The Portrait Process
There are many questions you may have when ready to commission your portrait: What medium? What size? Do works on paper last as long as oils? … and more. On this page, we address important considerations and demystify the portrait process.
About Fees & Procedure
Frequently Asked Questions
HOW MUCH DOES A PORTRAIT COST?
The short answer is that you can get a fine portrait sketch for as little as $50/head if longevity is not a concern. Works which are archival can be had for as little as $100-$150 per figure from some of our artists.
The FULL answer is that there are too many variables to make a blanket-quote on commissions more complex than that. Without knowing exactly what a client wants, we can’t know what that might cost. This isn’t a dodge, it’s the simple truth.
It’s like asking WHAT DOES A HOUSE COST? Building a 900 sq. ft. vacation cabin with linoleum floors costs considerably less than a 9000 sq. ft. mansion with marble floors. Is the plan from a free site online, or from an experienced architect? Are the cabinets ready-to-assemble from Lowes or custom-built by a woodworking firm?
Pricing is the same for portraiture. You are looking for a painter (laborer) to build your portrait. These are the variables we consider in our initial phone consultation:
What photo reference will we use? – a precious, faded, fuzzy old photo or studio photography shot specifically for the portrait?
How many figures? – One or five?
How much of the figure(s) do you want shown? -- Head and Shoulders or full figure?
What medium do you prefer? -- Pencil, charcoal, pastel, mixed media, watercolor, acrylic, or OIL?
What level of rendering is sufficient? – Loose sketch style or tight, classical realism?
How complicated is the background? – Color only (studio photo style), or lace curtains + paisley upholstery + Victorian furniture?
How big should the painting be? – 11x14 or 36x48?
What skill level is the artist? – Emerging (student/new) or Investment Artist?
How long are you willing to wait? – 2 months or 2 years?
--- These are the options we must consider before arriving at a price.
If you have $50-150, you can purchase a portrait. Satisfying portrait paintings don’t have to cost a fortune. It could be an archival, simple sketch of 1-3 figures, Head and Shoulders composition, pencil, loose sketch style, no background, will fit an 11x14 – 16x20 frame, and will be rendered by an emerging artist (occasionally a career artist) who will finish it in 2-6 months.
If we upgrade any of those variables, the price will rise accordingly, but you can choose how-high and what-for.
In our initial consultation, we first must establish size, medium, style, and composition issues. The next variable affecting price is the artist chosen. As in any other field, professional experience (demonstrated in the portfolio) determines the price an artist can command. Since we represent many artists, choosing one who fits within your boundaries will be easy.
For those on a budget, we suggest some of our students, former students, and/or other new artists who can work for much less than those more established. Many of these emerging artists offer work priced at bargain rates which will rise as their portfolios fill.
Most of our mid-level portraitists are career professionals with years of experience, and their price sheets reflect their value in today's portrait market. Some of these painters are well on their way to becoming contemporary masters.
For those who wish to invest, our top portraitists command the highest prices. They are widely acknowledged as the best in their league with portfolios full of prestigious commissions. Their work is likely to appreciate in value like that of earlier masters such as Gilbert Stuart or John Singer Sargent.
It is a lot to consider.
No need to worry. After our initial consultation, you will have plenty of information to help you select appropriate variables and the best artist for your investment. We regularly service clients with portraits costing as little as $150 and those who want substantial art costing upwards of $15,000. Most clients want something in-between.
You want a portrait, and we want to sell you one. We want you to be happy with it. It’s that easy.
More than one figure in portrait
For most portraitists, additional figures are extra, as detailed in their Fees schedules. Typically, additional figures are priced at much less than the first figure.
Portraits from live sittings
This option is offered by some of our artists and in most cases (but not always) incurs extra cost.
Amount of deposit required
One third to one half deposit is typically required to reserve calendar time for the completion of a portrait. Deposits cover the artist's initial consultation time, pay for materials to start the portrait, and otherwise fund the start of the painting. Deposits are typically non-refundable.
When is deposit due?
The deposit is usually placed when appropriate reference photography is submitted to the artist or at the beginning of the process if painting is to be rendered from live sittings. A commission agreement contract is drawn up at time of deposit detailing the specifics of the portrait project. Time of deposit effects client placement on artist’s waiting list, -- portraits are completed in order of deposit. As is typical for professional portrait commissions, deposits are non-refundable.
Sketch approval before starting
A portrait "Sketch" is usually submitted by the artist for approval before the painting is started so that the client knows exactly what to expect in terms of composition, color, and overall look. Not all artists provide this service and it is not available for budget projects.
As an additional service and for client convenience, we provide conservation, museum-quality framing to insure maximum longevity of the work.
'Cheapest' is not always a 'Bargain'
It is important to protect your art investment by choosing a professional portraitist so that your painting will last. Even a budget painting of $300 can last for many generations if constructed and rendered properly. Artists who produce cheap works must use cheap materials and often are unaware of archival method.
It is not unusual for a poorly constructed painting to begin to crack, peel, fade, or otherwise deteriorate within 40-60 years. For the short term, studio photography would be a better choice.
Choosing a professional artist is the best way to protect your investment. We will find one who can meet your vision so that your initial vision can become a family heirloom.
You can get a portrait for $150 (or even less if you are not wanting archival)… depending on the artist you choose. All our Emerging Artists offer portraits at great bargains, and even some of our Career Artists can do limited styles for that price… especially if they are wanting to fill their calendars between heavier commissions. When you see an artist you like, we will sent that artist's specific price sheet on request. Many artist's prices rise as their portfolios fill, so we are not able to post prices for any one artist that will remain reliably constant. All our artists will be glad to quote you a portrait price at any time.
Other Points of Procedure
As close to life-size as possible, as is standard with traditional, classical portraiture. If size is an issue, smaller portraiture is an option.
We will need to check with the chosen artist to determine his/her waiting list. Each artist has a different calendar determined by order of client deposit. Most professionals are booked for at least a year, and a 2+ yr. wait is not uncommon for a popular artist. On occasion, we can find an artist who can complete a portrait within a short time. For all portraitists, placing deposit determines approximate finish date by securing a place on the schedule.
While live sittings are an option, most clients are too busy and prefer to have their portraits done from photography. While it may be possible to work from an existing photo or candid shot, that decision will be up to your artist.
We highly recommend setting up a professional photography session for this important project. Some professional artists prefer to shoot their own photography and may take 200-300+ shots for portraits larger than Head & Shoulders. In this case, 10-20 of the best photos are chosen to make an optimum composition by working from parts of each.
On occasion, your artist may approve candid photography provided by the client if the resolution, composition, and general appeal are worthy of the client's investment and the artist's time.
Pricing varies according to the artist (skill level & demand), medium, figure composition, complexity of the composition, and number of figures in the portrait… among other things. An Oil painting takes much longer than a Pastel, for example. A head and shoulders portrait can be finished much sooner than a full-length portrait showing hands and feet.
We will work to a budget that is comfortable for you and get you the most bang for your buck.
These are the variables we will consider in our initial, free, phone consultation:
What photo reference will we use? If you have your own photo, is it clear? Will it make a good painting?
How many figures? Each figure is charged as a portrait subject because each figure must be rendered to look exactly like a specific person (not just any human being of a certain gender). However, nearly all portraitists offer discounts for additional figures in a portrait commission rendered at the classical level. It is an industry standard to charge 75% for the second figure, and 50% for the third and all additional figures.
How much of the figure(s) do you want to show? Composition choice ranges from Head and Shoulders (no hands) to full figure (showing feet). The more of the body is shown, the more rendering labor is involved for the artist (equalling more cost for you).
What medium do you prefer? -- Pencil, charcoal, pastel, mixed media, watercolor, acrylic, or Oil? A one-color pencil sketch can be done relatively quickly. Oils are rendered in slow-drying layers that can take many months to complete. Some of these media are rendered on a paper surface and must be framed under mats and glass, while other media can be painted on canvas and do not need protection. Choice of medium will affect the overall look of the work.
What level of rendering is sufficient? – Do you like a loose sketch style? Or is tight, classical realism what you love best? Sketches can be absolutely lovely from a skilled artist, taking a fraction of the time required for a fully classical, traditionally realistic portrait painting. Perhaps you will want something in-between? Your budget will determine how much labor the portrait will receive, and also, the quality of that labor.
How complicated is the background? – Color only (studio photo style), with no detail, adds no cost to the portrait. A plain background can actually accentuate the subject. High detail, on the other hand (such as lace curtains + paisley upholstery + Victorian furniture) is labor-intensive. A complex background can take even longer to render than the figure, and adds considerable expense to the commission. Most clients choose something in between, though many choose to focus on the subject by leaving background detail out altogether. Both can be equally good choices. Choosing background detail level is simply a matter of taste (and sometimes budget).
How big should the painting be? – We encourage our clients to choose two or three potential spots to hang their finished portrait. Those places will determine maximum/minimum sizes to think about. We want the portrait to look nice in its spot – not too big and not too small…. JUST RIGHT. This choice will drive the final size of the portrait painting, affecting the price. It’s pretty easy to understand that it takes more time and materials to paint a large portrait vs. a small one, but sometimes smaller is better than bigger. We have sold many portrait commissions in which size was a critical issue that we successfully addressed.
What skill level is the artist? – Emerging artists must sell their work at low rates in order to fill their portfolios. While their work quality might be inconsistent and somewhat unpredictable, it can also be a great bargain. Even Rembrandt was an emerging artist early in his career. Professional artists can demonstrate a more reliable style and quality because they paint for a living and are experienced. You will easily be able to see from their full portfolios what their work usually looks like. Professionals charge more, however, as they must do in order to keep their studio lights on. They are self-employed laborers just like plumbers or electricians, and charge equivalent wages. Their rates are determined by the market, as well … what people are willing to pay for their work… and THAT is determined by how good they are.
How long are you willing to wait? Unless a portrait painter has no clients and no job, he cannot produce a portrait in a few weeks. Emerging artists often have day jobs because they do not have enough patrons to work at art full time. In that situation, they can only work on your portrait during their spare time. Professional painters must maintain a workflow and usually have a constant stream of commissions. It is usual to wait a minimum of 6 mos. – 1 yr. for a good career artist, since your portrait must be completed in order of client deposit. If a popular artist has several commissions ahead of yours and if any of them are large complex works, you will have to wait a year or more before he can complete your portrait. While this variable will not affect the final cost of the commission, it will likely influence your choice of an artist. Some people are in a hurry for their portraits, but most prefer to wait for their favorite painter.
Framing is an additional cost which will vary according to the frame components chosen by the client. For example, a less expensive mass-market frame for a 20x24 painting will typically cost about $150-$450 (frame only). A genuine gold-leaf, hand-crafted frame of the same size will cost from $900 - $1800+.
In addition to the frame itself, other frame component choices must be made by the client -- works on paper require more choices than Oil portraits because for conservation framing, they must have 100% rag (cotton) materials and special UV filtered glass to protect the portrait. We will provide a frame quote detailing these choices. If possible and reasonable, we prefer to provide all framing for work by the artists we represent in order to insure portrait longevity for our artists and clients.
An improperly framed work will deteriorate within a generation. We provide museum-quality framing at competitive (and often lower) prices with an offer to match lower costs from any other framer.
All travel, lodging, meals, and shipping/delivery costs associated with the completion of a portrait usually incur additional cost, though that can vary from artist to artist.
What size will the
How long does it take?
Does the Artist paint from live sittings or a photograph?
will it cost?
Is framing included?
What other costs are involved?
Wild Wonderful Appalachian Portrait Painters (WWAPP) is the first and only portrait agency based in West Virginia. We showcase WV professional artists as well as award-winning talent all over the US. WWA Portrait Painters range in skill and price from student to contemporary master. Portraits can be commissioned through WWAPP in all media.
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