Oil Portraiture Commission Procedure

Woman's Custom Portrait by Marvin Mattelson
3/4 Seated - 32 x 30" - Detailed Background & Clothing

A successful portrait painting is the result of proper planning.

In order to insure the ultimate success of his paintings, portrait artist Marvin Mattelson makes sure that he has all the information necessary to enable himself to paint the very finest work of art he is capable of producing. Then, and only then, he can be fully focused on the task at hand, the capturing of his sitter's true essence on canvas.

Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

- Benjamin Franklin

Marvin's goal is for every detail to be carefully worked out before he ever picks up his brush. A hit-or-miss approach can only result in a chancy outcome. Every detail, every brush stroke is considered. Nothing is left to chance or "Happy Accidents". Marvin isn't willing to roll the dice...are you? As his former client, Velcro Industries CEO Will DeHollander, noted when viewing Marvin's set-up, "It's all in the prep!"

Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

- Benjamin Franklin

A portrait painting can be painted directly from live sittings, from photo reference, or a combination of the two. Since Marvin typically spends hundreds of hours on a portrait, his clients generally tend to opt for the latter. The bottom line is that the success of a portrait is based on the vision, the understanding and the skill of the painter. It's not about merely copying what he sees, regardless of whether he works directly from his subject or from photos. Bringing a painting to life involves infinite manipulation of all the elements, if the goal is to create a three-dimensional life-like illusion upon a flat canvas surface. Marvin has extensive experience painting from life and has the uncanny ability to create a vivid impression of reality with his brush.

Portrait Color Study by Marvin Mattelson
Compositional Color Study - 7 3/4 x 7"

Prior to painting the portrait, Marvin's first step is to meet the subject of the painting. It gives him the opportunity to get to know and familiarize himself with both his sitter's personality and natural gestures, so that the final painting doesn't look out of character or stiff and contrived. This may take place over an informal meal or in a comfortable setting. It's also very helpful, at this time, for Marvin to survey any possible background locations and to review wardrobe and prop options. Marvin will do some quick compositional sketches in order to narrow down the best path forward.

Shortly after the initial meeting, or optimally the following morning, Marvin will conduct a photo shoot. He is an extremely skilled photographer and will set up his camera and lighting equipment prior to the sitter's arrival, so that his subject can look and feel their freshest. Marvin's camera will be connected to a laptop computer so the photos may be reviewed during the session, ensuring that the images, he'll be painting from, will meet all your expectations. Following the photoshoot, time permitting, Marvin may opt to do some quick color studies from life for additional color reference purposes.

Upon returning to his studio, Marvin will create a composite image from numerous photos in order to capture the precise composition, lighting, pose and expression upon which he will base his painting. After your approval of the design, he will paint a small compositional color study, without detail, so you will get a true sense of how the colors of the finished art will appear in the finished portrait, thus insuring that there will be no surprises. At that point, Marvin will commence with the final painting.

In the case of a posthumous portrait it's advantageous to provide as many photos as possible, to assist Marvin in understanding the structure of the subject's head. Depending on the quality of the photographs, and to best insure the most life-like representation on the canvas, Marvin may choose to sculpt the head of a posthumous subject in order to better visualize the way the form is illuminated by various light sources.

Commissioned teen oil portrait by Marvin Mattelson
Head & Shoulders w/ Hand - Tonal Background

Painting the finished portrait

What  differentiates the old masters’ paintings from the vast majority of contemporary realists are two factors. First, they had a very specific strategic approach, enabling them to paint portraits which appear more alive than reality. Marvin has spent the better part of his life in successful pursuit of this exact mindset. Second, they applied their colors in thin translucent layers to enhance the effect of realistic skin-tones – since human skin is translucent – a far more time consuming technique, but one that greatly enhances the illusion of reality. Marvin couples this with the impressionistic ideal of searching for true color notes – subtle nuanced shifts of color – to further enhance the illusion of life and depth. 

When the painting is near completion, if you are available to come to his studio for a brief sitting, Marvin will do some subtle adjustments of the skin-tone colors. This is also an opportunity for you to see the actual painting, in the flesh. At your discretion, you can come for more sittings during the course of your portrait's evolution. Many clients find it a relaxing break from their normal schedules. Upon completion you can either come to his studio, to view the final portrait, or if that's not convenient, Marvin will send you a photograph of the completed portrait for your final approval. Although a frame is not included in the cost of the painting, Marvin is very happy to assist you in the selection of an appropriate frame to enhance the appearance of your portrait to it's fullest.

To transform a portrait into a bona fide work of art, the masterful balance of compositional integrity, regarding the design, color and arrangement of all the elements, needs to be considered at every turn. Marvin's attention to each detail, within the full scope of the portrait, is what takes his work to an unrivaled level, so that you, and many generations henceforth, can enjoy the portrait.