When painting a portrait, the best scenario for me is to work from one or more sittings and a collection of reference photographs, but for a variety of reasons my model may not be able to sit for a portrait. Therefore, I do paint many of my subjects entirely from photographs. The light and colors in a photograph are never exactly the same as they were in the living situation, however, so it is good to be able to do a color sketch from life at least.
I like to take my own photographs because I know what visual information I’m looking for. Existing photos are often unsuitable for portrait painting (especially if they cannot be enlarged), being too small, too unclear, lacking in composition or showing an incomplete figure, but I am glad to evaluate an existing photograph and say whether it is something I can paint from. For posthumous portraits or surprise gifts, it is often the only choice.
For portraits of multiple figures, the challenges of gesture, pose and composition are more complex. I like to paint the figures relating to one another or their surroundings in some natural way. Working from studio photographs is not ideal for an oil portrait because they have generally been taken with a flash, which eliminates the shadows needed for contouring.
The prices below are approximate, based on how long I think it will take to complete:
Single Portrait, Head and Shoulders, Black Background
Single Portrait, Three Quarters Torso with Hands, Black Background
(20×24) $600 – $700
Whole Figure, Black or Uncomplicated Background
(24×30) $700 – $800
Multiple Figure Portraits, add 75% of the price for a Single Portrait per figure
Add a Complex Background or Prop to any of the above, add additional $100 – $300
Large canvases are also more expensive (more paint, more time), but canvases smaller than 16×20, with multiple or whole figures, offer their own challenges. The smaller the face on a canvas, the more difficult it is to obtain a good likeness, so it is not necessarily easier or less time consuming to paint.
I like to have interesting backgrounds in my paintings, so I will not inflate a price unduly in order to add one. I just want to cover the cost of labor.