How to Commission a Portrait Painting

A step-by-step guide to commissioning an artist

Commission a Portrait

Are you thinking about commissioning a fine art oil portrait?

Do you know what you want the painting to look like, what size it should be and how much you want to spend? Or perhaps all you know is that a portrait would be a great idea but you simply don’t know where to start and need some guidance?
After painting portrait commissions for over 10 years I have helped lots of people just like you, answering hundreds of questions about commissioning a painting.
Wherever you are along your journey to commission a portrait, I’ve put together this step-by-step commission guide to help.
Gary Armer | Artist

Am I the right Portrait Artist for you?

I’ve put together the following portrait commission guide to try and help as many people as possible have the confidence to buy original artwork.

However, if you like the look of my portrait examples and think I may be the artist to help you then please drop me an email or give me a call.

I’m always happy to hear from people who are thinking of commissioning a bespoke work of art and there will never be a hard sell from me.

I enjoy painting portraits from life or photographs so whether you want to enjoy the experience of sitting for an artist at their studio or want the time-saving approach of a portrait painted from a photograph, I can help.

In summary, I’m a great choice if you:

  • want a beautiful, realistic fine art portrait painted in oils
  • want a work of art painted to last which can be passed down through the family
  • have a budget of £2,000 upwards

Get in touch today.

07980 949 419
info@garyarmer.co.uk

The Creation of a Military Portrait Painting in Oils

Watch a time-lapse of me painting “After Sandhurst,” a highly detailed portrait of a British army officer.

Why Commission a Portrait?

A portrait is timeless. A piece of fine art that is uniquely yours, or a gift to be enjoyed for generations. It can record a special moment, capture the beauty of the sitter or celebrate the life of a loved one.

A commissioned painting makes a truly unique and special gift for a loved one’s Birthday or Christmas present or to mark a special occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, retirement, life event or achievement.

A portrait of a family member or loved one can be a stunning addition to any home. These unique works of art can be brilliant talking points when displayed in a living or dining room or simply brighten up your day when displayed in a bedroom, home office or more private space.

How to Choose a Portrait Artist

When commissioning a portrait, first and foremost you want to be confident that the final painting will look brilliant. You want to know that the artist will achieve an accurate likeness and the quality will be great. Start by looking at the artist’s portfolio for examples of their work.

You want to use an artist that you can trust and will listen to what you want. You will want to know exactly how much the piece will cost. You will also want to know how long it will take, how it will be delivered and be confident that the artwork will last for years to come.

These are all standard questions that a reliable portrait artist should be able to answer, either up front on their website or chatting over email or on the phone.

Types of Portrait Painting

Great portraits capture the true likeness of a subject, in a way that portrays their personality and unique mannerisms. From your initial enquiry to the final paint stroke, celebrating the true spirit of the person is at the heart of my work.

I’m a contemporary realist painter and paint in a traditional, representational style. I can capture the essence of a person with energetic alla prima portraits or paint in an academic style to bring a highly detailed and refined finish to a portrait.

I enjoy painting entirely from life using traditional and classical portrait techniques but can also work from photographs if the piece is a surprise gift or sittings aren’t possible.

Portraits from Life

Having a portrait painted from life is a memorable experience. You’ll gain an insight into the world of a fine artist, learn about the methods involved and be immersed in the process.

My approach is flexible and designed to work around you, I can paint your portrait at your home, your place of work or in my private art studio.

Depending on your availability for sittings I can either complete the portrait entirely from life or make sketches and take reference photographs to work from back at the studio.

Portraits from Photos

Sometimes it’s not possible or practical to arrange live sittings, for posthumous portraits or surprise gifts for example, in these cases I can paint your portrait entirely from photographs.

Due to the hectic lives that people lead, most clients will sit for photos at the start which I can then work from in my own time in the studio.

Traditional Portraits

What is an academic portrait?

An academic portrait is a painting that is typically built up in multiple layers of oil paint and taken to a highly rendered finish.

Traditionally academic portraits have been used to help celebrate status or wealth through their detailed depiction of finery in clothing, jewellery and accessories.

The academic portrait option is great for those looking to invest in a spectacular painting as an extra special gift or to mark a lifetime of achievement perhaps as a company executive or service personnel.

How long does an academic portrait painting take?

As with any painting the time it takes and number of sittings required is dependent on the composition and complexity of the piece. However, as a guide, these layered portraits can take between 1 and 6 months (or more) to paint, sometimes having to allow for drying time between layers.

When painted from life, an academic portrait can typically take 5 or more sittings of 2-3 hours in duration. An academic portrait can take weeks and sometimes months to complete and so while some of the portrait may be painted from life, photographs are used as reference for the majority of the process.

How much does a detailed portrait painting cost?

Prices for a detailed oil painting start from £2,000. You can see a full price guide with compositions and sizes below.

The Process – How to Commission a Portrait

Want to know how commissioning an artist works? Read on for a full portrait commission guide that will walk you through the steps to commissioning your unique work of art.

Step 1: The Brief

Get in Touch

The first thing to do is get in touch! Drop me an email on info@garyarmer.co.uk or call me on +44 (0)7980 949 419.

We can discuss your initial ideas and requirements over email or phone or if it is convenient you are more than welcome to visit the studio for a chat.

During this initial chat we can decide together:

Who? The sitter or sitters who are to be painted.

What? Composition ideas and size of the portrait (e.g. head and shoulders, half-length, full-length). And any additional details such as special background, particular clothing or jewellery that needs to be featured.

Why? Whether the portrait is being commissioned for a particular reason (e.g. a surprise gift, retirement, anniversary).

How? Whether the portrait is to painted from life or a photograph.

Where? Your preferred location for the sittings.

When? Potential dates for the sittings and approximate timescales for the painting to be completed.

Quote

After finalising the brief I will be able to provide you with a formal quote and client agreement that detail the full cost of the portrait along with any agreed expenses such as travel and accommodation if needed.

Normally I ask for 50% of the commission fee to be paid before I start the painting or prior to the first sitting. This is followed by 25% when the painting is reviewed and the final 25% when the portrait is delivered or collected.

When you are happy with the quote and agreement the first sitting can be organised for a time convenient with the sitter or I can begin the painting if working from a photo you have provided.

Step 2: The Sittings

Painting from Photos

If you would like your portrait to be painted from photographs, then I always advise that we meet up for a sitting where I can take some planned shots. This means I can carefully plan the pose, composition and lighting so I have the best reference images to work from.

If photos can’t be taken in person then I can work from your photographs. You can email photos over to me and I will often mock-up the image to the chosen composition which helps you visualise how the finished piece may look.

Painting from Life – Sitting for a Portrait Artist

At the first sitting I will typically make initial reference sketches, take photographs and potentially complete a colour study in oils. The portrait composition will be planned further considering lighting and a potential colour strategy for the piece.

The following sittings will work through different stages of the portrait generally working from larger forms through to the modelling of lights and details.

Depending on what we have agreed and the sitter’s availability I may work on the painting from reference photographs in between sittings.

Artist and Sitter in the Studio

What to Expect at a Sitting

While I can paint at a location of the sitter’s choice, many clients prefer the experience of sitting for the painting in an artist’s studio.

Based near Poulton-le-fylde in Lancashire, my private studio offers a quiet, relaxing space with stunning countryside views.

Most paintings are completed during daylight hours to make the most of the natural cool northern light but evening sittings can also be staged with a variety of lighting options available.

You can rest assured that sittings are always relaxed with regular breaks and plenty of tea and coffee! I’m known to be a chatterbox and love to hear the stories behind the person I’m painting. I’m also happy to explain the process that I work through as the painting develops.

When I need to concentrate in silence, you can enjoy these quiet times where you can simply sit, reflect and think or, if you prefer, listen to music. At the outset people sometimes think a 2 or 3-hour siting seems forever but most sitters are surprised by how quickly the time flies!

You are more than welcome to have a friend or relative join you in the studio to watch the portrait being painted and join in the conversation.

If you have a long distance to travel to the studio I can recommend local award-winning hotels and restaurants based along the picturesque River Wyre.

Step 3: Reviewing the Portrait

Finishing Touches

As the portrait reaches completion I will invite you to review the painting.

You are welcome to view the portrait back at my studio but I usually email over a digital photograph of the work and invite your feedback.

As you are involved throughout the creation of the portrait nasty surprises are avoided and if changes are needed then these are usually minimal.

When you are happy that the portrait is complete and it meets the client agreement which was determined at the briefing stage the portrait is set aside to dry and the next 25% instalment fee is due.

Varnishing

Depending on the type of portrait and finish, the painting may take 2-4 weeks to be touch try before a temporary varnish can be applied.

I usually apply a removable retouch varnish to the painting to help protect it during the curing stage. Most oil paintings take a minimum of 6 months to fully cure before a final varnish can be applied to protect the painting over the longer term.

Oiling out a portrait with medium

Step 4: Completion

Delivery and Unveiling

When the retouch varnish is dry I will arrange a convenient time with you for the portrait to be collected or delivered.

Most clients collect their paintings in person from my studio but I’m happy to stage a more formal unveiling of a portrait if desired. However, I can provide a quote for the work to be delivered by a suitable courier if you prefer.

Upon receipt of the painting the remaining 25% balance of the commission fee will be due.

Framing and Hanging

Throughout the portrait commission process I will be more than happy to offer you framing and hanging advice.

If you prefer, I can also oversee the framing of a portrait with one of my recommended framing partners.

Looking after your Portrait

After completion and delivery of the portrait I’m only a phone call away to answer any questions and give advice to help you look after your special piece for years to come.

Gary Armer with Young Girl and Portrait

Portrait Commission Price Guide

How much does a portrait painting cost?

The following prices give a guide for commissioning a traditional portrait in oils. Please note that the cost can be higher for portraits with exceptionally detailed features such as clothing, jewellery and backgrounds.

If required, framing, varnishing and any expenses such as travel and accommodation are charged in addition to these costs. Wherever possible I try to include delivery within the prices provided. The formats and sizes below are only a guide and I do paint other compositions.

For a more accurate idea of cost please get in touch to discuss your initial thoughts. For commissions that need to fit a particular budget (such as paintings as a gift) then I can help advise the best approach and composition.

Academic Portrait Price Guide

About the Artist

I am a contemporary realist painter of portraits, landscapes and still life who lives and works in rural Lancashire, North West England.

Recognised for my accurate representational painting style and ability to capture intricate fine detail, the majority of my works are realist fine art oil paintings on canvas created entirely from life or from a combination of studies and photographs taken during live sittings or situations.

One of my portraits, “Not a Penny More” was selected for the 21st National Open Art Exhibition in 2017 and displayed in London. The portrait was also voted into the top 10 of the MS Amlin World Art Vote and went on to be exhibited at the National Football Museum in Manchester as part of the Football Is Art exhibition in 2019.

As well as completing portrait commissions I also paint portraits of pets, houses, landscapes and still life paintings with a selection of recent works available to buy direct from my online shop.

Please bear in mind that I accept commissions alongside my other art projects and sometimes there may be a waiting list. Clients are served on a first come first served basis but I will always strive to meet any special requirements.

I consider Herbert James Gunn, John Singer Sargent, George Romney and Henry Raeburn as inspirational artists.

Gary Armer Realist Artist

Customer Testimonials

“I wanted a portrait that could do justice to the intricate detail and colours of a military uniform, also the pride and satisfaction of graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy.

The final result Gary presented, more than exceeded my expectations, it’s an incredibly detailed and beautifully created work of art, to say we are all delighted with the finished painting is an understatement.

Gary is amazingly talented, and the communication during the project was excellent. Thank you Gary.”

Mr John Scott

 “…I’m absolutely delighted with the interpretation and feeling you have created in minute detail in the painting… the painting is going to be a wonderful memory of my year in office but it is also something we will enjoy for a long time to come for the workmanship and likeness it represents.”

Mr Sam Rayner, High Sheriff of Cumbria

“Well what can I say? It’s amazing. I haven’t been able to stop looking at it. I look back at my time in the forces with great pride and I believe the portrait captures that feeling of pride perfectly.

It’s a work of art which will be treasured by my family and I hope will be around long after I’m not.”

Major Philip. E. Bradshaw T.D.

“Absolutely bowled over by the stunningly lifelike wedding portrait Gary painted of us –
a wonderful and lasting memento of our special day.

Gary was a real pleasure to deal with – very professional, talented and an all-round nice guy.
Cannot recommend him or his work highly enough!”

Mrs Gemma James

“I can’t believe it, I’m absolutely stunned by the painting. It’s so realistic! Gary has captured the likeness of Betty perfectly. We will cherish the portrait forever.”

Mrs Jane Clarke

Get in touch

If you would like to chat directly about commissioning me to paint a portrait then please don’t hesitate to give me a ring or drop me an email.

I normally have a waiting list for commissions but will always try to meet your deadline (such as a birthday) where possible. Oil paintings also need time to try so the sooner you get in touch the better!

In summary, I’m a great choice of portrait artist if you:

  • want a beautiful, realistic fine art portrait painted in oils
  • want a work of art painted to last which can be passed down through the family
  • have a budget of £2,000 upwards

Get in touch today:

07980 949 419
info@garyarmer.co.uk

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people commission a portrait painting?

Many people commission portraits as they simply would like a unique work of art for their home or collection. Portrait paintings can also be commissioned as a:

  • Birthday Present Idea (especially for landmarks like 40th, 50th and 60th birthdays)
  • Retirement Present Idea
  • Wedding Present Idea
  • Graduation Present Idea
  • Anniversary Present Idea
  • Posthumous Portrait to Celebrate the Life of a Loved One
What types of portrait commission does the artist undertake?

The artist is happy to consider a broad range of portrait commission types including:

  • Portraits of Children
  • Portraits of Adults
  • Portraits of Couples
  • Family Portrait Paintings
  • Group Portraits
  • Portraits of Business People
  • Club and Association Member Portraits
  • Portraits for Schools, Colleges and Universities
  • Military Portraits
  • Religious Portraits
  • High Sheriff Portraits
  • Wedding Portraits
  • Posthumous Portraits
What if I need the painting in time for a specific date such as a birthday or other special event?

Gary prides himself on his ability to meet the needs of his clients and will always go the extra mile to help meet any deadlines you have. However, creating a bespoke portrait does take time and if a deadline is particularly tight then Gary will advise if the timescale is realistic.

Please bear in mind that Gary accepts portrait commissions alongside his other art projects and sometimes there may be a waiting list. Clients are served on a first come first served basis but the artist will always strive to meet any special requirements.

Commissioned Portrait Letter for Surprise Gifts

Where a painting is needed by a particular date such as a birthday, anniversary or retirement the artist can provide a bespoke letter (very much like a voucher) explaining that a portrait has been commissioned for the person in question.

What is an academic portrait?

An academic portrait is a painting which is painted over numerous sittings using multiple layers of paint. The artist will typically complete a layer of the painting and allow it to dry before moving on to the next stage and painting over the top, often in glazes.

The underpainting of an academic portrait typically provides a framework for the latter stages with the outline, major shapes, shadow shapes, colours and tonal values established.

The following layers of paint will look to establish the likeness of the sitter and move toward refining colour and smaller details.

What is an alla prima portrait?

Alla prima is Italian for ‘at once’ as this type of painting is usually completed in a single sitting. This approach to painting is also often referred to as ‘wet-on-wet’ or ‘direct painting’.

Essentially alla prima portraits are painted with a much quicker, direct approach and with a looser finish.

What paint and surface is used for the paintings?

Gary works in quality artists’ oil paints on either a cotton or linen canvas or canvas board or panel and he can happily advise which surface would be best for your painting.

Currently the majority of the artist’s palette is made up of Winsor & Newton and Old Holland Artists’ oil paints.

How is the portrait painting created?

When painting from life the artist uses a combination of the sight-size technique and comparative measurement. Gary is more than happy to explain these techniques to the sitter during the course of a commission.

Where is the artist located?

The artist works from his private studio in the Lancashire countryside. He is based close to the market town of Poulton, in between Blackpool and Preston.

The artist welcomes clients to his studio by prior appointment and has painted for clients locally in Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire to name just a few locations.

Will the artist travel to complete a commission?

Yes, Gary can travel to your home or another suitable location such as your place of work to complete a portrait.

The artist has painted for clients in Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Hampshire and even Switzerland to name just a few locations.

How long does a portrait painting take?

The duration of a portrait painting is very much dependent on a number of factors including the size, composition, complexity of detail, approach (i.e. academic or alla prima) and availability of the sitter.

Oil paintings can typically take 2 months to dry sufficiently before being safely shipped.

Do you paint portraits from photographs?

Where possible the artist prefers to paint at least some of the portrait from life, aided by his own photographs taken at sittings.

However, the artist can work from supplied photographs when working from life isn’t possible such as posthumous portraits or paintings as a surprise gift. If you would like a quote for a painting based on your own photograph then please don’t hesitate to email it to the artist and he will be happy to advise on whether he can paint from it.

How are the portraits delivered?

Wherever possible the artist prefers to deliver a completed portrait in person. Alternatively, clients are welcome to collect works from his studio by prior arrangement.

When delivery in person or collection is not convenient, the artist will arrange for the painting to be carefully delivered by a specialist courier.

Do you paint posthumous portraits?

Yes, the artist can paint a posthumous portrait from a photograph or collection of photographic references.

Do you provide framing of the finished portraits?

I don’t currently frame any paintings myself but I can oversee the framing process for clients, working with one of my preferred local framing partners.

At any point during the commission process I can offer advice on how best to frame and hang your work in your home.

Do portrait paintings need any special aftercare?

Most portraits are provided with a retouching varnish applied which helps protect the oil painting. In time you may wish to replace this removable varnish layer with a final artists varnish which Gary can help you with.

Gary always provides advice on looking after your painting upon delivery and explains the dos and don’ts on where to hang the final piece in your home.

Who owns the copyright of a portrait painting?

As is the norm with any work of art, the copyright automatically remains with the creator.

If the commissioned portrait is to be reproduced in another format or used for commercial purposes then Gary is more than happy to discuss such usage at the briefing stage.

Are the portraits varnished?

Yes, portraits are normally delivered with a protective layer of artists’ retouching varnish applied.

How long do oil portraits take to dry?

An oil painting can typically take from 2 to 8 weeks to be ‘safely’ touch dry so a retouching varnish can be applied and the painting delivered to the client.

An oil painting will continue to fully dry (or cure) over time and this process can typically take over 6 months.

What are the payment terms for commissioning a portrait?

To secure a first sitting and begin the portrait the artist requires 50% of the total commission fee (including expenses) up front. 25% of the total fee is invoiced after the portrait has been reviewed and approved by the client with the remaining 25% then due upon delivery of the final portrait.

For larger commissions over £7,500 the artist is happy to break down the payment schedule into smaller percentages over the course of the commission.

Do you paint portraits of pets and other animals?

Yes, I am now offering alla prima portraits of cats and dogs. Please view my Pet Portait Commission page for more information.

What should I wear when sitting for a portrait?

Portraits work best when the sitter wears clothes which are true to their identity and that they feel comfortable in. It often helps to wear clothes that won’t date the painting.

Not ready to commission a portrait right now?

Subscribe to the artist’s newsletter

Subscribe to the artist’s newsletter for updates from his studio and all the latest news of his projects, new paintings, exhibitions and events.