The portrait process

sketch portrait painting artist elizabeth r whelanThe portrait process typically begins with a phone call or email, during which subject matter, size, fees, and schedule are discussed.

You can email Elizabeth at, or phone her at 508.560.0083.

Elizabeth then makes arrangements to meet with the subject in person if possible, followed by a photo session and often some sketching in oil or graphite/conte crayon. This meeting usually takes a few hours and is important to the success of the final painting.

When Elizabeth is back in her studio, she selects a number of the sketches and photographic references that she believes will combine to create the best composition, and paints a color study. The color study is a small, rough sketch in oil paint that shows the pose, lighting, and other features that may be important to the final painting.  This color study is sent to the client. Changes and adjustments are made at this time, and upon sign-off of the color study the portrait is taken to completion, using the sketches and reference material gathered at the sitting. If necessary, a final sitting is arrcolor study portrait painting artist elizabeth r whelananged.

Please note that Elizabeth Whelan is happy to paint the sitter entirely from life, and encourages the portrait subject to consider this approach. However she has found that modern life does not often allow for a sitter to be available for such a schedule, and likewise, some types of portrait do not lend themselves to this approach. She has had excellent success with working from her reference material and spending the time getting to know her portrait subject is vital to her process.
young man business corporate portrait painting artist elizabeth r whelan

Upon viewing of the final painting, client satisfaction is paramount, and when the painting is complete Elizabeth Whelan can deliver the portrait depending on the destination or ship it via an insured carrier.

Completion of the portrait can vary from two to six months. Elizabeth Whelan prefers to use her own photographic reference, however exceptions can be made; for example, if the commission is for a posthumous portrait or the sitter is unavailable for a particular reason, or if professional photography is available. Before agreeing to working from client photos, Elizabeth would like to see the reference from which she will be working, as that will be key to achieving a high-quality finished work. Thank you for your understanding on this point.


studio easel elizabeth whelan artistPortrait fees vary depending on the size of the canvas, the complexity of the background, and number of people in the painting. Elizabeth is happy to chat with you about your concept for the portrait and you can rely on her experience and expertise to inform your decisions.

Portrait fees start at $3500, and below are some sample sizes and fees. Other sizes are also available.

Head and upper body
16 x 20"   $3,500.00          20 x 24"   $5,750.00

Half figure with hands
20 x 24"   $7,000.00          24 x 30"   $9,250.00

3/4 figure standing or sitting
24 x 30"   $10,000.00       30 x 40"   $15,000.00

Full figure
36 x 48"   $20,000.00      40 x 60"   $35,000.00

Elizabeth can provide a better estimate once she knows more about your project. If you have size or budget parameters please do let Elizabeth know, and she will help you explore appropriate options.

Additional figures in the painting will typically increase the fee by 50% for the first additional person, and 25% for each person thereafter. Elizabeth can help you decide on the best canvas size for your project if you would like the portrait to be of a couple or a group.

Pets may be included in the portrait, and can be a lovely addition to the scene!

An up-front deposit of 50% is required before the portrait sitting, and the remainder is due upon approval of the finished work. Elizabeth will provide you with in-process photos of the portrait as she works. You are also free to stop by her studio and see the work in progress.

Elizabeth looks forward to discussing your portrait concept and bringing it to life for you. You can email her at, or phone her at 508.560.0083.


Significant travel to your location, lodging, shipping, and framing the painting, are generally not included in the portrait fee.

However, Elizabeth's travel to sittings on the island of Martha's Vineyard or a reasonable travel distance from the island is included, as is delivery of the completed portrait in person to a Martha's Vineyard--or nearby--location.

Elizabeth will want to make the process as reasonable as possible for you, so let's have a chat and see what will work best for your painting.

 Any location can be a workable portrait location. A portrait can be of a person relaxing in their favorite summer spot, or shown in their professional surroundings.

Whether indoors or outdoors, formal or casual, the best portraits combine elements that tell the viewer something special about the portrait subject.

Elizabeth usually travels to your location for the initial sitting, sketching and photography session. From this she will obtain the information she needs to proceed with the portrait.

Travel to any location on Martha's Vineyard (and reasonable travel to areas within driving distance from the island) is included. For all other locations, travel costs will be extra.

Often clothing style is dictated to some degree by the type of portrait : business or corporate, formal or relaxed, indoors or outdoors. It's best to have a few outfits on hand to try on during the first sitting as one may work better in a certain setting or light than another. A good rule of thumb is to feel as comfortable as possible in your clothing, so that you can feel relaxed during the sittings.

As most of the attention will be around your face, think of the neckline and jewelry for women, tie or collar style for men. Avoid trendy clothing unless it suits the type of portrait being painted. Likewise it's preferable to have no--or minimal--makeup to avoid distorting skin tones.

An advantage to a painted portrait is that unlike photography, the goal is to achieve an excellent likeness but not necessarily reproduce every detail! So minor issues such as clothing wrinkled from travel are not a worry.

The length of time it takes to paint a portrait can vary greatly even between two portraits of similar size, composition and background. The simple answer is that it takes many hours of sketching, painting, analyzing, and more painting, to keep the portrait moving towards completion and that for each portrait the time spent at each stage can be wildly different.

Elizabeth Whelan has found that instead of counting hours she simply starts the process and aims for a level of excellence and completion that she will recognize when she sees it, and at that point the painting is finished.

Although it is possible to work diligently towards, for example, an unveiling on a particular date, unlike her illustration work it is not possible to cut corners and work in a different style in order to make a very short deadline. For this reason she, like the majority of portrait artists, gives a wide window of 2 to 6 months to complete a painting based on the size and complexity of the portrait and other commissions scheduled.

An oil painting of any sort needs to dry for a considerable time after it is complete and before the final layer of varnish is applied. The time depends on the thickness of the paint applied and the types of mediums used, however a 3 to 6 month period can be expected.

Depending on the needs of the client, Elizabeth Whelan can apply a thin layer of matte damar varnish at the completion of the painting in order to deliver the portrait in a timely manner, and at a time 6 months or so later either she, or a local framer, can apply the final layer of varnish after the painting is completely dry.

To make gift giving easy, Elizabeth Whelan offers a portrait gift certificate, amount TBD depending on the type and size of the painting.

As Elizabeth schedules a limited number of sittings a year, this gift certificate guarantees your reservation, and the amount is then applied towards the portrait fee.

It's the perfect answer if you would like to give a portrait as a gift without having to let the recipient know your plans in advance.

As with a regular portrait commission, a 50% up-front deposit is requested, and a contract is initiated with the general information needed to start the process.

Then Elizabeth Whelan will mail you an 8.5" x 11" certificate which you can present to the recipient and a sitting will be scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time and place.

Please note that travel, lodging, shipping, and framing are generally not included in the portrait fee.

Travel to sittings on Martha's Vineyard is free, as is the delivery of the finished portrait.