I have been doing portrait painting commission work for about five years now. In that time I’ve read a lot about how to plan and paint portraits, and I’ve studied with several well known and highly regarded oil painting instructors. Almost without exception their expert advice has been:
- ALWAYS work from a live model.
- If you must work from a photo, TAKE IT YOURSELF — using 3/4 lighting which produces the most useful shadows.
- If you must work from someone else’s photo, DO NOT attempt to use a photo taken with a flash (no shadows).
- Be prepared for customers who are unhappy with everything you produce. In fact, FORGET about portrait painting COMMISSIONS — It’s impossible to please people!
- And most recently: “You are not ready for anything more complex than a single pear, because you are not ‘holding the tone’. Certainly NO PORTRAITS.”
Fortunately I am pretty adept at ignoring all this advice whenever someone has a compelling “story” and gives me a new portrait painting commission!
A Few Portrait Painting Challenges
We’re about to move my art studio to its new location in our nearly-finished remodeled house across the lake. So this portrait painting commission popped into my studio at the most tumultuous moment! Here I was, packing up my paint, canvasses, easel and brushes, and designing my new studio space; and this very sweet man called to say he wanted a portrait of himself. But my client’s story was so irresistible, I couldn’t say “no”.
He had been a Navy corpsman, but all his photos of himself in uniform were lost in a house fire. His 13 year old son is fascinated with his father’s military service, partly due to the new movie “American Sniper”. So my client gave me a photo of a fellow corpsman in his dress whites — along with a group photo of him at a wedding (with his image less than an inch tall). Naturally he wanted to know if I could put it all together and complete the portrait painting commission in time for his son’s birthday!
Well sure! No problem!
My Last Portrait Painting Commission this Month!
So I went to my computer, copied and enlarged images, sketched and cropped and faked some shadows, and sketched some more. Finally I had a combination that was believable! I broke out my paints and blocked out ALL the portrait painting ADVICE I had been given.
Well, that picture practically painted itself! Before I knew it, there was a determined “fresh-faced” young corpsman staring back at me! I was thrilled and — best of all — so was my client! He says it looks very much like his original lost photograph. Hooray!
He was so happy with the result, he gave me another portrait painting commission right on the spot. Fortunately I’ll be able to wait until I’m in my new studio before starting on that one.
Raspberries to the experts! That was one exhilarating ride!