So you’ve decided to commission a painting for someone special but you’re not sure where to begin.
When I’m asked to paint a commissioned watercolor portrait for a client I typically don’t personally know the subject I’ll be painting. When I was recently asked by my father’s girlfriend, Sondra, to paint a watercolor of my father for her I was really excited. I thought this request would be super simple. First, I love him and second, I’ve known him all my life. But as I sat down to begin the project I quickly realized this would entail a completely different process.
Analysis and enhancement
My general process when painting for a client is to download the image I’ll be working from and discuss any changes they would like as well as any special requests. In most cases I will need to make some minor adjustments so that it reads better as a watercolor. This can mean eliminating objects that are insignificant or distracting. It can also mean lightening areas that are dark or changing transition style sunglasses that are dark outdoors into their lighter version so the eyes show. This was the case in the photo of my father. If someone has blinked in the photo of choice I will request the client also send me a photo of the person with their eyes open.
What I wasn’t anticipating was the unlimited possibilities for this simple painting. Knowing my subject personally I had a lifetime of experiences that I was trying to wrap into one painting. Such as, I know he favors the color red so his jacket was modified to reflect this. It also had the added benefit of making him stand out.
I quickly realized there would need to be more paintings of him down the road. One with him on his Harley Davidson, another with him in his Sheriff’s Reserve Uniform, or with him busily working on one of his many woodworking or painting projects. So rather than trying to wrap his entire lifetime into one painting I decided to capture his essence at the moment this photo was taken. He is in the yard where he now spends much of his time carefully grooming the land, enjoying the company of the dogs and relaxing on cool mornings.
Capturing someone’s essence in a watercolor painting.
Prior to painting full time I worked as a makeup / hair artist for nearly 30 years. I often had long conversations with different people on a daily basis. This honed my skill for reading others; understanding their essence and enhancing that through the art of makeup and now through watercolor paintings. I largely attribute my success as a makeup artist to this skill. So when I started painting watercolor portraits I had to learn to read someone through photos and capture their essence without the advantage of a conversation.
Providing some words to describe your subject will help me better understand their personality. These key words can be included in the message box when you upload your photos, directly by email, or through a phone conversation.
Tools to help you choose the right picture for your commissioned painting.
In the end, I am really happy with the painting. It captured not only his kind face and gentle heart but also the assertive man he can be when necessary. When choosing a picture of a loved one you would like to have as a painting I recommend this process in case you’re struggling with it.
1. Decide the size of the final artwork and location where the painting will be displayed. This may impact the color choices in the painting. Keep in mind we can make these adjustments in the painting so don’t dismiss a favorite because the shirt color will clash with the sofa.
2. Gather all the possible candidates either by grouping them in a pile or creating a folder on your smart device.
3. Narrow them down to your two favorites.
4. If you can’t decide between your two favorites ask my opinion. I won’t make the final decision for you but can guide you as to which one will make a better watercolor portrait painting. It may include elements from both photos.
This painting is an investment but with proper care your watercolor portrait will be enjoyed for many generations. That special person will know you care enough about them to have a hand-crafted watercolor painting created for them. It will be my pleasure to have that honor!