Okay, as promised, this week I'm talking about commission portraits. I take for granted a lot of what I've learned about portraits, so if I skip over something really basic, will you guys stop me? Poke me in the comments.
In the next post on commissions I'll talk about the nuts and bolts of commission portraits, but first I want to talk about the mentality of portraits. Once upon a time, when I was a small Maggie, I didn't do portraits. I took on a few, agonized over them, and thought the end result was stiff and completely uninspiring. I felt like I was working twice as hard for the same amount of money. So I stopped doing them for a long time.
Does this describe you? If so, I'll tell you what I figured out (and this took me a long time to find out, so you better be grateful). My problems were:
- I wasn't good enough yet. I was struggling with getting the likeness of the subject and that was poisoning my whole view of them.
- I was using the client's photos instead of taking my own or coaching them on what I needed.
- I hadn't practiced enough changing my art from the references, so I was dependent on bad lighting, poor poses, and crummy backgrounds
- I wasn't thinking about making every portrait immediately identifiable as mine, in my signature style
Until I resolved all of these issues, there was no way I could pull off a good portrait. I still feel like keeping myself out of the portrait business until I was comfortable with it was a good choice. After all, these are pieces that will be hung on walls with your name on it, acting as giant business cards -- you want them to be as good as your non-commission pieces. And I regret the pieces I sent out before I decided I wasn't ready!
So before you take on a custom portrait, even if it's from just a friend as a favor, think long and hard before you say "yes." Because there is no such thing as a piece that doesn't matter, even if you don't sign it. Word of mouth is word of mouth -- if it's fugly beyond compare or doesn't look like the animal, that's tremendously bad advertising. What's that statistic that someone who likes a restaurant will tell two people on average and someone who has a bad experience at a restaurant will tell ten? Same deal.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard a client tell me that they've had a portrait done before and the portrait hadn't looked like their pet or child -- "but I didn't have the heart to tell the artist." Don't be that artist! Don't take on portraits until you feel you're ready.
Okay, and lest that sounds ominous, you'll know when you're ready. Because when you sit down to create a piece of art with a definite sense of likeness, you'll feel confident, happy, and ready to go, and the piece will turn out looking like the pieces you do for yourself. Not stiff and uncomfortable. You won't dread them -- you'll welcome them as a new challenge.
By the way, all the pieces here in this post are recent portraits I've done. I'm happy with all of them because they kept the likeness of the pet, captured way more personality than the photographs, and created pieces that I'm happy and proud to call part of my current body of work. I could've never done them two years ago!