How To Commission a Portrait

How To Commission a Portrait

Sarah Rainwater
Sep 22, 2010

We've noted the growing popularity of portraiture and were curious what it's like to commission a custom painting of one's own. A painted portrait would not only become a family heirloom, but double as an amazing piece of wall art. We asked Toledo, Ohio-based portrait artist, Amanda Grosjean, for her thoughts and advice for anyone considering fine art portraiture.

Why do people decide to commission a painted portrait?

When you come upon a portrait, whether in a museum or someone's home, there is an undeniable presence. People are drawn to it because it tells a story, both about the subject and the artist. To me, there is nothing more beautiful and ephemeral than the humanity of that person at that moment in time. The fact that we are able to view portraits from centuries ago is a testament to the institution of the craft of portraiture and an excellent reason as to why one should consider investing in a commission.

What makes a successful portrait?

A successful portrait is based on the artist's unique ability to interpret the abstract concept of life and beauty and translate it into the concrete physical form of a painting. Of course, at times, this involves manipulation and on occasion, exaggeration. The intensity or subdued quality of color within a painting as well as the figure's pose, dress, and demeanor all evoke emotions from the viewer and reveal the subtle nuances of a person's character that create a unique, beautiful piece of artwork.

How do you decide what the portrait will look like?

A great deal of thought should go into what you want your portrait to convey. The final piece could be elegant and formal or causal and relaxed — or anywhere in between. An important question I always ask my clients is, "Who is the portrait for?" This will have a very important impact on how the subject should be viewed. If I were to do the portrait of a teenager, he or she would undoubtedly see themselves and want to be portrayed differently than their mother will.

What is the process like?

The process of commissioning a portrait is as individual as the artists themselves. Some work quickly, others take their time. Some are very regimented in their process and business practices and others are more lax. As methods go, I personally feel there is more freedom in working from photographs that I have composed, whereas others would completely disagree and will work strictly from life. In either case there should be many discussions between the client, the subject, and the artist as to how the image will look and what it should portray. The artist needs the opportunity to observe the subject on multiple occasions, if possible, to pick up on subtle cues of facial expressions, gestures, and personality traits. Sometimes it takes an hour in front of the camera before the subject relaxes and these elements show through.

How should someone select an artist for their portrait?

Anyone considering commissioning a portrait needs to do their homework. A good artist should have a lengthy portrait portfolio for you to observe. Be sure you are comfortable with their style and color palette before you make the decision. If you are looking for someone who paints a portrait like Picasso don't pick someone who paints like Cassatt. Avoid artists who have a cookie-cutter approach where one expressionless face could easily be interchanged with another. Be open-minded as well. Commissioning a portrait is an exciting leap of faith and allowing the artist to be creative will provide you with a natural, unique, and beautiful portrait.

See Amanda Grosjean's portraiture portfolio on her website, www.amandagrosjean.com.

MORE PORTRAITURE ON APARTMENT THERAPY:
The Growing Popularity of Portraits
Vintage Portrait Collections
Portrait Paintings at Home

Image: Ashley, oil on linen by Amanda Grosjean

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