Commission a Painting From a Photo | Step-by-Step Guide

It’s easy and rewarding to Commission a painting from a photo with the help of a skilled artist.


Understand the Commission Process

A Painting From Your Photo Is A Timeless Heirloom

Do you have a treasured photograph of your children, family, or a special person you wish to remember? Possibly for generations? Do you have some favorite photos from a vacation or special occasion or moment that you can envision as a painted artwork?

There are plenty of skilled artists who can make your vision come to life as a painting. And if you have a good photograph of that moment, then your chances of receiving a one-of-a-kind custom painting is even better.
Custom paintings and artwork are incredible to own and can make a unique and amazing gift.

Understand the Commission Process:

When it comes to commissioning artwork, it's important to understand the entire process - from commission request to framing the final custom work - so you can get the best results.

For a detailed breakdown of the entire process for commissioning artwork you should check out this Happy Customers Comprehensive Guide to Commission a Painting. It deals specifically with portrait commissions, but provides excellent and thorough insight into purchasing commissioned artwork.

From choosing which artwork style best suits your needs, deciding on proportions and colors - this post covers everything you need to know about commissioning a beautiful oil painting based on a favorite photograph.

Below is the Spark Notes version of the Happy Customers Comprehensive Guide to Commission a Painting:

What to consider when commissioning a painting from a photo

Before commissioning a painting from a photo, there are a few things you should consider before diving in.

1. The size of the painting.

if it will hang in a small room, a large canvas might overwhelm the space. And for a large wall, a small portrait may not work.

2. The style of the painting

Do you want a realistic portrait or an impressionistic interpretation? Do you want an abstract landscape that compliments the colors in your living room?

3. The medium of painting (or drawing) what types of artwork you can ask for

There are a variety of painting types you can ask for, from paintings to sketches to digital designs. You can request portraits, landscapes, flowers, anything really. Oil paintings, watercolors, charcoal drawings, mixed media? This will make a difference. Each type comes with its own unique benefits and challenges, so it's important to communicate clearly with your artist about what you're looking for.

4. The cost associated with commissioning a painting

Let's talk about the costs associated with commissioned artwork. Artwork is an investment, and quality work can take time and skill to produce. An artist’s fee will vary depending on the artist's experience, popularity, and professionalism as well as the size and complexity of the piece.

You'll also need to factor in additional costs such as framing or shipping. You should receive a clear contract outlining all of these details to avoid any surprises. Don't let the cost scare you away from your artistic dreams, though. Commissioning a painting is a unique and special experience that you won't regret.

5. Timeframe - how long it will take How long it typically takes for an artist to complete a commissioned painting

How long does it typically take artists to complete their masterpiece? The truth is, it really depends on the artist and the size and complexity of the painting and the workload of the artist..
Some artists may be able to finish a small painting in a matter of days, while others may take weeks or even months to finish a larger and more intricate piece.

It's important to communicate with the artist and establish a timeline that works for both of you. That way, you can be sure they have enough time to create a painting that exceeds your expectations.

6. Choose the right artist for the job

someone whose style and skills fit your vision.

So, if you're planning to commission a custom painting, just remember that it may take some time, but the end result will be a one-of-a-kind piece of art that you'll cherish for years to come.

How to identify the right artist for the job

So, you'll want to find the perfect artist to bring your vision to life. Where do you start?

Again, understanding the process can make your experience smoother and more enjoyable. All of the above is covered in depth in this comprehensive guide to the process to commissioned artwork.

The first step is to do your research. Look for artists who specialize in the medium you need, whether it's painting, graphic design, or sculpture.

Next, does the artists work match the vibe you want for your project? Do you want something modern and edgy, or classic and timeless?

Make sure the artist you choose has a style that aligns with your goals.
Check out their portfolios to see examples of their work and get a sense of their style.

Can you see work that comes from a photograph?

Finally, don't be afraid to reach out and ask for references or to chat with the artist about your project. A good artist will be happy to discuss their process and give you a sense of how they work.

With these tips in mind, you're sure to identify the perfect artist for your next creative endeavor.

commission a portrait
portrait commission

an overview of the entire process, And tips to help you along the way

Choosing your high-quality reference photos


Be Prepared

Aside from finding the right artist, the key to having a beautiful painting is having great reference photos. It’s a major piece in the puzzle of receiving a painting you love. Let's face it though, with the abundance of photos we take nowadays, it can be tough to pick the perfect shot. But fear not, with a few tips and tricks, you'll be able to select the best image in no time.

Tips on how to pick the best photographs

Getting your photos ready to be transformed into a piece of art requires a few simple steps.

Choose photos with good lighting and composition - this usually makes for a better painting, and makes the artist’s job easier.
Firstly, pay attention to the composition of the photograph. Is the subject centered? Is there distracting clutter in the background?
These are just a few things to consider when picking the perfect composition.

Secondly, take note of the lighting. Is the photo too bright or too dark? Does it have a warm or cool tone? Play around with the lighting to enhance the photo's mood and tone.
Start by choosing a clear and high-quality photo that showcases the subject's features and is well-lit. To make sure you get the best results, look for photos that have strong details and good lighting.
Avoid low-resolution images or blurry shots; using a clear image as inspiration will help your artist bring the finished painting to life.
The next step is to take a closer look at the image and provide the artist with any additional details they may need, such as specific colors or facial features. Being specific in your description will ensure that the final product is exactly what you had in mind.

Here's an example of how to paint a portrait from a photo (or at least how I do it and what I look for).

Choose a Portrait Subject

Firstly, envision the subject matter that will be included in your painting or drawing. This is the “who”, and also the “what” and “where”. When you imagine the image you want captured, what are the important details or elements? Is this subject available for a live sitting? Do you have good photographs and reference images? 

Imagine the Type of Portrait You Want

Secondly, it’s important to determine the type of portraiture that will fit either your personal aesthetic, or if it’s a gift, the recipient's personal tastes. For example, do you want a traditional oil painting, or something more contemporary like a drawing, watercolor or digital illustration? Do you want a traditional family portrait? Or perhaps something more abstract? Maybe you want three smaller individual paintings of each of your children.

Which mediums best express the likeness of your subject matter—oil paint, charcoal, watercolors, etc.—and which size would best suit the space where it will hang?

Considering what you want the end result to look like - the pose, the overall tone, the color scheme used - will better help you understand what you want and select an artist adept at fashioning this.

Mediums Traditionally Used in Fine Art Portraiture

Drawing media

Strikingly eye-catching artwork can be captured through relatively quick, less expensive monochrome sketches and drawings.

  • Drawn on various paper substrates
  • These media include pencil, conté, charcoal, and pen.
  • Multi-colored drawings can be created with soft pastel, watercolor or inks, and mixed media.
  • Note: it’s often recommended to frame these behind glass.
commission portrait painting
portrait artist commission
Oil or acrylic paint on canvas (linen) or wood panel

Oil int is traditionally the preferred media for professional portraits.

  • Oil offers excellent color transitions, versatility, and ages well.
  • Drying times are longer and costs are higher.

Acrylic paint yield similar results.

  • Dries much faster than oils and allow artists to work in layers very quickly.
  • It can be difficult to achieve subtle and accurate color changes.
  • Oil and acrylic paints can be applied to primed stretched canvas or linen panels, wood panels, or high-density papers.
  • Oil or acrylic portraits on canvas may be displayed with or without a frame or glass.
portrait painting commission
commissioned portrait painting

Determine the Size

Determine the size of the artwork you’re envisioning and examine the space it will hang.

Will the work need to be framed? Keep in mind that larger works typically cost more.

Determine the Budget

Money isn’t necessarily the most important factor when selecting an artist for your project. Keep in mind a few generalities while researching portrait artists:

  • Generally, the more experienced and sought-after the artist is, the higher their rates will be.
  • Generally, artists determine price according to size - smaller pieces cost less, while larger canvases command a higher fee.
  • Expect to cover additional fees like shipping costs, framing expenses, or any necessary long-distance travel.

Payment for these expenses should be agreed upon in advance.
Some artists request the entire payment up front, while others require a downpayment prior to starting or before completion of any artwork, drawings/studies, or travel, and a final payment before delivery.

The downpayment can be anywhere from one-third to one-half the total commission price.

Know the Timeframe and Process

Think about your desired deadline as well as the time required for the entire process. The overall time to commission a portrait ranges from a month to a year depending on schedules and the artist’s creative methods.

It’s good to have an understanding of the artist’s commission procedures before moving forward. For more on this keep reading, but this may include an initial consultation, painting from life vs photo reference, sketches revisions, framing and delivery.


Find Portrait Painters and Make Contact

For more detail on artist selection, check out the section below.
In short, you’ll need to find an individual artist, a gallery, or use a portrait painting service.

Individual artists may spend more time with you and give a better sense of the quality and aesthetic of the final piece that you’ll receive. They’re often higher priced than a portrait service with longer times to deliver.

Art portrait services often contract out a variety of artists. You’ll often pay less using a service, but you’ll want to investigate the company to know you’ll get exactly what you’re hoping for.

Once you’ve found a portrait artist whose art speaks to you, it’s time to reach out and make contact. Share your vision, ask questions about their creative process, the need for an initial sitting, and discuss pricing, timeframes, and delivery.


Know Term Agreements, Payments & Sittings

When it comes time to discuss fees and payment terms with your artist, be sure that everyone is clear on what you both expect. How are changes and revisions handled? Do you understand who owns copyrights over the artwork once completed? Cover these items in advance to ensure that everyone is happy with the final product.


Be Patient & Communicate

Constructing a work of art takes time—sometimes months!—so patience is key throughout the entire process. Be sure to communicate regularly with your artist so that there are no surprises when it comes time for delivery. The more open-minded and communicative you are with your artist throughout the journey, the better the final results!

oil painting commission
commission oil painting
hire portrait artist

The 5 Step Process to Commission a Portrait

Step 1

Initial Consultation and Artist Selection

The commission process begins with an initial consultation with the artist, often via email, phone, video, or in person. During this meeting, discuss the commission in more detail and share your vision with the artist. Discuss materials, size, timeline and payment details.

When meeting with the artist, make sure you bring in any reference photos you have that might be helpful in creating the portrait. This could include photography, inspirational images from magazines or websites, and color studies—whatever helps convey what type of image you want captured.

This consultation is also important to ensure that both parties are on the same page before proceeding with the commission.
This is also the time to decide on an artist, if you haven’t done so already.

Step 3

Creating the Portrait

How do portrait artists work?

Painting from Life vs Photographs

The artist may choose to work from life or from a photograph.
The artist will schedule a time with the subjects to do live sketches or be photographed.

Live sittings

Many artists choose to observe a portrait subject in person. This technique, known as en plein air, allows artists to express a quality thought necessary to bring a work to life. Some feel painting from life allows for more accurate details, subtleties, and direct feedback from a subject that are lost when painting from a photograph.
Live sittings with portrait painters also allow both artist and sitter an immersive experience that’s difficult to replicate otherwise.

Photographs or other references

Many artists prefer photographic references because it’s convenient for both artist and model.
If the subject's unable to sit for a portrait painting, it may be necessary to paint from a photograph. In this case, it’s important to talk to the artist about their process and what they need to create the commission. An artist may request to schedule a photo shoot or may be fine with photographic references you provide. This will ultimately depend on the artist.

Both live sittings and photos

Some artists prefer to work from both a live sitter and photo references to add details later. Again this depends on the artist’s creative approach.

Exchange References and/or Initial Sitting / In-person session / Live sitting

Once timelines have been determined, terms agreed upon, contracts signed, and fees paid, the commission process typically moves to an initial sitting. Depending on the commission, this may be a one-time event or may involve multiple sittings, and can involve painting from life or working with photo references.

The subject sits for the artist - maybe for a quick live sketch or a photography session - and the artist will begin to create their work and develop the portrait composition. Additional materials may be requested to help create the work such as fabrics, costumes, or props.

Confirmation of Compositional Studies

Often an artist will complete and share a sketch or study before starting on the final piece. It’s a good way for both the artist and client to confirm they are on the same page before moving forward with a painted work.

commission an oil painting

Studio Visits & Progress Images

As work begins on the painted image, some artists will share freely and welcome comments and direction throughout the painting's progress, others will tend to disappear until they feel they have created something to show. This will ultimately depend on the artist’s creative process and it’s good to have an idea of what you can expect.


At some point though, the artist should share what they consider a mostly finished work. The commission process typically moves to revisions. Here you'll work with the artist to ensure that they have produced the image you have in mind. If changes are needed, this is the time to make them.

This step allows both parties to make sure that they are happy with the commission before completion and delivery. Depending on the commission, this may involve a few minor tweaks or major changes. Work closely with the artist to ensure that the end result is the painting that you want.

commission a portrait painting


When you commission a painting from a photo, it will require patience, thought, and planning. But seeing your favorite moment transformed into a beautiful, painted artwork makes the effort worth it.

You should consider what style to pick for your painting, find the right artist for the job and make sure you provide them with good photographs to make your project come to life.

With ample preparation and communication with your chosen artist, you can create something truly special that will live on longer than you will.

In addition, check out the costs associated with the process and establishing how long, on average, the project will take. If you feel overwhelmed at any point in the process, know there are plenty of resources available online to help you get through just about anything.

So take a step back and embrace this exciting journey – it won’t be one you regret!

Order Your Custom Portrait

For more info click here to commission a painting from a photo.