Commissioning or sitting for a portrait

Practically everyone faced with the prospect of having a portrait painted -- either of themselves or of someone else -- has the same concerns. They want to know how they will look (this is a question few people dare to ask), how long it will take, where it will be done, and how much it will cost. The answers to these questions are not cut and dried, but perhaps the last is the most straightforward. As with all professionals, fees are negotiable. Generally speaking, an official or formal family portrait in oils will be around $15,000 - $30,000, with drawings or pastels of the head of a child or adult in the $3,000 - $6,000 range.

Once all this has been discussed and settled, both artist and subject get down to the business of creating a portrait. The artist may have done this many times before, the sitter may be both beautiful and full of character, but if it was an easy matter and not one requiring skill and talent, there would be more good portraits around. There would be more satisfied clients, maybe even Mona Lisas. Who knows, maybe even she didn't quite like her portrait.

If you are thinking of having your portrait painted, first look at the work of well-known portrait painters. Fame does not guarantee quality, but you may assume that portrait painters will not be successful for long if they are doing bad pictures of people looking their worst. Choose someone whose work you like. Steer clear of anyone working from or even using photographs. Portraits done in this way are neither paintings nor photographs. After all, if such "professional sitters" as the Queen and Margaret Thatcher found time to sit for painters like Brenda Bury, there must be a good reason why the short-cut of photographs does not lead to professional results.

Consider that both Her Majesty the Queen and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister of the U.K. made the time to pose live. Models were used for the clothes, and detectives appeared bearing jewels. The former Governor General of Canada, Madame Jeanne Sauvé, was painted by Brenda Bury in a similar number of sessions over a period of ten days at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

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