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What's a Portrait Sitting?

We have to understand the history of 'sittings'

The term ‘Portrait sitting’ literally derives from the act of an individual sitting, so that an artist is able to then capture their portrait in real time. Historically, the act of sitting for an artist was predominately a European engagement, reserved for the high rollers of society; however, over the last few hundred years, we have seen artists explore further beyond the societal status that the sitter may hold, touching on ones individualism, persona, character, and essence.

How long does a sitting take?

My way of working involves taking an Alla Prima sketch of my sitter, which can take an afternoon, or a whole day, depending on how much time one has. When I’m commissioned by a customer, I will get an idea of their time restraints. I’ve never had an individual who wants to rush the process, as the experience itself is one of the biggest parts of having your portrait done; so we will aim to find an afternoon or two where I’m able to take my sketch, and enjoy conversation, food, and drink.

Do I have to sit completely still in silence?

One of the biggest misconceptions of sitting for a portrait is that you have to sit completely still, without moving a muscle. For me, ensuring the sitter is as near to possible in complete comfort, allows for a wonderful experience. I will often pick a pose that is not far from their current resting position, so that if they do need to move, stretch, eat or drink, (all of which I encourage) they are most welcome to do so.

In the studio, I have a corner which is specifically designed to emulate a lounge and a meditation space; taking inspiration from both British and Japanese culture. An Eames Chair sit’s just in front of the bookcase, and to the right, is our ever-growing Monstera deliciosa plant.

What happens after the sitting?

After I’ve taken the Alla Prima sketch, I will then use my Camera to take a wide range of photographs, almost semi-circling the sitter whilst they pose. From there, we can discuss which photo aligns with their vision. Using that, and the initial Alla Prima sketch, I will then move to a fresh canvas, and start working on the final composition.

Final thoughts...

I would encourage you to get your portrait done once in your lifetime; the intimate experience alone of sitting down with someone and conversing is so rich that the time you spend is alone worth it.

The idea of sitting can be overwhelming, and maybe tedious, but I can ensure you, that it's far from it...

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Written by the fantastic and wonderful Eleonore Crompton for Attivo If you want to inspire your children to become great artists, buy them the Beano. When other kids his age were playing on their Nint


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