Commissioning a Portrait by David

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First Sitting

I prefer to get to know the subject of a portrait through a series of conversations and sketches. Based on availability of time and the age of the sitter, this can vary from brief conversations on the phone to completed sketches in oil or charcoal. I am gathering information about the personality of my sitter that will be used in the completion of the final portrait. Small hand gestures, ways of sitting, mannerisms, etc—these will be important in distilling the fullness of a sitter’s likeness into a single image. If the subject is a child, I like for my clients to speak to the child’s personality from their perspective.

I will take several photographs that will be used as resource for the final portrait.

Subsequent Sittings

If time allows, I prefer to have additional sittings for more sketching and photographing. Some of this will depend on how long the sitter is available for each meeting or groups of sittings. Sittings are usually completed in 30 minute segments, totaling about two hours.

Final Portrait Begins

At a certain point, the sketching and sharing of thoughts will have run its course, and we will have enough information to begin the final portrait. I usually begin the portrait on my own in the studio, working out the basics of the composition and establishing the initial forms and gestures. If able, I like to have the sitter in at several points to paint from life.

I will take the portrait to a point of completion that communicates where the finished portrait will land, around 60-75%. This is a great place to stop, talk frames, and even show the portrait where it will be hung. We can also discuss with great clarity certain finer points of the composition and likeness.

Finishing the Portrait

The portrait is now painted to completion and framed. I like to have the sitter visit for final likeness attainment but this is not necessary if inconvenient.

The completed, framed portrait is delivered and hung. On occasion, I will complete preparatory sketches as finished works to be framed and delivered as well.


As for materials I use only the finest. My oils are made in America with the highest quality control and concern for tradition and conservation. They are built around walnut oil, which has been proven to retain integrity and clarity over time; other oils yellow and crack as they age. My canvases are tight weave Belgian linen. I finish all works with conservator’s grade varnish (100% UV protection) to protect the work from light and other contaminants.

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