Blog / 2019 / Precious Portraits

January 16, 2019

For the fifth time in my 15 year career, I’m revising my portrait prices. On the last four occasions, the changes were fairly small, but, this time, I’m making commissioning a portrait much more expensive.

And that’s why I’m giving you a heads-up about it! You can hire me to paint a portrait at the current prices until February 1, 2019.

Why my fees are going up

Making custom art is difficult. For the first few years of my career, I didn’t understand just how hard it was because commissioned portrait work was all I did to make money.

Since 2012 though, I have been creating art for the open market and painting houses as well as dreams for people, and the juxtaposition makes it obvious. Commissioned portraiture is a special skill. Artists who paint portraits have to know how to navigate all kinds of big emotions that their clients are having.

When commissioning a portrait, people are sorting out how they feel about:
  1. the value of art
  2. Is art a necessity or a luxury? What is the correct amount of money to spend on art?

  3. the role of money in art
  4. Some people don’t like to think of art as something to be done for money. They’ll hire an artist, but they will not respect them.

  5. the role of money in their lives
  6. Is money purely utilitarian for the client? Or is it associated with power? Is it a bit of both?

  7. their aesthetic and what it reveals about them
  8. Some clients know what they like, and they are good at explaining their taste, but many are not.

  9. beauty
  10. There is only one thing you can say for certain about beauty: it’s completely subjective. Clients rarely understand why they find their loved ones beautiful, so it’s almost impossible for artists to capture the client’s feelings.

  11. the person being portrayed
  12. Relationships are complicated. Even if the client is commissioning a portrait of themselves, their reaction to the piece will be colored by the mess of feelings they have for the subject.

  13. the likeness
  14. Clients are going have definite opinions about whether or not the portrait looks right.

Of this list, 1 through 4 are things all artists who do custom work deal with, but 5 through 7 are the portrait-flavored icing on the custom art cake. They make portraiture that much yummier, but also that much more filling. For an artist to paint people, they need space—stomach space, brain space, all kinds of space! They need to be able to make room for the big emotional work they do, and proper compensation makes that possible.

painting of two lovely people
Gwenn Seemel
Bill and James
2015 and 2008
acrylic on canvas
each painting 22 x 22 inches
(You can watch the making of Bill’s portrait.)

This is one of my favorite commissioned pairs. Bill (shown left) first hired me to paint James (shown right). James had mentioned that he adored my work after seeing this show written up in the paper, so Bill commissioned me. James wanted a match for his portrait right away, but Bill resisted, only relenting years later when he was diagnosed with cancer. I was able to complete Bill’s portrait a few months before he passed away.

I love painting portraits. I love that I get invited into other people’s love stories, and I won’t ever stop trying to show the people I paint how wonderful they are. But I’m happy to say that I now recognize the value of my skills, and in two weeks’ time I’ll be charging accordingly.

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