Thursday, January 15, 2009


#1 in a series of free good advice for artists of all stripes.

NEVER, EVER take a portrait commission where the only reference is a group polaroid from a bowling team in 1970. Just don't. Everyone will be unhappy.

Underlying principle: just because you can recognize your own features in a blurry b/w snapshot where the head is 1/4" tall doesn't mean there's enough information to actually create a work of art from that. Professional portrait artists take 100-300 pictures of a perfectly living, appropriately dressed, well-lit person to make a single portrait.

Solutions: a) pass it by. b) get a lot more photos. c) get a stand in and do the 100-300 picture thing. Preference: a.

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  1. I wish someone had told me this one a few years ago - portrait from a 1960's colour wedding photo (faded colour photo!) - NEVER again!

  2. LOL! Right on!

    I once got a call from someone who wanted a portrait of their dog. They wanted me to use a picture on a coffee mug of another dog that they said looked exactly like their dog. Can you believe it?

  3. LOL Lacey that is too funny. We all realize the only reason I could make this list is because I have taken these kinds of jobs right? Girl's gotta make a living! But the stress has prematurely aged me.

    Anita I hear you!

  4. I found your blog just now (through Carol Marine) and wish I'd read this most excellent advice a week ago when I took a doggie portrait commission BEFORE I had received the reference photos. The ONLY shot available (this is a posthumous portrait...the portrait subject is in Dog Heaven) is from 10 feet away taken with an old low-res cell phone cam. I can tell it is a dog, sure, but must rely on the owner's description of the Shih Tzu/Boston Terrier mix. Seriously. Arrrggghh!
    Anyway, your blog is wonderful -- thank you -- and I hope to learn other valuable things that will help me preserve what little is left of my sanity.

  5. I also just found your blog through Carol Marine's sight. I LOVE this advice you give! I don't know HOW many portraits I have done from highly inferior photographs!!! Each time I say to myself "never again"! Thanks for the encouragement to set my boundaries as a professional artist and not feel I have to accept all my commissions on the customers' terms....or even accept them at all!