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Commissioning a Portrait: Then and Now

Commissioning a Portrait: Then and Now

Stages of an artistic commission and how it they have changed

 It’s easy to look at all the great pieces of work in the Fabulous Noble gallery and appreciate the time and skill that our talented artists must have put into them. But many people may wonder how they might go from seeing work on the Fabulous Noble site to seeing their own face immortalised in a piece of art. Would you have to sit for the artist? How does it work?

 For many of us, the first and possibly only experience we’ve had with having our portrait drawn was being forced to ‘volunteer’ to be the model in art class at school. What followed was usually an uncomfortable mix of embarrassment and trying not to fall asleep.

 Luckily for us, sitting for the artist is no longer essential if you would like to have a beautiful piece of art created for you. Technology continues to move in leaps and bounds, as does the range of available techniques and the artistic process.

 But before we talk about what the stages of a commission are like today, we should talk about what they were like before. And more importantly, what arduous steps you won’t have to go through.

 Without photography, the only way for an artist to observe the subject of their work of art is to draw from life. Of course, when your subject is a person, this means them having to actually be front of the artist for long periods of time.

 With the prevalence of technology that makes the running of our day to day lives so smoothe  nowadays, it’s easy to forget what it must have been like for artists hundreds of years ago.

 There were many ways that artists of the past worked around the lack of tools we take for granted today.

 How each artist worked varied. Some preferred doing one long session, while others preferred to do multiple sittings or to even just take down a series of roughs to work from later. This could be in the form of sketches, or preliminary outlines worked directly onto the canvas in pencil, charcoal, or thin oil.

 Because of the large amount of time and involvement that working directly from life entails, many of the great portrait artists would even spread the workload out among assistants. It was common practice for the master painter to work on the head and hands, while backgrounds and clothing would be taken care of by their apprentices.

 There were some artists that specialised in specific elements outside of the main areas of face and hands. Joseph Van Aken for example, was particularly skilled in painting fabrics, so often was hired by many leading artists as costume painter for their large-scale works.

 Everyone had their own way of delegating the work and finding the most efficient way to paint their subjects’ likenesses. Some artists are said to have taken the process to the extreme. Cézanne frequently scheduled over 100 sittings, while Goya preferred to work over one extremely long day.

 Without the technological benefits we have today to make the artist’s (and subject’s) life a lot easier, it is estimated that the typical portrait in the 18th century would take approximately a year to be completed.

 When we think about how the process of commissioning a portrait is different today, the most obvious answer is that having to sit in front of the artist is no longer a necessity. Not only do cameras now exist but they are affordable and pretty much everywhere and built into almost everything.

 There are other ways that technology has changed the way artists work, however. You couldn’t imagine a specialist being called in just to draw the clothes and backgrounds today. It would also be hard to imagine anyone being happy with having to wait a whole year for the finished product.

 The efficiency and speed that modern cameras and computers give us today means that artists can take care of everything themselves. And with everything moving forward in a project so easily, everything becomes more affordable.

 It used to be that portraits were only hung in lofty corridors and the salons of the wealthy. But art is no longer an exclusive club, and this is what is at the heart of the Fabulous Noble ethos.

 Fabulous Noble artists are at the top of their fields within the art and design industry, regularly working for top international companies. But the great thing about what we do is that we are able to bring these top quality illustrators, artists, and designers to the general public.

 Luckily for us, commissioning a portrait these days couldn’t be easier, particularly with the Fabulous Noble website streamlining the entire process. There’s no need for lengthy sittings in front of the artist, it’s as easy as emailing your photo. And with the way that most artists work digitally, making the odd tweak to the image along the way can be done with the click of a button.

 It’s amazing to think that all these developments are still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Compared to how long we have been painting each other’s portraits, photography has barely just arrived, not to mention computer technology. And things keep improving, getting faster, and becoming more efficient.

 The act of commissioning a portrait used to be a drawn out, painstaking process. It often involved many people, and many more hours. But as fast the as the newest smartphone or latest tablet is released, it gets that bit easier to have cutting edge artists create your portrait. Commissioning a work of art couldn’t be easier right now, so we hope that soon everyone will have their portrait on their walls.