Commissioning a portrait
I like to chat through all ideas when someone first contacts me regarding a possible commission. At this stage there is no commitment from the client and I invite them either to come to my studio, where they can view many examples of my work, or I can visit them, where the portrait might be painted. This first meeting with the sitter (and any other parties involved) is very important. Any questions they might have regarding the commission can be discussed and I can explain how I go about creating the portrait. We talk through all the possibilities: What style of portrait? What medium? How many sittings? Where? When and how I paint?
What style of portrait?
Deciding on the style involves considering the pose, the medium, the type of clothes and the background. Is the person going to be relaxed in a chair, or sitting upright? Are they going to be looking out at the viewer, or is it to be a three-quarters profile with their eyes looking into the distance? The style of clothes is an important aspect of the painting and makes a difference to the feel of the portrait. Some people decide to wear their favourite everyday clothes, whilst others decide on a more formal look.
Lighting is also important to think about. I prefer daylight, although if this is not possible, I am happy to paint in artificial light.
The background is very much part of the portrait. For some clients it’s important that I include a number of different elements – perhaps the landscape they grew up in, or their parents, children or pet. See examples: Patricia Scotland and Carol Vorderman. Alternatively, some people prefer to have the peacefulness of a plain background with calm colours, or maybe a vibrant one with strong colours and bold brushstrokes. See examples Emma and Fiona Phillips.
What medium and how many sittings?
The medium determines how long the portrait will take. I work in charcoal, pastel, pencil or oil. Drawings in the first three media take less time than an oil portrait. Typically, a charcoal, pastel or pencil drawing will take about three one-hour sittings, although if the subject is a young child, I can make do with two shorter sittings. A half-length oil portrait will take between four and six sittings of about two hours each. If the sitter has limited time, the number of sessions can be reduced, as I can take photographs to help me. If necessary, I can paint or draw completely from photos.
The sitter is usually most comfortable in familiar surroundings, such as their own home or at their workplace. If the sittings are to be held where they work, I’m not troubled by occasional interruptions and telephone calls, but I prefer the sessions to be one-to-one if possible.
If the sittings are to be held during the day, I like each sitting to be at the same time of day to avoid fluctuations of daylight. I am flexible about the spacing-out of the sittings; some people prefer to sit once a week but I am also happy to paint the portrait in two sessions over a couple of days.
How I paint?
I paint on linen, which is sized with traditional rabbit skin glue. I normally begin by using charcoal to sketch out the figure straight onto the canvas. When I’m happy with the layout, I continue with thin layers of paint, gradually building and moulding the image. I like to show the portrait to the sitter and any other interested parties after each sitting, and always welcome their comments on its progress. I find these discussions help shape the portrait. I take photos at different stages en route, and often the sitter is so intrigued that I’m asked to supply copies of these after the sittings have finished.
I adore portraiture and love painting and drawing a wide range of people – adults, teenagers and children of all ages. I am keen to chat through all the possibilities and ideas that people might have when they first contact me.
If you would like to talk to me about any portrait ideas you may have, please feel free to call me on 020 7924 4279.
Baroness Patricia Scotland QC in the process of being painted by Tess Barnes