. Marci Jackson was delighted by her portrait drawing, which took about ten days, and she was excited to see the next step – color!

Portraiture Step Four: Two weeks later, the portrait was complete and ready to hang in her hair salon, where it was hugely admired by her many clients. Here is the finished acrylic on canvas portrait of Marci Jackson, 18” x 24”. All paintings are sprayed with several coats of matte acrylic varnish to protect the surface.