Location, location, location - it does matter - what will your portrait say and where will it hang?
If it is important to you that the painter be hung in a certain location, whether it’s the Board Room of your business, a hallway in the Houses of Parliament, or over the mantel in your living room, location can affect the size of your painting, the media used to paint it and even the style best suited for it.
For example, a painting hung high up, or where it will be viewed from a distance, can be bolder and looser in its execution, as well as very much larger, than a painting to be hung in an intimate setting to be viewed close up. Say you were intending your portrait for a niche in your hallway at home, where the furthest away a viewer will stand is four feet, you may wish to hang a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full length portrait that needs greater distance to be appreciated.
If you wish to hang the painting in an area full of natural light you may wish to avoid a watercolor, as watercolors can be damaged by sunlight (they are perfectly fine hung out of direct light). Also, watercolors, like pastels, need to be framed under glass to protect them – ensure the glass you choose is of the highest quality to protect your painting. An oil or acrylic painting may be more appropriate in this instance.
When the location you intend for your portrait dictates the maximum size it can be, or if you have a minimum size in mind, you should discuss this with the painter you commission. Size will effect what can be included in your portrait and it may effect the style in which it might be best painted – a miniature on copper requires a very different technique to a mural sized piece on canvas!
It is a good idea when choosing a painter to see if they are experienced making pictures of the size you are considering. Someone who always paints life-sized may not be comfortable painting a picture in which the heads are effectively miniatures and vise-versa.
If you have high ceilings, or a space like a stairwell, where you intend to hang your portrait, it can be as large as you wish – and a larger format suits 3 /4 and full-length portraits.
Larger Than Life
Some artists paint head-and-shoulders pictures in which the head is much larger than life - this can be very dramatic, but can also be quite confrontational. This has become a popular device in some circles. The 8 foot high faces that make Chuck Close famous, for example, are photo-realistic and make a huge impact, but they are not necessarily comfortable to live with (nor were they intended to be). It is more usual to paint no larger than life size and more often, less.
Location may also help determine an appropriate style as the painting must be able to “live with” other artwork in the room. If the portrait will be surrounded by abstracts you may choose a different style of portrait than if it will be surrounded by fairly traditional family or corporate portraits that span centuries.
If you have a very large location available, such as a whole wall, your options open up considerably for group portraits. An option to be considered in this case is a “conversation piece” where Board Members converse around a table, a family has High Tea at their favorite restaurant in London or perhaps on a beach in New Hampshire. It is also ideal for historically based group portraits.