The Portrait Processfrom start to finish


The stages of a portrait

gathering reference for a portrait by artist Elizabeth Whelan

the first sitting

gathering reference
a color study for a portrait by artist Elizabeth Whelan

the color study

for composition and pose
an oil sketch for a portrait by artist Elizabeth Whelan

the oil sketch

for proportion and values
a portrait by artist Elizabeth Whelan

finished portrait

capturing a likeness on canvas

Portrait Q & A

  • What is E. R. Whelan's portrait commission process? +

    The portrait process typically begins with a phone call or email, during which fees, size, subject matter and schedule are discussed. Elizabeth then makes arrangements to meet with the subject in person, followed by a photo session and often some quick 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 reference 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.
    Changes and adjustments are made at this time, and upon sign-off of the color study the portrait is taken to completion. If necessary, a final sitting is arranged.
    Upon viewing of the final painting client satisfaction is paramount.
    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 uses only her own photographic reference, without exceptions, unless the commission is for a posthumous portrait. Before agreeing to a posthumous portrait 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.

  • What size and type of portrait can I commission, and what are the fees? +

    Please visit the Portrait Fees page to see some examples of portrait sizes, types of portrait, and associated costs.
    For a more accurate estimate for your painting, please get in touch with Elizabeth Whelan by phone, email or post.
  • What is the cost of a gift certificate for a portrait? +

    To make gift giving easy, Elizabeth Whelan offers a portrait gift certificate, amount TBD depending on the type and size of painting. Typically the amount is 50% - 100% of the portrait fee.
    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.
    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 not included in the portrait fee.
    Travel to sittings on Martha's Vineyard is free, as is delivery in person on Martha's Vineyard.

  • Where should I have my portrait sitting? +

    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 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 is included in the price of the portrait. For all other locations, travel costs will be extra.
  • What should I wear? +

    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.
  • What costs are not included in your fee schedule? +

    Travel, lodging, shipping and framing are not included in the portrait fee.

    However, travel to sittings on the island of Martha's Vineyard is free, as is delivery of the completed portrait in person to a Martha's Vineyard location.
  • How many hours does it take to paint a portrait? +

    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.
  • How long does a painting need to dry once it's complete? +

    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.
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Throw an Unveiling

A new painting is a fun reason for a get-together or event!

Gift Certificates

Ask about gift certificates for portraits and commissioned paintings.


Framing options are available and Elizabeth Whelan can help you choose a frame.


Paintings are delivered in person and for no charge on Martha's Vineyard.

What Her Clients Say

  • "The portrait ... exceeds our expectations. You must hear this from all your happy clients."

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