From time to time, artists like to offer custom work. Some artists are super comfortable with this, and some are not. For the most part, I LOVE being able to make a wonderful memory for someone, or to be the gift someone gives to someone else. I love when people give me the creative freedom to do what I think will look best. But there is also an amount of anxiety about the possibility of disappointing the client.
Not so funny (but true) story: when I was about 14, I worked in a t-shirt shop after school. One day, a man came in with a tiny, stamp-sized photo of his toddler, and asked (since he had seen my airbrushed portraits) if I’d be willing to do a canvas portrait for him. I did the best I could with this tiny tiny photo, and when he came to pick it up, I felt I had done as good a job as I could do with what I had been given, because DANG I could barely see what was going on. (Also, I was only 14.) He took one look at the portrait and said, “It looks like the photo, but it doesn’t look like my son,” and refused to pay me for the work. I have been slightly intimidated ever since.
Portrait of the amazing portrait artist Maria Bjornbom Oberg (Bokkei). Talk about intimidating!
But since faces are my very favorite thing to paint, we’ll fast forward a million years, to a few months ago…where, after a little encouragement, I offered some portrait work up on Instagram, and was very surprised to have gotten an enormous amount of positive response from clients. People trusted in my creative freedom, and I really enjoyed every one that I worked on! I liked it so much, I was thinking I would offer custom portraits again….at least for a little while.
So as a courtesy, I thought I’d write down a few things that make custom work easier across the board, for both the artist (at least, in my experience) and the customer:
- Send great reference photos. If you want a portrait of your daughter, send a few closeup pictures of her. Don’t send a tiny shot of her in a large group of people–I can’t see her! Send your favorite photos of just her (if you can). Some editing can be done, of course (I have “removed” braces, changed hair color, added and removed items, added pets and favorite things, and changed the setting), but I can’t SEE the person’s face in a large group of people. Keep in mind that I don’t KNOW this person, so the subtle things about their face are unfamiliar to me. The more photos you send of this person, the better. I need clear shots (great, natural lighting is best) and I need a variety to choose from. I always do my best to work from a favorite photo, but it might not work as a reference without the “backup” of a few more photos. It sounds silly, but a variety of photos actually help me “feel” the personality of the person more.
- Mention a little a bit about the subject. If it’s a daughter (or your dog, for that matter)—what does she like to do? Does she have a favorite toy, or place to play? This helps me come up with things that help make the portrait more personal and more fun.
- Expect to pay half up front to hold your spot. For me, portraits range anywhere from roughly $150-500, depending on what a client wants, and I accept payment either in half or full via paypal. This holds a spot in line, so that when I finish one, I can start right on the next without having to worry about collecting initial payments, or trying to figure out who’s serious or not. The portrait is mailed out when I finish the work, the client is happy with the piece, and the final payment is paid. Yay!
- By all means, please share ideas with the artist (I LOVE that!), but artists usually work best when you leave a bit of wiggle room to be creative. I’m sure it’s probably intimidating to pay an artist and not be sure what EXACTLY you’re getting, but funny things happen when you get TOO involved. I love when someone can steer me to an idea of what they “see” when they imagine what the final piece will look like, but also allow me the freedom to do what I feel will look best. If I have a completely strange idea I’m not sure the client will jive with, I always ask them first.
- Mention anything that might make it more special. I nearly always post progress shots on instagram (unless I’m asked not to), but I always send a rough shot of the under-sketch to see what I’ve got laid out before I start painting. This is the time to ask for final changes or add things, or take things away. Keep in mind, it ALWAYS looks wonky at this stage. The sketch for me is like “notes” on what I plan to do with the color when I paint it, so people have to sort of use their “magic eyes,” or just trust in the final piece.
- It helps to know if there’s a timeline to consider. Otherwise, I go down the list in order of who came first. I’m pretty darn fast, but it takes some time to get to through the list if there are people ahead, so it may take a few months.
One of the first custom portraits I did this past year of the lovely Ms Kitty Noir, and all her lovely cats.
- I don’t offer collaborative pieces with our daughter. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and people have asked, but I’m sorry I won’t. I do have our collaborations up as prints on Society6, but I don’t allow custom ones. She enjoys it for fun, but as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I can’t take something she loves and make her do it a certain specific way at age 6. Putting limitations and restrictions on something someone loves–that’s a sure way to get someone to stop doing something for good!
- Please don’t mind me posting my “extra” drawings! If someone is anxiously awaiting their turn, is following me on Instagram, and sees me post a Pulp Fiction doodle, It’s just that I took the night off to clear my head. I promise you, this will only make the portraits better, because it ensures I will not burn out. I have a day job, and then my late afternoons and evenings are spent with our daughter, and if I don’t get anytime daytime paint time, this leaves me with only a couple of precious hours at night after the kid is in bed to paint before I pass out in exhaustion at the end of the day. I love painting and drawing, and I really enjoy portrait work, but sometimes, I need to draw something just for me, for fun. Like having a drink or taking a bubble bath after a long day, it sort of cleanses the palate for me. I often feel guilty for it, when I know I have portraits to do, but honestly, it helps me feel refreshed for the next portrait.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for something strange! I enjoy strange and different!
- If you have a particular style you like best that I’ve done, please let me know! I had a client who enjoyed the “Stuff Myla Says” series I work on from time to time:
…And we did a similar piece of her young daughter, and a sweet little saying she had said:
So there you go. A bit of a list, but I think it’s a list of things people wonder about when they ask for a custom portrait, and things that could make the process go a little more smoothly. Many times, people I work with have never had a custom portrait made before, and don’t know where to even begin. I’m not sure how it works for other artists, but I hope this helps give an idea of how it sort of works with me.
I have painted memorial pieces for loved ones that have passed away, as well as peoples’ beloved pets. I have painted children and babies, and all kids of animals. I feel lucky that I get to create something wonderful that people can enjoy in their home for many years.
So there it is: for a time, I’ll be offering custom portraits! So if you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you a price breakdown and other information. Here’s hoping to hear from you!