Commissioning A Portrait

To some, the idea of commissioning a portrait may at first seem a rather daunting undertaking. People often think of portraits as stiff, formal affairs for boardrooms or museums, or only for the ‘rich and famous’.

However, there are all kinds of portraits, and I feel the most important aspect of a portrait is producing something (be it the grandest full-size oil or a more intimate head-and-shoulders) that represents the sitter in a fitting manner. The main purpose of a portrait is to bring pleasure to those who commissioned it.

Before any sittings begin, I like to meet my sitter for about an hour for preliminary discussions. This first meeting is informal and is usually held in the subjects home or office. During this time, I try to get a good idea of what is required, including the function or purpose of the portrait, the spirit or mood of the work, where it will hang, and its size.

At work on a portrait of Sandra Howard, wife of the Right Hon. Michael Howard.
At work on a portrait of Madeleine Kemp Eisen

These decisions will help us choose the outfit to be worn to the first sitting and will influence the background or setting of the portrait. They will also determine the price of the work. This is a mutual process, with the sitter having input and approval all the way along.

I usually require about five to seven 1½ hour sittings if possible, which can be at my studio, but usually take place in the sitter's home or place of work, where they will feel comfortable and confident. I travel extensively across the world for my work, so a sitting somewhere far flung does not present a problem.

The sittings are a series of informal conversations, with me sketching and observing, trying to get a feeling of personality and character, studying my subject’s natural gestures, poses and expression . . . but they certainly do not mean the sitter not being able to talk or having to remain motionless!

Posing for an artist is a unique and sometimes slightly self-conscious experience, and even prominent people who are used to being in control of most situations may stiffen at the first sitting. But I find the more I get to know my sitter, the easier the rapport is between us.

After an initial sitting or two, I produce several small studies for approval. If there is a need for any small changes, it is much easier to do them at this stage, before moving up to the full-size canvas. This also relieves the element of doubt and anxiety over the appearance of the final portrait, which of course I want everyone to be pleased with and proud to hang. When everyone is happy with the general look of things, I move up to the larger canvas.

Portraits often take between six months and a year to complete, depending upon the sitter’s availability. Ideally, before the work is finished, we can discuss framing, which I am very happy to advise on, or can arrange. In most circumstances, all of the studies and preliminary drawings will be the sitter’s to keep. What is often perceived as a difficult and complicated process almost always turns out to be an enjoyable experience for sitter and artist alike.

To discuss commissioning a portrait by Richard Stone, please contact the artist directly using any of the contact points on this website.