Portrait Commission: the planning stage

18 May 2012

After the whirlwind of the London show subsided, I started my work in earnest on my new portrait commission of a lovely lady called Katie, of Miss Katie Cupcake in Edinburgh.
My brief was to portray her as a demure and vintage style damsel, featuring her favourite things, such as a fabulous black jet necklace, a fur stole and of course, one of my granny’s teacups that she fell in love with.

Study of Katie with teacup, charcoal on paper

The first stage in a portrait commission is to meet the sitter and take photographs for the poses, but also at least one drawing from life. This sketch only takes about 20 minutes, but gives me a chance to study the sitter’s face a little closer and understand how that person looks in 3 dimensions. This experience really helps when being left with the flat reference photos in the studio. We had a lot of fun with the photos, but I never post these up, as I am a terrible photographer!

Study of Katie in sepia, done from a live sitting.

The next stage is to select the best poses and make some drawn studies from these, with a view to making a rough plan of the overall composition of the final painting, and to help the client choose how they want to look.

Study of Katie with necklace, pencil on paper

Study of Katie with necklace, pencil on paper

Study of Katie with teacup, charcoal on paper

Study of Katie with teacup, charcoal on paper

I also collect together reference material for background textures and colour reference, which in Katie’s case, is faded pink roses, old love letters and vintage style photographs. Not all of this will appear in the final painting, but I like to gather a feel for the direction the work will take.

A photo of the lovely things in Katie’s shop, Miss Katie cupcake

 Once the sitter has chosen their favourite pose, I make a small oil study to see how colours will roughly work, and if the pose will be the most suitable.

Study of Katie, Oil on canvas, 18 x 24cm

Once this has been OK’d by the sitter, I start the fun of drawing up the composition on the full sized canvas, ready to paint. Watch this space, where I will post up the painting stage by stage.

1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Jen Kilgour

    29 June 2012

    This has been really helpful, thanks so much for posting. I saw your website through McArtsy’s Facebook post and love your work, especially your burlesque ladies. I paint figurative subjects and though I haven’t had many commissions I’m never really sure how to go about it, the process. This makes so much sense. It seems daft for me not to have realised it but as commissions are so tricky, especially when it’s by the sitter, you’ve got to get it right, business-wise and artistically. Thanks again for sharing.



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