Whether you’re trying to decide what colors to mix on your palette, debating over what your next painting subject will be, or what brushes to use for your next masterpiece, having the option to choose is always more inspiring than being stuck with only one solution for a desired outcome. Because of this, I prefer to offer clients a choice when it comes to commissioned portrait paintings by presenting two or more small, preliminary studies (usually 10″ x 8″) to a client. This gives them an opportunity to take part in the painting process by encouraging input and feedback, choosing between different poses and compositions, and also helps to better present the overall mood and feeling of the intended portrait. It also allows me to explore new ideas and different approaches to interpreting the person that I’m painting. For example, if a client is not sure of whether or not they would like more of a formal pose or an informal pose, an indoor or an outdoor setting, or a 3/4 pose or full figure pose, I will often paint one of each in the form of a preliminary study. This process allows me to not only work out problems in composition, value, pose, etc. on a small scale, but also gives the client the clearest idea of what I had in mind when seen in paint. I’ve learned over the years that any problems that I run into on the preliminary study will also be present when painting the final portrait, only on a larger scale. Because of this, it helps to have a game plan mapped out beforehand in order to save time and frustration later when painting the larger, more finished portrait. In many ways, the study acts as a blueprint to follow when beginning the final painting. In addition to achieving more of a likeness, subtle adjustments in value, color and composition can then be made with confidence in order to produce the best painting possible.
Here’s an example of a final portrait, along with the three preliminary studies that I presented to a client. After deciding which study they liked for the final portrait, decisions to make small adjustments in composition (more space above the head) and value relationships (a slightly darker value in the background behind the head on the viewer’s left hand side) were made. The same painting approach that was taken during the preliminary study stage is also applied to the final portrait. The only difference is that the final portrait is carried further in refinement and finish, as well as likeness.
Here’s a close up of the final portrait, along with the preliminary study of the same pose for comparison.
Preliminary study, 10″ x 8″, Oil on Linen
Final portrait, 24″ x 20″, Oil on Linen
Here’s an example of painting two studies in different outfits, allowing the client to choose which one they would prefer, along with the final portrait for comparison.
Final portrait, 30″ x 24″, Oil on Linen
So, the choice is yours when trying to decide whether you would prefer to sketch, paint or sculpt preliminary ideas for your next project. By doing so, not only will you give your client the opportunity to visualize your ideas in a tangible way, but will also provide a creative avenue for yourself by exploring further possibilities along the way.