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How to Commission a Painting in 4 Easy Steps

This is not me

When people contact me for information about a possible commission, the FIRST question EVERYBODY asks is, "What's the cost?" And I get it, who doesn't want to know the price up front, of anything? I certainly do. But the answer is that... it depends. On a bunch of factors. So before we get to what it costs, allow me to walk you through the steps of how the commission process works. And I'll get to the question of cost in a minute.


I know this part sounds very obvious, but just indulge me for a bit so I can explain why I put this first. Ok so I'm a portrait painter. I also happily paint pets (pets are people too) and on occasion I'll do a still life. I don't, however, paint landscapes. I mean I've painted one or two but it's not something I've put a lot of work into getting better at. And many artists are like me in that they have certain subject matters that they specialise in. And aside from subject matter, we usually paint in a particular style (you know... abstract, realist etc.).

Why does this matter? Because the best fit for the painting you want will be an artist who specialises in the subject matter you want painted. If you happen to find an artist whose style you absolutely love but who doesn't paint what you need? Most likely that's not your artist. The artist you want to commission will be well-versed enough in the subject matter you're seeking to have painted, paint in a style that you enjoy, and will fit your budget. Ok now that I've mentioned budget, I'm going to get to the topic of price.


But how? If I don't know what a painting costs? AH HA! The painting costs what YOU want it to cost. WHAT. Yes it's true. It kinda comes down to what you wanna pay.

We don't have to break the bank!

Ok so how do we arrive at a price for a painting? The price is largely determined by the SIZE of the painting (this is where I get to make a size matters joke...heh). Many if not most artists calculate the price of a painting per square inch. There's a formula, everyone's is slightly different, but for the most part that's the easiest way for us to do it. The price may also change if you have certain elements in the painting that may be challenging to paint (some artists charge extra if they have to paint teeth or hands for example) or if there's more than one person in the picture, because obviously it takes more time. But basically that's how it's done. So if you have an idea of how much you can afford to spend on a painting, you can simply ask the artist what you can get for that price.

Now obviously this is not a hard and fast rule for everyone, but this is how I operate. And yes there are times when I'll happily bump up the size for a client at no extra cost because I may just really want to paint the painting at that size. I also work on a payment schedule so my clients don't have to put out all the money at once. Basically, artists are usually really happy to accommodate your budget, not matter how big or small it is. We love what we do and we want you to have a piece of our work! So we will work with you to make that happen. SO... are we feeling a little less intimidated by the idea of cost? Great let's move on.


If you're reading this, you either probably haven't seen me in a while, or you've never met me at all. The beauty of technology is that we can connect to people all over the world from wherever we are. And that means that people no longer have to sit for a portrait, they can just send some pictures and voilà, you have a painting. However the success of your portrait (we're talking about portraits cause it's my blog) will largely be dependent on how good your reference photos are. Photos plural, because more is better.

So what makes for a good picture? Well I can start with what most likely won't be a good photo. For the most part any picture you've taken out and about and posted on social media or have in your camera roll isn't gong to cut it. Not cause you don't look good (you're gorgeous babe) but because photos for portraits aren't the same as pictures you take for... pictures' sake.

A good portrait photo will have several important elements:

  • Some contrast in the face: This just makes a painting look more... painterly. This can easily be achieved by by placing your subject near a window and having the light shine on one side of their face. Artificial lighting like a lamp can work too.

  • High resolution: With the quality of camera phones these days this isn't usually a problem but sometimes people go back into the archives for photos. If you have to use an old photo, get it scanned at a high resolution.

  • Sharp and clear: If the subject in your photo is blurry or or something is obscuring their features, the photo won't be helpful.

  • Facial expression: There are many elements of an image we can tweak or outright change on a person we're painting, but the one thing that always looks wonky is when you try to change someone's facial expression. It just never looks quite right. If you want a painting of someone smiling, get a picture of them smiling. If you want them serious, ditto. I can change hair colour, clothes, jewellry, lots of things, but I won't mess with facial expressions.

  • Color: I can and have painted a colour portrait from a black and white photo. But I was able to do it because I had a ton of reference photos in colour of my subject. Even if I hadn't had the colour photos I would have been able to do it, but it makes it challenging if I don't know what the person looks like. Color photos are always helpful. Unless of course you want a black and white painting. I'm down.

  • The right perspective: Photos taken from a high or low angle usually distort the features of the subject and don't make for the best reference photos. Eye-level is best unless you're going for something a little less traditional.

Ok phew! Now that I've given your a short course in portrait photography, you can open your own studio! Seriously it's not a lot, just use your phone and have some light shining on on part of person's face. Or your dog or cat. Ferret... whatever. Here are some examples to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. All of the images display some variation in the shadows and highlights. A good photo is the key to a good portrait. Trust.


The business I'm referring to is the formality of agreeing to do the work. It's here because contracts, whether verbal or otherwise, are important in protecting both the client and the artist. So here's what you should expect:

  • A DOWNPAYMENT: I charge a 50% non-refundable deposit to start. That's to ensure that my client is serious about the job, but it also gives me some money upfront to purchase supplies. Your artist should ask for one. It doesn't have to be 50% but you should put something down to ensure that you're booking the job.

  • A CONTRACT: My contract is simple and in some cases, it's verbal. It basically states the price, the terms of payment, how and when I'll deliver the painting and who the rights of the painted image belongs to (by default unless negotiated separately the image always belongs to the artist) . Your contract tells you what to expect and when.

  • A MOCKUP: I'm not really sure what other artists do, but I usually create a mockup of what the painting is going to look like before I do it. I'm a graphic designer so I usually create a digital rendering of the painting, but it can be as simple as a sketch. This is the stage where we fine-tune the details such as changing the colour of the clothing, background and so on before I start the piece. I find it's helpful to give my clients an idea of what to expect.

And that's it guys! All you have to do now is wait for your painting to be finished and delivered to you! That wasn't so hard now was it? In all seriousness, I really wrote this because I wanted to demystify the process. Especially where the price thing is concerned. Because I want people to know that we (and by we I mean I) can accommodate your budget!

Commissioning a painting doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive. It's not just for wealthy people anymore. Many of my commissions have come from friends who are decidedly not wealthy, but wanted to treat themselves or their loved ones to an original work of art. I think that's pretty damn cool. And you don't even have to be my friend to commission a piece! Imagine that.

Anyhow, if you're in the market, I'm on the market. My skill and talent is on the market, that is. I'm just selling art people (no cookies just books*). And I'm always happy to hear from you. So shoot me a message or an email or a smoke signal, and let me know what you have in mind. And let's get it done!

* Please tell me if you got that reference. You are my people.


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