Jewelette McDaniel always felt guilty about not sending photos often enough to her mother-in-law. So last Christmas, she commissioned an artist to paint a family portrait featuring her in-laws and their immediate family: son, daughter, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.
McDaniel felt a painting had more permanence than a photo. The piece, created by Oxnard, Calif., artist Nomi Wagner, hangs in her in-laws’ living room. “It’s something special that (they) can always treasure and that can be shared with future generations,” said McDaniel, of Harrisburg, N.C.
While the idea of commissioning an original work of art might “sound so fancy,” McDaniel said the process was simple.
“I found the artist online,” she said. “All I did was send her a couple of photos.”
The internet makes it easy than ever to commission artwork. Would-be buyers find artists who can create custom pieces based on photos and videos. The artists can showcase a family’s interests by portraying them at the beach, say, or bicycling or fishing. Portrait subjects can also have themselves depicted as anime or cartoon characters, peg dolls, Lego figurines and more.
Commissioning portraits was for centuries the purview of the wealthy. It remains popular because people are curious to see themselves portrayed through an artist’s eyes, said Tyler Cann, curator of contemporary art at the Columbus Museum of Art.
“There’s an aspirational element,” he said. “People want to see themselves reflected on their walls in the manner of a king and his castle.”
A simple drawing from a photo could cost as little as $20, while a life-size oil painting that includes sitting for the artist might start at around $7,500.
The fact that phone cameras are everywhere to capture important moments makes the idea of a painted portrait even more alluring, said Edward Jonas, chairman of the board for the Portrait Society of America.
“You would think it would be dying out but it’s not,” he said. “People are looking for something that’s got a little more personality, that’s not so instantaneous and that will have some longevity.”