What is a Portrait?

The aim of portraiture is to draw forth the primary features and character of a person and represent their “likeness” in a painting, drawing, sculpture, or a photograph.

A portrait is more than just a picture of a person. A portrait tells a story about who a person is and where they have come from.

Having Your Portrait Painted

A portrait can be painted for any reason and any occasion. In the past, portraits were commissioned  only by the wealthy for special events such as weddings, birthdays, and official ceremonies. Today portraits are more relaxed, far more affordable, but still very original.

A portrait can be painted in any style to suit your taste, such as impressionist, traditional “old master”, or modern photo-journalistic. Traditional portraits are more formal and posed, producing an official record of a person. Contemporary portraits place people in everyday clothes in everyday situations.

As an artist, I aim to create an original composition and style to suit the personality of the person and the place, rather than just using a standard range of poses. Overall I am looking to create a painting that captures a true likeness and will appreciate with time.

When you commission a painting, you pay to have a portrait painted of yourself, your wife or husband, or your children. I will work with you to produce a portrait that will fit your budget and space constraints, with as minimal inconvenience to your time as possible.


A portrait is a reflection of your personality and your lifestyle. Your outfit must be complimentary and relevant. Depending on the composition of the painting, you may only need to consider your shirt’s neckline or you may have to co-ordinate an entire outfit.

We will discuss your possible clothing options at our initial meeting. Actively seek some honest opinions from your friends and family on what styles and colours will suit you best. If you have any doubts, it is best if you can bring several different outfits to your first actual sitting. With the use of photographs and sketches we will soon determine which clothing style will be the most suitable for your portrait.

Following are a few guidelines for dressing for your portrait:

  • Classic clothing will suit traditional conservative portraits that will not date.
  • Formal costumes and clothing can be very expensive. If you intend to wear your outfit for the portrait only, consider borrowing or hiring a dress or costume rather than outright purchase.
  • When your portrait is to be set in an outdoor location, I suggest you wear casual outfits with navy or more natural colours.
  • Avoid busy patterns and bright colours, as they can cause visual conflicts in the painting.
  • Choose clothing colours that will compliment your natural skin colouring. Lighter colours and backgrounds will suit fairer features, while darker features will be complemented by a deeper, darker colour scheme.
  • I believe that children should look like children in portraits, not small adults. There is nothing wrong with young children being barefoot, even if they are wearing formal clothing.
  • For young girls, smocked cotton dresses, printed or plain have been popular since the 1920s and continue to be so, but try to avoid very long dresses.
  • Boys are best portrayed in an open necked shirt under jumper with jeans or casual pants.
  • It is more flattering for adults to wear long sleeves.
  • For men, wear a plain jumper or suit with a shirt and tie.
  • For the family or group portrait, try to choose outfits that match the personality of each person, whilst achieving overall colour co-ordination and balance.

The Bridal Portrait

The bridal portrait captures the bride and groom during a very important time in their lives, at the eve of the wedding. A portrait should capture a bride’s radiance, the groom’s strength and the couple’s love for each other. The portrait can consist of individual portraits, paired portraits, or a combined portrait of the bride and groom.

I aim to complete most of the painting a few weeks before the wedding, leaving only the finishing touches to be completed close to the actual day. I can start painting the portrait with the bride-to-be posing in a similar dress, and wearing her hair in a similar way to that of the wedding day. When the bride-to-be can pose in her bridal gown, even if it’s only near complete, I will be able to finish the portrait for the wedding day.

For a combined portrait, the bride and groom can pose together in normal clothing and later pose separately in their wedding outfits. They would never have to actually see each other in their formal clothing prior to the wedding.

The Sitting

At the beginning of a session, I like to set aside a short time for you to relax and prepare for the actual pose. We will discuss exactly what is to be achieved during the sitting.

For the next two hours, I will paint intensively. As you will need to remain fairly still for this time, it is important that you are comfortable and refreshed. As such, short breaks will be provided during the session.

Overall, you should relax and “be yourself”. Conversation is encouraged during the sitting as my impressions of the way you look and talk, your character and mannerisms will all be reflected in your portrait.

The portrait will undergo a large amount of development from the initial sketches through to the finishing touches on the painting. While the painting is unfinished, I ask that it not be viewed by anyone other than the people directly involved with your portrait.

Scheduling a Time

At our initial meeting we will determine how many sessions will be required to complete your portrait. A complex group portrait will require more sitting time than will a more simple “head and hands” portrait.

Ideally schedule sitting times as close together as possible (no more than a week apart), so the painting doesn’t take too long to produce. Outside of these session times, I will work independently on your painting in areas such as background and clothing detail.

Sessions can be scheduled for mornings, afternoons or evenings at your convenience. Each session should last about 2 to 3 hours, with no more than 2 sessions per day. I encourage you to have a friend to accompany you if you feel uncomfortable attending a sitting alone.


A portrait sitting is generally held either in the artist’s studio or the sitter’s home. While people will often feel most relaxed in their own home surroundings, the studio does provide a creative environment with all the lighting and painting equipment that the artist will need. We will choose a setting which will suit you personality, and be the most convenient.

Unlike a photographic shoot, you won’t need to have your portrait painted “on location”. It can be difficult to paint in an exotic location, or the weather may not be right for an outdoor sitting. By using photographic reference I can merge your portrait with any real or imaginative setting that you could possibly desire.

In choosing a background setting for your portrait, you will be limited by the size and composition of the painting. Generally the larger the painting, the more complex a background can be rendered in your portrait. Smaller portraits are better suited by a simple, uncluttered background.

You can choose a more traditional setting such as your study or workshop at home, or a fountain or stairway in a garden or park. Consider locations and activities that are a part of your everyday life, such as swimming, dancing, studying, or playing sport. By adding smaller touches such as your favourite chair, picture, tools or jewellery, your portrait will become more interesting to all viewers.

Standard Painting Sizes

View details about standard portrait painting sizes here.