Here you’ll find a quick summary of how to commission a portrait from your photos, followed by some information on what kind of photos I need to work from and how the whole process works
a quick summary – how the process works, in 3 steps
1 First, have a read through this page which will give you information on choosing a medium and a suitable size for your portrait, and how to take a good photo for me to work from. Then please contact me by phone or email if you need a quote, or have any questions. If you decide to go ahead and commission a portrait, we can have a chat about exactly what you’d like your portrait to appear like in terms of style, background and so on. If you’re not sure what kind of pose will work or what size it should be, I’m happy to give advice. You can also look in the galleries and let me know if any of the portraits there are in a style you particularly prefer.
2 Take some photos for the portrait. I need a photograph taken on a digital camera (not a phone camera) that is nice and close up. The larger, sharper and clearer the photo reference I have, the better the final portrait will be (you can read more about what sort of photo I need to work from below) When you are ready, send me the picture preferably by email and we’ll probably have another discussion about it before I start working on your portrait. Sometimes it can take several conversations or emails to sort the photos out but this is all part of the job and well worth the effort, so please don’t worry about this! There is not usually any deposit required for drawings although for a larger order or a painting a desposit may be payable – see the prices page for details.
3 I consider that the portrait should be a real collaboration, and communication between us is key to the whole process. So when I think that it might be nearly finished, I will make a scan of the portrait and send it over to you by email, or by post if you don’t have an email address . You can let me know what you think of the likeness, and whether there’s anything you’d like me to alter or to work on some more. I’ll make any adjustments that we may discuss, and when you are completely happy you can send through the payment and I’ll send your painting or drawing straight out to you.
choosing your medium
You can read about the different options on the pencil, watercolour and oil painting pages. This will give you more information on my techniques for using each medium and the different effects created. Obviously there’s a cost and also a time consideration – pencil portraits are the quickest for me to complete. Watercolours take longer, and oils take the longest of all because of the drying time between layers and are the most expensive option. If commissioining a painting rather than a drawing, please bear in mind that I’m not usually able to complete these at very short notice!
choosing the size and the format
The prices page gives you costs for a variety of standard sizes for portraits in pencil, watercolour or oils. I find that in general a smaller size of 10″ x 12″ (similar to A4 size but a little less rectangular) or a 11″ or 12″ square is usually amply big enough for a single subject, especially a child. If you have a large wall to fill you may prefer the 14″ x 16″ size (similar to A3) or larger – though my general rule of thumb is that unless you want a really large ‘statement’ piece, a child portrait looks best when the head is represented no larger than it actually is in reality. For an adult then the larger size may suit better, and if you want a full body portrait (for a person or a pet) or if you want more than one subject in your portrait, then you’ll need at least 14″ x 16″ or larger so that the faces don’t become too fiddly for me to draw or paint. The prices page gives conversions to metric sizes if you are not comfortable thinking in inches. It’s worth remembering that a square portrait can be really nice, particularly for a child or animal head-and-shoulders portrait. Again, see the prices page for full details.
what sort of photo I need to work from
We tend to take most of our photos on our phones these days, and I am no exception – they are just so handy. However a phone picture isn’t large or sharp enough to provide the tonal detail I need to work from so if you don’t have any suitable photos taken on a proper camera, then I’m likely to ask you to take some new ones. (Please note that photos downloaded from Facebook are always unsuitable too) You don’t need any photography skills (I certainly don’t have any!) and you don’t even need to have a particularly good camera – even the cheapest ‘point-and-snap’ digital camera will take much larger and sharper photos than even the latest iPhone. The photo I work from is a substitute for someone actually sitting in front of me as I paint and draw them, which is why it’s so important that it records lots of close-up detail in order for me to get a good likeness – I will zoom in on the image on my computer to see it as closely as I can. Trying to do a portrait of someone from a small, blurry or pixilated photograph is a bit like trying to paint or draw someone who’s standing a long way away from me!
Above you can see some examples of photos that would make good reference for a portrait. They are zoomed in on the subject and in good natural light – outdoors is ideal. School photos are great (you can usually ask the photographer to send you the file) or of course you may have had a professional photoshoot done with your baby or little one. For an adult, a work photo can be good. Photos downloaded from Facebook are never suitable as they are much too small and pixilated. Here’s a quick checklist for having your own photoshoot:
- ✔︎ Natural light is best – artificial light often produces a grainy image, so aim for daylight
- ✔︎ Taking photos out of doors is ideal, but avoid extremely bright sunlight which will produce strong shadows and also tends to make people squint.
- ✔︎ For a child, aim to keep their hands away from their mouth, and for a pet, remember to remove the collar if you’d prefer it not to be included.
- ✔︎ Unless you are having a full body portrait then don’t be afraid to really zoom in – I don’t need to see further down than the waist and the closer up on the face, the better. Just remember not to cut off the top of their head!
- ✔︎ Don’t worry about the background, as I will just ignore this.
TAKING PHOTOS OF CHILDREN Having a small child myself I know it isn’t easy to get them to pose and they quickly tire of co-operating! My advice would be that if you don’t get lucky with a nice photo right away, just to keep the camera handy for a few days and keep on snapping. Try to catch them when they aren’t expecting it – you can sometimes get some really nice relaxed images that way. The suitability of the photograph really has a huge effect on the quality of the final portrait that I can produce, so it is well worth the effort. Once you’ve taken some photos I’m happy to advise on which will make the best portrait if you aren’t sure. Or if you already have a suitable photo in mind, feel free to email it over to me and I can let you know if it will work. If you only have a hard (printed) copy of a reference photo it may not be possible for me to create a portrait from, unless the photo is very large and close up. See the FAQ page for more about printed photos.
how I work
In order to get a close likeness to a subject that I haven’t met, I make a very close copy of one particular photograph. However I also try to capture their character as much as I can and therefore it’s always helpful to see a couple more pictures to get a really rounded impression both of their appearance and personality. These don’t have to be good quality as they are just for my reference – so feel free to send over a few extra snaps if you like.
what I can change
I can easily do the following: tidy up hair or fur a bit, remove dribble/eczema/food from around a child’s mouth or sunburn from their cheeks, or smooth down a collar! In fact I will probably do these things automatically without you needing to ask. I can make small alterations to what they are wearing. What I don’t do is things like taking a head from one photo and putting it onto a body from another, inventing new clothes for someone to be wearing, or changing an expression. I can slightly turn up the corners of someone’s mouth, but I can’t turn a solemn expression into a smile, whilst trying to maintain a likeness at the same time. Before I begin, think about whether the photo you’ve chosen represents the subject as you’d like – if you wait until I’ve nearly finished to ask me to do something like changing their hairstyle, this may be very difficult.
I often get asked if I can assemble two subjects on the same page, drawn from two different photos. However this really doesn’t result in a satisfactory portrait, because when working from photos taken at different times the lighting and tones will not be coherent and it’s hard to unify them. You’ll really need to take a new photo of the two subjects together and can then have the subjects physically touching, which is much nicer. Even if you are having two separate ‘companion portraits’ drawn or painted I’d advise supplying me with photos taken at the same time and in the same setting so that their shadows and tonal qualities will complement each other and not have noticably different looks. However, if you are doing a photoshoot specifically for your portrait and have taken photos of two people (or pets) together it may sometimes be possible to ‘mix and match’ the subjects from different pictures if the angles are very are similar, because the lighting and picture quality will be the same in both photos.
different poses and style of portrait
It’s worth thinking about what type of portrait you are looking for – this maybe applies more to people than to pets. For example, for a child portrait, a front-facing, smiling portrait can be lovely (and will reflect the personality of a happy child) but you can also get a nice artistic portrait from other sorts of poses. For example a child might be looking away, or might be looking at us, but over a shoulder – there are lots of different examples in the drawing gallery which may give you some ideas to consider. Sometimes a more contemplative, less smiling look can work. It really depends on what you like and which style of portrait is your cup of tea!
communication with you
This is the key to a good portrait. You know the subject better than I do so your input is really helpful, and I want you to be completely satisfied with your portrait! At a stage when it seems to me to be near completion I’ll make a scan of your portrait and email it over to you to look at so that you can give me your feedback. We can discuss in detail any change you’d like me to make. This could be anything from lightening someone’s eye colour to removing dark shadows or just a stray hair. Don’t worry if you think you are ‘nit-picking’ – a small change can make a big difference so I am happy to make even slight alterations. Customers sometimes ask if I send regular pictures of a portrait’s progress as I go along. However I prefer not to send an image over TOO early due to the way I work – whatever the medium, I tend to create the portrait in ‘layers’, blocking out large areas and then detailing and smoothing them further. This means that the early stages can look very unrefined and I don’t want to make you to feel concerned about how the look and the likeness of the final portrait will turn out! For example, below you can see two early stages of a dog portrait and the final portrait on the end. In the first image I’ve put down some basic block tones. In the second I’ve applied much darker pencil, cut back into it with my battery eraser to create highlights and then smoothed it down once more. At this point it looks a bit of a mess, but in the last image, it’s finally come together!
delivering your portrait
Once you’ve approved the final scan of your portrait by email, I will send over your invoice. You’ll find full details of how to pay on the prices page. Once your payment has cleared I’ll send the portrait straight off to you. If you are in the UK I use Royal Mails’ Next Day Special Delivery for smaller portraits or UPS courier for larger portraits. These are fully tracked services requiring a signature, and I will send you a tracking number and let you know when to expect delivery. International orders are sent via UPS. Pencil portraits will first be sprayed with fixative spray to stop the graphite from rubbing onto your fingers when you handle them. Pencil and watercolour portraits are both placed in cellophane sleeves and then sandwiched between rigid custom-cut MDF boards to ensure that they can’t be bent in transit. Oil paintings are sandwiched in soft foamcore board and then a layer of MDF. Finally all portraits are double wrapped in tough polythene to ensure that they are kept watertight. Your portrait will be fully insured in the mail and I guarantee its safe arrival.