Thoughts on Portrait Requests

First and foremost, happy new year to all! It feels like we’re stuck in a bizarre time loop in some respects. I definitely remember thinking last year at this time, “hey maybe this pandemic business will finally settle down next year.” Well, I have the same wish now – hopefully 2022 will finally see COVID become background noise instead of in the middle of everything. 2021 has had its bright sides though; we finally found a place to live after searching for like seven months. We’ve gotten pretty well adjusted to being back in our hometown after being away for a decade, so that’s good too. I’ve got the usual suspects of new year’s resolutions ready to deploy as well – exercise more, eat less ice cream, get rolling on various art projects. We’ll see how that all goes in 2022.

Also, I completely neglected to mention the outcome of the last custom portrait giveaway! The contest ended at the beginning of December, with 1,100 entry actions from 250 users. I used the gleam widget to randomly select a winner – congratulations to Jane! We’ve been in touch, she is currently pondering her options regarding what she wants for her portrait. I have to space these out a bit, but I’ll certainly host another giveaway in a couple of months.

An example of self-portrait improvement, which I discussed in more detail in a previous post. In my opinion, the older sketches definitely weren’t commission-worthy, but perhaps the newer ones are closer to that level.

Now, on to the topic at hand – portrait requests. They are a tricky thing for me, an area in which I think I’m somewhat neurotic. I am still fairly surprised and very humbled that anyone would want a portrait from me. Maybe it’s a confidence issue, but my drawings just don’t knock my own socks off. I’ve written about artistic envy before, and much of that still rings true for me today. Regardless though, I’ve seen an uptick over the past year or two in requests and people interested in portraits. I do think I have improved in that time frame, particularly compared to early in my exploration of color – that really stands out in my comparison of self-portraits. But it’s still often very difficult for me to assess the quality of my own drawings.

I’m even going to provide an example here in this post. I’ve had some requests from co-workers for portraits this year; these started out as somewhat of a joke, but eventually they became real portrait requests. I’ve decided not to share portraits of people related to work as a matter of policy; mostly to keep that realm separate from my hobby. Basically, “keep work at work.” But I will share a request here that someone made for a beach scene, since it doesn’t depict a person. They imagined something with a bike, bike helmets (representing parents and a baby), a peaceful beach, and a squirrel eating blueberries – quite specific right? Well, I completed the drawing and was quite dissatisfied with it, almost to the point where I was ready to trash it and tell them I couldn’t make it happen. I sent a photo…and they actually liked it! This is what I mean by it being difficult for me to assess my own art. I know objectively, as a baseline, I am better at drawing people than objects. But beyond that, I have no clue what’s “good” and what isn’t. What do people like? I have no clue.

One of the many absurdities of all this is, I’ve built out the infrastructure on this website to support taking money for art projects. Yet, I am still uncomfortable with the idea of actually putting a dollar value on these drawings; I haven’t yet accepted a paid commission, even though they have been offered. Like I said, that’s quite a neurotic approach to portrait requests. I have not yet had someone react negatively to a portrait that I’ve given as a gift (to my knowledge), but I’ll admit it’s something on my mind every time I give one. I imagine this is not the case for most artists; I’m definitely curious if anyone else out there shares these struggles.

So, here is the drawing request I referenced earlier; the beach, bikes, bench, and squirrel. As I said, it’s hard for me to be objective sometimes, but I’ll try to talk through my thoughts on this one. I’ve described before how difficult I find it to “draw from imagination.” I use quotes here because, although it’s not a real scene, I did have to reference various smaller images; for example, from memory, I could never recreate the features of a squirrel. But I did cobble this together, and that aspect of it seemed to turn out fine. The scene composition seems solid enough; although the balance of objects seems to draw my eye to the left, which maybe isn’t artistically ideal.

Now, on the objects and background. The dirt, sand, water, and sky are just not very good to my eye. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of practice and repetition. I have drawn so many people at this point, I feel like I’ve figured out how to make skin (and hair to a lesser extent) look right. But I don’t have good technique for drawing water. In fact, I probably basically try to apply the same techniques I do for skin! There are similar issues for the objects in this drawing; the metal, plastic, and wood materials look okay, but not particularly realistic.

Another argument could be that I also don’t have the patience to create good scenery. My single person portraits typically take no more than an hour and a half of actual pencil-to-paper work (planning/organizational time not included). Drawings with several people, or with added scenery may take two or three hours. I think relatively speaking, that’s not a big show of endurance. And for the longer ones, like the recent Pandorum drawing, I was kind of ready to move on to something else by the end. I’m not sure if that’s some sort of attention span issue or what, but I only have a finite amount of interest to give to a project, and I’m not sure how to extent the timer.

This time around, I’ve only made one progression video – it’s of the “one minute time lapse” variety. I figured watching a longer version of my fumbling around a landscape might not be particularly interesting to anyone. But then again, I think I’ve pretty well established that I don’t know what people like and don’t like! I’m still trying to guess my way around which configurations of time lapse videos are best for consumption. The one minute versions are nice because they’re easy to consume. But the longer, slower ones are also good because you can get a better feel for the “how” of it; after all, that’s how I first learned to blend colored pencils (link).

Depending on how fast I write, I should have a few things on the way over the next month or so. I’ve got about five finished portraits I want to share, including a couple from the Witcher Netflix series, a couple from the show Stargate SG-1, and a wedding gift. Ideally, I could have a flurry of posts in January to rival the busiest months on Amdall Gallery back in 2017-2018. But realistically? We’ll have to see if I can actually get there!

Wishing everyone out there a great 2022, thanks for reading!


  • I’ve been fighting with my style of printmaking versus other printmakers of a similar standard to myself for quite a while. Their work seems more interesting, some aspects more refined and subject matter that can’t help to attract. I discussed my lack of confidence with my husband as he’s a good sounding board for me to analyse my achievements.
    Several thoughts came from this but one thing stood out: when we work on a piece it becomes familiar to us, like a piece of our old furniture – comfortable, safe, known and reliable. But when we initially see another person’s art if seems fresh, spontaneous, different, alluring and that’s because we haven’t had the experience of living with it over time while it develops, as we have with our own pieces. So is it realistic to compare our (familiar) work with others and find ourselves wanting?
    I think my prints are quite good, relatively speaking, and I’m trying to stop looking at other work and thinking “what a great idea, I wish I worked like that” because I’ve realised that my way IS my way and the prints that appear from my hands are going to be exactly that – what my hands can produce and from the place my mind is at at the time.
    I’ve had printmakers compliment me on finished prints and ask my process. WHAT? Really? As I speak with them, Jon, I can see they have exactly the same insecurities as I do. They enjoy my work because it’s new and fresh to them, the same reason I like theirs.
    I think you’re doing brilliantly and if you’re working on subject matters that you like and you’re realistic enough to see where you can improve, or change something next time, then that’s a winner.
    Oh, super-cute squirrel by the way and I love the bike.

    • Wow, thank you Claire for this thoughtful comment – this is the type of insight into other artists’ thoughts on the matter I was hoping to hear! My work life is all about analysis and data, so sadly that creative side of my brain doesn’t get to play as much as it wants to. Most of my connectivity to other people also interested in art comes from reading blogs, so sometimes I can’t tell for sure if I’ve got “normal” art thoughts/insecurities churning. Haha I really should get out more…er, as pandemics allow anyway.

      It is reassuring to hear you’ve had some similar thoughts, but also kind of surprising. I don’t know a ton about printmaking, but I’ve followed your blog for quite a while now, and you seem to be at the advanced levels of the craft. For example, I had to browse a bit to find them again, but the Trees Book Project and “In Isolation” – being able to make something like these, it is no surprise at all to me that other printmakers would be complimentary

      You know, it’s funny you mention your husband as a sounding board. My wife has also been great in the same way – and she thinks I’m out of my mind the way I pick apart these drawings. But I think you are really onto something about familiarity. You spend a good amount of time making something, it does become common to you in a way that fresh creations from someone else aren’t.

      I appreciate your insight on this! Happy new year to you!

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