button for home
button artist's statement
button other portraits
button contact
name, Merrily Johnstone

The emphasis of the first discussion, by phone or in person, is on the client’s vision for the portrait. There can be many variables to consider and if the client is not yet clear about preferences for all of these, it should not be cause for concern. The most important thing is to talk about as many thoughts and ideas as possible from the beginning of the process.

One practical consideration is the size of the wall where the painting will hang. This could possibly dictate the pose and format. Another related question is whether the décor of the room might better harmonize with a formal or informal setting for the portrait, as well as influence, to some extent, the choice of color palette.

Other variables to discuss include the number of subjects in the painting, the level of detail in the background, whether an indoor or outdoor setting is desired; the option to include pets or objects of special significance to the subject, certain decorative items or furniture, and so forth.

Clothing is an important consideration. Every effort is made to insure that the portrait will have timeless appeal and archival longevity that will be valued for generations. Therefore, give thought to choosing attire with classic design. Generally, garments made from solid color fabrics with interesting textures and dressmaker details are preferable to clothing with large areas of pattern. This is especially true when two or more figures are included. Accents of pattern with historic or ethnic precedent may be introduced in small areas such as scarves, lace collars, and embroidered/beaded details. Jewelry and other accessories can also be strategically placed to benefit the composition. Classic menswear fabrics often have interesting textures, such as a wool tweed or cotton seersucker jacket, a crisp cotton shirt, silk tie or cable knit sweater. For casual portraits the textures of denim, natural linen, or cotton would be appropriate.

Lighting is of utmost importance, and can change the mood of the portrait from bright and airy to deep and dramatic. The most desired lighting creates a timeless effect while describing all the forms in the painting with convincing weight and solidity. 

Once a general direction has been agreed upon and clothing is selected, a meeting of two to three hours duration is scheduled for photographic studies. This is an expedient way to explore a number of different options for poses, lighting, expression, and other details. These photographs are used as basic compositional “sketches” to help the artist and client come to a meeting of the minds. After a final pose is selected, the artist may find it necessary to take additional photos, such as close-ups of the hands in slightly different positions and variations in the hair, as well as any other details of the composition that may need to be referenced further as the painting progresses. Any additional photo sessions will be scheduled as needed.

The artist may find it necessary to draw a 2 to 3 hour charcoal head study from life, using the same pose and lighting as the selected photographic reference. A study may also be painted to ensure accurate color of skin tone, hair, and eyes.

After all questions have been addressed, and price adjustments (if any) have been discussed and agreed upon, the portrait will be completed in the studio.

In larger or more complex compositions there may still be some remaining questions regarding how best to resolve certain areas. The artist would communicate solutions to the client using additional small sketches.

When the portrait is at or near completion, the client may come to the studio for final approval. If out of town, the client will receive photographic image(s) of the finished work for approval.

If the client is within driving distance, the portrait will be delivered by the artist at no additional cost. Otherwise, shipping arrangements will be made. Costs for crating, shipping, and insurance will be discussed and agreed upon before contract is signed.



Unlike some artists, I find this type of commission to be challenging and quite rewarding. By the time I have completed the portrait, I feel as though I have known the subject personally.

 I am able to work from either black and white or color photographs. The more photos available, the better. For the main reference choose one favorite photo that has good detail and lighting. Look for additional photos that are from the same angle and similar light source in order to provide more information, such as preferred hairstyle, etc. If there are any movies or videos of the person, it is extremely helpful. On occasion, I have been furnished with the subject’s clothing, which I can use on a stand-in model to achieve a better pose, a more pleasing arrangement of folds in the fabric, and a more convincing sense of having been painted from life.

I will also need descriptions of size and body type, complexion, color of hair and eyes, ethnic or national origin, and as many personal anecdotes as you would like to share that would help reveal the inner character of your loved one or esteemed colleague. If you desire detailed background interest in the portrait, I may be able to add a landscape of significance to the subject, perhaps with the person’s house or office building tucked into the distance, or an interior setting. Feasibility of these ideas would be evaluated after the study of your photos. Such additions would be reflected in the final price.