What you need to know about commissions from

What is your style of painting?
I paint in a realist style using classical techniques. My style involves careful attention to detail, color temperature, and light sources. I’m also sometimes partial to chiaroscuro techniques, which involve strong contrasts between light and dark and a strong sense of light direction. My animal portraits tend to be the most detailed and my landscapes tend to be more impressionistic. I layer my paintings, starting with an underpainting.

What materials do you use?
I use artist quality oil pigments for my paints. I make sure that all the pigments I use are lightfast. I also use traditional supports such as birch panels and masonite with traditional gesso as a ground. I work with hog bristle and red sable brushes. My mediums of choice are gum turpentine, dammar varnish, and linseed oil. My early layers use a mixture of equal parts turps, varnish, and linseed oil. The top layers use a mixture of equal parts turps and linseed oil.
Do you use toxic materials?
Not really. Most strongly toxic pigments are no longer used or available. I do use cadmium yellows, oranges, and reds and cobalt blues and violets. Cadmium and cobalt are moderately toxic and should not be ingested or inhaled. Lead and chromium pigments generally are not available any longer or must be special ordered. I choose not to use them. Turpentine is toxic but has long evaporated by the time the painting is completed. In any case, by the time you receive the painting, all pigments will be fully dried and sealed behind a varnish. Just don’t try to eat it!
Do you work from life or from photographs?
Both - as the situation demands. I prefer to work from life as much as possible. This means I want the actual subject in front of me as I paint. Generally, this assures that the most accurate representation of the subject will be achieved. Frequently, this is not possible because the subject is not available or cannot pose, such as in the case of animals. It is also possible that I will need to re-composite a subject, which may involve composing the painting on my computer from photographs. For landscapes, I almost always work from life, painting plein air. Still lifes are always from life. Wildlife and pet portraits are almost always from photographs or possibly composited onto a background that is painted from life. Human portraits are from either life or photographs as the situation demands. As a photographer, I have knowledge and experience of photography that allows me to interpret the photo more accurately than most people. Because of this, I can produce a high-quality and “honest”-looking painting from a photograph that will be virtually indistinguishable from a painting painted from life. Many painters paint exclusively from photographs and it shows.
How do I get started?
We will have to spend some time talking about what it is you want me to paint. I’m willing to spend as much time as possible to make sure you get exactly what you want, and that may involve a lot of discussion. Generally, I work with landscapes, still lifes, wildlife and pet portraits and occasionally people portraits. In every case, except for wildlife and animal portraits, I prefer to work from life. If this is not possible, then I will work from photographs. If it is a portrait, and you are available to sit for me, we will make arrangements for this as appropriate. Call me to discuss all the details.
How much do you charge for a painting?
This depends on size, complexity, and the scope of the painting, i.e. background details, multiple figures, etc. However, I mostly keep a price range based on size since I tend to paint the same way for all my paintings. Please check my website – - for a general idea of the price range. Travel, if necessary, requires an additional fee. Delivery charges are additional also. All paintings come with a frame included. Let me know if you have specific framing needs. I require a 50% down payment on all commissions.
What is the process once you get started?
Firstly, having gotten the details and down payment of the commission sorted out, I will begin with a preliminary drawing and underpainting. When the underpainting is completed, I will show it to you to make sure we are on the right track. Then, I will begin the overpainting process. If you are sitting for a portrait, then we may need a long session for the drawing and underpainting, and then multiple shorter sittings for the overpainting. It’s kind of like being fitted for custom clothes. First, the measurements are taken, then we do multiple fittings until it’s perfect. For anything painted from photographs, the photographs are generally all I will need from you.
What is an ‘underpainting’?
An underpainting is an initial base layer of an oil painting which establishes the composition and values (lights and darks) of the painting. Theoretically, once an underpainting is completed, all the necessary information for completing the painting, other than color, will already be there. The rest is all color and refinement. Typically, an underpainting is done in earth tones (umber, sienna, and/or ochre) or grisaille (grey tones). The ‘overpainting’ is the subsequent layers which involve adding the color, working progressively from darks to lights. Even though the underpainting will not look very much like the final work, the quality of an underpainting can affect the overall tonality, light, and reflectivity (glow) of a finished painting to a very significant degree.
How long will it take to complete the painting?
Again this all depends on size, scope of subject, and level of detail, but expect at least a month of work time. If there are others commissions ahead of you, this time may lengthen. Also, see the next question below...

When will I receive my painting after completion?
That depends. When an oil painting is painted with the traditional methods I use, it then requires an additional 6 months minimum to fully dry and cure. After that, it will need to be varnished for protection. In the early days after completion, the layers of the painting are exceptionally soft and easily scratched. The painting must be carefully protected until varnishing is completed. The choices are as follows:

  1. I hold the painting until varnishing can be completed. This requires a six month wait before delivery. This is the recommended option.

  2. I spray the painting with a temporary retouch varnish, deliver the painting to you, and you are very, very careful with it for six months. Then, I take the painting back, varnish it for you and return it to you. This can be awkward if you and I do not live in the same area.

  3. I spray the painting with a temporary retouch varnish, deliver the painting to you, and you are very, very careful with it for six months. Then, you take the painting to a local artist that is familiar with traditional oil painting techniques and he or she varnishes it for you.

I won't mention option four which involves no varnish and a very damaged painting in a very short time. The varnish is essential for protection from UV light, for durability, and it makes the painting virtually scratch-proof. Varnishing before the 6 month curing time will result in a cracked painting as the layers dry unevenly over the years to come. The retouch varnish is no substitute for a proper varnishing but will provide some protection over the short term. So, I know you'll be chomping at the bit to see your masterpiece but patience is truly a virtue in this situation.


I want you to paint a photograph I have of a landscape in Colorado, a photograph of my dog Mippy, or a photograph of my great Auntie Melba. Can you do that?
Certainly. Bear in mind, however, that the quality of a photograph can greatly affect my ability to render a terrific, high-quality painting for you. If I can see the details, I can paint them. Otherwise, all bets are off, and the highlights in your Auntie Melba's frosted hair may not be present in the finished work. One solution is that if you’re local, I can take the photograph myself, such as in the case of a pet. This is preferable. Otherwise, try to follow these guidelines when submitting photographs to me for a commission:

  • The main subject should be in focus as sharply as possible. If I can see the details, I can paint them.

  • Try to avoid harsh lighting, i.e. strong contrasts between light and dark. Neutral, bland lighting is actually better because it allows me to interpret the light in any way I want. Also, strong light tends to blast out highlight details and make shadows so dark that the detail cannot be seen.

  • Try to use natural light in open shade. If possible, avoid incandescent lighting (most indoor lighting) as it tends to make photos look too yellow and skews the colors.

  • Provide several photographs of the subject, preferably from multiple angles. I will use one photograph to work from primarily, the angle and pose we think is best, but having other angles helps me gain an understanding of the geometry of the subject. I can thus paint a more accurate painting.

  • Bear in mind also that it is far better that the photographs be your own. Painting a painting from a copyrighted photographic source can be tricky. It all depends on how the painting is used of course. It may stay in your home and never go anywhere. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, send only your own photographs or get permission from someone you know to use their photographs.

--Michael Phillips, Visual Artist