I am often asked what is the process behind commissioning a family portrait, so I thought I would use this blog platform to step out the process behind the portrait creation.
This photo was taken for a photo shoot, I actually never paint outside!
There are around 7 different steps to the process and all-in-all it takes around a month to complete the process, give or take a week or so.
Step 1: Information from client
One of the things I am most often asked is: ‘do you copy from a photograph?”. The short answer is, “no”. Whilst I use photos as a reference point, the portrait concept is all based off the information the client sends to me.
I ask a few pretty simple basic questions like eye colour and then some other juicier questions like describing what the person is like – their favourite things, the quirky things they say or do or something that is unique to them.
I also have a look through the person’s Instagram page (if they have one – it’s not a deal breaker if they don’t).
I don’t think this process is too onerous on the client and it is all conducted over email. It is really a few simple questions and the detail it is answered in is completely up to the individual. Some people respond with a lot of detail, others are more succinct. I can work with whatever info is given to me and if required I go back to the client for further detail.
Step 2: Soaking in
After receiving the information and reading thoroughly I let it marinade for a while before re-writing it in my sketch book. I write down each family members’ name and a summary of them then I re-read and look for common themes that tie them together. It might be a love for the beach, a Friday night pizza tradition or even a special holiday destination. I want to create something that represents them as a unit, but also as individuals.
Me re-writing notes from clients (using my fav reusable pen from Kikki K) and beginning to formulate ideas
Then I STOP. Sounds strange right? Well, I find at this point it pays to take myself away from the paper and stop thinking about it. It’s funny when you distract yourself how the best ideas appear! I find going for a walk, taking a shower or even just getting busy in the garden helps clear my mind and shows me the direction I need to take with the portrait.
At my favourite place to indulge in nature, Mt Lofty.
Step 3: Sketch
Once I feel the concept is clear in my head I take pencil to my sketch pad and start drawing out the concept. My trusty old eraser comes in very handy at this stage!
I usually do a pre-sketch before the sketch I send to the client. This pre-sketch is a really rough outline of the composition and placement to make sure it is balanced.
I usually sketch on dining table or the kitchen bench where the light is good and I can get snacks easily ;-)
Once this is done, I get busy with the detailed sketch. This is done on A3 paper so I can’t fit as much detail as the final product, but it is pretty close to it.
As you can see, the sketch is done in pencil and pen, in an A3 sketchbook
I usually allow at least a day to complete the sketch (this isn’t counting the thinking time beforehand!). I put a lot of time and energy into this part of the process as I feel it helps the rest of the portrait creation process run a lot more smoothly. I liken it to one of my favorite sayings, ‘start how you mean to end’.
Step 4: Approval/changes
Once the sketch is complete, I take a photo and email it to my client for their approval or changes. I urge my clients to be VERY honest with me at this point (I don’t take feedback to heart – I would much rather my client be happy with the finished product than them being too polite to be honest!).
Step 5: Time to PLAY!
Now is the time to transfer all that thinking and sketching onto the paper. The paper I use is very thick paper (636gsm if that means anything to you). I use a hot press grade of paper, which means it is smooth. The reason I use such heavyweight paper is because I apply a lot of watery mediums to it like ink and water and because the paper is so heavy it allows it to absorb without warping the paper (or me having to pre-stretch the paper, can’t be bothered with that!).
I don’t use a grid or any similar process to transfer the sketch onto the paper (although it would be a lot easier in some ways!) as sometimes I need to alter things slightly to fit the new dimensions. I like working this way as it allows me to go with the flow of the process, rather than trying to make it fit into a rigid way of doing things.
The privileges of working for yourself, at home - WINE!!!!
It takes a while to get the pencil sketch onto the paper, I usually allow at least another day for this part.
Then it’s all the fun bit – doing line work for the hair and ‘colouring’ in as I call it! Lots of ink, gouache and soft pastel come along to play during this part!!
The beginning 'awkward' stages of a portrait (and my feet - love these Birkenstocks by the way)
Step 5: Reveal to client
Ok, this is the most anxiety inducing part in the process – will they like it, and hopefully LOVE it!? I take a few pics of the finished portrait and email to my customer whilst nervously biting my fingernails waiting for their response. Best I take myself away for a walk without my phone at this point.
A finished portrait I did for Cam and Jules from the reality show, Married At First Sight.
After it is approved, I then sign it....
I often forget this part, which is strange because it is should be one of the most satisfying parts of the process!
Step 6: Delivery
Once the final concept is approved I arrange framing from my framer, Michael if required and then deliver to my customer.
If they are local to me sometimes we can arrange an in-person delivery (the best!), otherwise I head to see my lovely courier Simone and she ships my portraits off to anywhere they need to go.
This one went to the Gold Coast to the lovely Tatum
Step 7: Relax!
Once I’ve posted the portrait to Insta and know it’s arrived safely with it’s rightful owner, I take a big breath out and relax!
If you are interested in commissioning your own family portrait, or even if you have any other questions on the process please send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Would LOVE to hear from you x