Commission a Portrait: A Simple Guide to Capturing Your Memories

When you commission a portrait you're receiving an incredibly unique, timeless heirloom that captures, celebrates, and commemorates the special people in your life.


Why Commission a Portrait?

Fine Art Portraits Are Timeless Heirlooms

A portrait is an investment in your legacy. Which certainly sounds a bit grand, but consider that we still celebrate oil paintings created centuries ago. A piece of fine art will last decades, and potentially outlive you.

Capture, Celebrate, Commemorate

Portraits encapsulate a moment, person, or occasion, immortalizing it in the form of fine art. Moreover, portraits make a meaningful gift, either as a touching way to commemorate family and celebrate loved ones, or as an incredible way to memorialize their memory. Whether celebrating a significant milestone or commemorating someone you love, commissioning a portrait is a perfect way to make sure that memory is preserved.

One of a Kind and Unique to You

Portrait commissions can be tailored to fit any particular size or style, but more importantly, a commissioned portrait allows you to work directly with an artist who can create something special and unique for you. With your original vision and an artist who can reproduce the likeness and essence of their subjects, you can make a masterpiece. Find the right portrait artist and you’ll have something that’s truly one of a kind.

But how do you even begin to commission a portrait?

While it can seem pretty daunting, it's quite simple. In this post, we'll walk through the entire process of commissioning a portrait, from finding a local artist to knowing which questions to ask them.
Read on for some tips on how to make this experience stress-free and enjoyable.

commission a portrait
portrait commission

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

What You Need To Know When You Commission A Portrait Painting


Be Prepared

It pays to do some prep work before you commission a portrait so you can find the right artist and help them create the best fine art for you.

You’ll want to consider obvious things like the subjects, the style, and the medium used. And you’ll want to bear in mind less obvious things like: where this will be displayed, what color scheme should stand out, should it be framed, will the artist do a live sitting, and what’s the desired completion date.

When it comes time to work with the portrait artist, make sure that you have everything prepared ahead of time. This includes providing reference photos of the subject (if necessary), examples of portrait composition, size and dimensions, and discussing any other details such as framing or background elements. An artist should provide guidance on these topics, but it’s best to prepare beforehand. 

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.

You can find more information about my
portrait commissions prices here.

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

Find the artist that perfectly suits your commission

How to Hire a Portrait Artist

How to Choose an Artist for Your Portrait Commission

Choosing the right artist is essential when commissioning artwork - the artist you choose will make the most impact on the portrait’s end result. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to research and compare various artists before making your selection.

Do Your Homework, Research Artists - Especially Local

Research artists who specialize in portraiture. Begin locally. Ask friends and family if they can recommend anyone. Ask around your community or visit a local gallery, museum, and even artsy coffee shops. Working with local artists is a way to support your community, may allow an opportunity for studio visits to see the process, and can reduce delivery fees.
Otherwise, the best way to find a portrait artist for your project is by doing some research online and through social media.

Examine Portfolios

Either way, take the time to look at their portfolios - it’s important that you find an artist whose style resonates with you and whose art speaks to your particular vision.
You should inquire about their preferred media and size as well as ask questions about their processes (do they prefer to work from life or from photos), timeframe to completion, commission fees and payment details before making any decisions.

Read Reviews

Consider reviews from previous clients, so that you can get an idea of their artwork and skill level, as well as their professionalism.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s time to get in touch.

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.

Discussion with the Artist

Here’s a quick list of items to help you when chatting with the artist:

  • Subject matter (who will be in the painting and in what setting)
  • Size of artwork and Installation Location
  • Media and substrate
  • Style, textures, and color studies
  • Time schedule for completion
  • Scheduling for live sittings or photography sessions
  • Compositional Sketch(es) for approval of design
  • Revisions
  • Pickup/Shipping (how and by whom)
  • Price (plus travel fees, photography fees, down-payments)

Step 2

Agree on Terms, Written Proposal, Sign a Contract

The artist should then provide a proposal or sales contract spelling out the commission terms and agreement. All details and fees - such as process, timeframe, payment and delivery - should be addressed and understood.

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.

Here's a Guide to Commission a Painting from a Photo, which will give you more specifics. For some ideas on the best photos to use to commission a portrait, check out this explanation of How to Paint a Portrait From a Photo.

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.

Step 4

Framing and Presentation

Often overlooked, but an important part of the final artwork, a frame can enhance the overall look and feel of the painting. Not usually included in the production price, framing services can often be added upon request.
This is often done by the artist or a professional framer who can provide advice on a frame that best suits the overall tone of the painting. Be sure to address this early on.

Step 5

Completion, Payment, & Delivery

When the finished work is approved and complete, the commission is ready. Expect any remaining balance, shipping costs, etc., to be due prior to actual shipping.
The commission ends upon delivery of the final painted work, often through a shipping company or in-person pickup/delivery. Make sure to finalize all details with the artist before signing a contract so that there is no confusion about delivery.

commission a portrait painting


A portrait is a tremendous way to celebrate someone special. When you commission a portrait, it allows both the artist and client to work together directly and create something totally unique and special that can be treasured for decades and even generations to come!

A commissioned portrait is an investment that requires careful consideration and planning. It may seem like a daunting task at first—but it doesn’t have to be! Just follow the simple steps above.

Get prepared and start researching local artists today so that you can find one who fits your needs with confidence. Take time in choosing an artist. Consider what look best suits your home or office, as well as particular size requirements. Select an artist with the experience and expertise to successfully complete your commission. And make sure you understand the artist’s commission fees and timelines.

Working closely with the artist throughout the commission process will ensure that you have a unique work of fine art that immortalizes a special moment, person, or occasion. With careful consideration and communication, portrait commissions can be incredibly rewarding experiences that you’ll cherish for years to come.

Give yourself permission to get started. You got this!

Order Your Custom Portrait

For more info click here for more info on how to commission a painting.