Oil portraits on canvas represent a significant investment. If done properly, they will last for centuries and be passed down through your family for generations upon generations. With all this at stake, the choice of portrait artist should not be taken lightly. There are a few key qualities to look for in a good portrait artist.
The Artist's Portrait Style
First and foremost, its important that you like the portrait artist's style. This means that the way he or she paints should be appealing to your individual taste. Obviously the likeness of the individual is hugely important, but also the way the artist paints cloth, environments, hair, hands, feet, etc will all impact the final result. By looking at a variety of aritsts in your area, you will see a large range of various levels of detail and quality. Make sure the artist you choose has a style that will match your home and family's taste.
Location of the Artist
Many artists can and do work from photos by mail and can conduct phone calls and online communication, but so much can be lost in translation. It is critical to work with an artist who can meet you in person, get to know you and the subject of the portrait personally when possible, and shoot his or her own reference photographs. This wholistic approach maximizes the artist's knowledge of the subject's personality, and ensures that this comes across though the final painting.
The Artist's Process
Because of the magnitude of the investment that a portrait can represent, it's important that you feel comfortable with every step of the process. The best artists will not only meet with you to plan the portrait and shoot reference photos, but will also follow up with sketches of various concepts for you to approve and select. It is the artist's job to produce the portrait you envision, and a good one will work directly with you every step of the way. A great portrait artist will also usually meet with you, the client, multiple times after starting the painting to ensure you are happy with the progress. Feedback on the likeness of the person is usually one of the more important aspects to discuss. Make sure you understand the artist's process up front, and are confident before choosing to move forward.
There's no doubt about it, experience matters. Has the artist you are considering recently started painting portraits professionally, or have they been an established portrait artist for decades? If you are looking for a long term investment in an oil portrait of a beloved family member, look at the artist's portfolio and track record. How many portraits have they painted? How happy were their clients? In addition to showing you a portfolio of examples, the artist should be able to provide references or client testimonials.