The karma of art

Dear Artist, Yesterday, John Dinan of Cross, Mayo, Ireland wrote, “I earn my living from my paintings so, like any skilled worker, I’m entitled to some reward for my labour. But I have a problem. Every so often I ask someone to sit for a portrait and I feel uncomfortable about asking to be paid for it. These are not commissioned portraits, of which I do quite a few, but rather people with faces I need to paint. How do I handle the situation diplomatically? Do I offer them at half price? Many of these sitters cannot afford the work at any price. In this small community, how do I charge one and not another?”

“Russian Peasant Woman”
oil painting, 40 x 30 inches
by Sergei Bongart 1980

Thanks, John. I may be a bit soft in the head on this one, but they need to either pay the full price, or receive it from you as a gift. You need to make it clear right up front. The sticky stuff comes when you keep the work and later sell it through your regular channels. Your sitter may feel a sense of participation and may also appreciate some payola. It’s your call — consider sharing.

oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Nicolai Fechin

A few years ago, in a small park somewhere west of Gallup, New Mexico I met an elderly Navaho by the name of Nastas, which he told me meant “curve like the grass.” After offering him $20 and a glass of lemonade, I had the soft-spoken, well-lined fellow sitting at ease under my motorhome awning. I told him if the painting was any good I’d give it to him. As it turned out okay, I did. I can still see him carefully laying the still-wet 16″ x 20″ oil onto the hay-littered bed of his blue Ford pickup and taking off in a cloud of dust. I never saw Nastas again, but a decade later a woman wrote to me from Phoenix, Arizona to say she had purchased the painting in one of those native-run pawn stores you see along Southwest highways. The photo she enclosed showed it in an opulent home, magnificently framed and looking like a regular Nicolai Fechin, Sergei Bongart or Bettina Steinke. Paintings have stories. Paintings carry karma. Paintings can brighten the spaces between brothers. Paintings given away and perhaps just starting their rounds already have more going for them than a lot of those that have merely been sold.

“The Medicine Man”
oil painting,24 x 20 inches
by Bettina Steinke 1956

Best regards, Robert PS: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.” (Maya Angelou) Esoterica: Another way to handle the problem is to give the sitter a giclee or a decent photocopy — even if it’s not of your particular effort together. Most will understand that you are a professional and art is your livelihood. With regard to the “small town syndrome” many artists deal with, most collectors, in my experience, understand the situation of the self-employed artist. Collectors also have goodwill to offer.   John Dinan

Portrait of a Lady


Saddled up


The farm yard


Washing lines

          Cash and karma by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA  

oil painting, 55 x 40 inches
by Skip Rohde

When John gets a commissioned portrait, then he’s doing a portrait for a client and deserves fair reward. When he asks somebody to sit for him, though, he’s doing the portrait for himself. That’s an entirely different situation. Maybe just doing the portrait is its own reward, in which case he can probably give it away with a clear conscience. Maybe it’s going to go in a gallery as commission-bait, in which a fair price can and should be tacked on. I run a weekly life drawing session in my studio, and in addition to paying the models in cash, I usually give them one or two of my drawings as well. Why? Very few models have drawings of themselves, and I’ve got stacks of the things. The stacks have no karma. The ones given away, they do. Most of them are going to be treasured long after the cash is spent.   Tough times by T.J. Miles, La Torreta, Torrevieja, Spain  

“Any port will do”
acrylic painting
by T.J. Miles

I have admired John’s work for many years. Each time I visit one of my representing galleries,John’s work has usually beaten me to it, and is already hanging on the wall looking down on my paltry work as I unwrap it. The Irish art market is going through a tough time at the moment, as is the rest of the art world, of course. The secret is to keep plugging away and look ahead to a couple of years when things get better. I am already planning for exhibitions of something entirely different in 2012. Let’s hope the world is ready.   Negative feelings by Mariane Hostmark Tveter, Masai Mara, Kenya  

watercolour painting
by Mariane Hostmark Tveter

The first point is perhaps that John needs to work through these negative feelings in an open way for his own peace of mind. He could set aside a budget for it so he can feel free to ask who he wants to sit for him. Or he could make up his mind about giving some kind of present — wine, a sketch of the model, or something else he feels comfortable with. Next, he must then accept that there are some who will and some who will not pose for him. Not all are comfortable to be under the kind of scrutiny prolonged visual focus is needed in art. I have modeled quite a bit and it is hard work!   Finding herself richer by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA  

sculpture by
Luann Udell

When I first started making my artwork, I was too embarrassed to ask people to actually pay for it. I got over it. Then I went through a long phase where everybody paid — I rarely gave anything away. Now I’m in a different place. For some work, I am richly paid. But just as often, I find myself giving more away. I’ve found that somehow, without my conscious intention, my work has the ability to heal, emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes, someone else just needs it more than I need money. And I’m astonished to find myself richer.     There are 2 comments for Finding herself richer by Luann Udell
From: Barbara — Dec 21, 2010

You’re absolutely right about some people needing something more than you need the money, from kind words to a thoughtful, “here, take it,” given from the heart. “What goes around, comes around” works both ways.

Your work is stunning.
From: Skip Rohde — Dec 21, 2010

Beautiful words, Luann.

  Fair pay with gratitude by Dominique Gaillard, Montreal QC, Canada  

original painting
by Dominique Gaillard

Whenever you ask someone to sit for you, this person you selected because of particular features, mood, elicited feelings, etc, becomes what is known as ‘a model.’ Whoever sits still for any length of time, clothed or nude, deserves to be paid for obliging you. You’re very right to ‘feel uncomfortable about asking to be paid for it’ because it is the sitter who deserves to be paid for his/her efforts. You realize yourself that these sitters cannot afford the work at any price. But what such low income section of society would appreciate is a little financial boost here and there, and that’s an excellent way of helping people in need to earn. I do it on occasion when I encounter someone in difficulty and get to know them, their history; I often end up proposing to pose in a portrait session for my group and spell out the conditions before hand. There is 1 comment for Fair pay with gratitude by Dominique Gaillard
From: Mishcka — Dec 22, 2010

Yes, of course a sitter should be paid.

  Perils of exposing half finished work by Wes Chandler   Early on, a friend asked me to do a charcoal portrait and she had a face I needed to portray. I think her motivation was to show her cheating husband how beautiful she could be. I had the feeling it would turn out to be a no-win proposition from the start, but I thought, “Why not try?” Our understanding was that if she liked it, she’d pay me what she thought it was worth. If not, it would remain mine. I tried to portray her in the most favorable way I could, but made the mistake of giving her a photo of the work in progress, which she showed around to her friends. She reported back to me that they’d said, “Oh you’re much prettier than that.” I fussed with it a little more, and the drawing became an overworked non-likeness.   The possibility of not signing by Teresa Chow, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Tofino Surfers”
original painting
by Teresa Chow

I agree that some sort of payment either in dollars or in gratitude should be awarded to the sitter. After all, the sitter did the modeling. If the painting is not to the artist’s satisfaction or not good enough, then don’t sign the painting. Last week during a social gathering with some life drawing artists, I asked my friend why he didn’t sign the painting. He said, “It’s not really done yet. I still have some touches here and there. When it’s done, I’ll sign it.” I think he has some logic in this matter. If John Dinan is not happy with his work and decides to give it away then he has the option not to sign it. If he’s satisfied and wants to sale the painting at the gallery, then some sort of incentive has to be paid to the sitter.   Pay the going rate by Mary Frances Batut  

“Red Fish”
original painting
by Mary Frances Batut

I feel there is another solution for Mr. Dinan’s dilemma. You touched on it by paying Nastas to sit for you and I certainly commend you for giving him the portrait. Mr Dinan feels that like any skilled worker he is entitled to some reward for his efforts but he doesn’t mention paying the sitter for their efforts. He requests them to sit for him as he wants to paint their portrait thus from my point of view he is “commissioning” their time. He may not look upon them sitting for him as “skilled work” but they are certainly giving up their time for him — he should just simply pay them what he would pay if he hired a “professional” model. This would allow Mr. Dinan to then sell the painting to a buyer at his usual price.   Choosing models that inspire by Lynn Digby, Ohio, USA  

“Bill’s Back”
original painting
by Lynn Digby

A certain model I painted had multiple piercings and tattoos and someone said to me, “People ‘like this’ don’t buy paintings. Why do you paint them? Don’t you want to sell your work?” I think it’s important to keep the eye focused on what fires you visually, and not worry solely about the sales potential when choosing a model. However, if you are trying to earn a living from sales of your work, it seems counter-productive to drastically cut your prices on the work so that models who might want them could afford them. I think your prices are your prices, and these need to stay consistent for the sake of your collectors. And I try to make archival prints for my models when time permits. But I find it works best for me, when requesting that someone sit for me, is to explain what I will do for them before hand so that their expectations are in line with what I can offer sensibly. I’ve always had good responses. However, a gift is something else. I have given art away. And in each case, I have felt that this was the right thing to do. I have never regretted the times when I have done this. I think karma has to do with knowing when this feels right. There are 2 comments for Choosing models that inspire by Lynn Digby
From: Jan Ross — Dec 21, 2010

I agree with your thoughts, Lynn, and find your painting fascinating. As one who’s not keen on tatoos, I admit that the work of tatoo artists is sometimes mindboggling and that someone could endure repeated needle punctures painful to think about. ‘Bill’s Back’ is certainly a historical representation of what people are doing to ‘enhance’ their bodies during the 20th and 21st centuries, just as the Egyptians wore heavy black eye make-up, African tribes have multiple piercings etc.

  Lost painting finds new home by Allan O’Marra, Ajax, ON, Canada  

“A reproduction of David’s World”
1987 oil painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Allan O’Marra

I was at a party in Toronto where a former gallery owner friend of mine, Liz, told me about a medium-size oil painting that had been found in the downtown area in an apartment building “recyled items area” (where people dump household furnishings, etc. they no longer want). The person who found it recognized my name and style — having seen shows of my work at Liz’s gallery on several occasions in the past and wondered if it was truly an original of mine. Liz advised that the painting was titled David’s World on the back and I knew instantly that it was painting I had created of another friend back in the 1980s, a depiction of him at his flamboyant best, lolling on the upper deck of a boat in Toronto Harbour. Liz had told the finder that, based on the size of the piece, it was probably worth $1,000 to $1,500 (she was close: it would be $1,200, sold originally, in 1987 to “David” for $500). Not sure now how I feel about my friendship with David anymore; but pleased that, in spite of stressful circumstances the painting has found a new home! There are 4 comments for Lost painting finds new home by Allan O’Marra
From: Karen Fabian — Dec 21, 2010

This is a beautiful painting. I have made a promise to myself that I will not give any more paintings as gifts for reasons similar to this case you have shared.

From: sharon cory — Dec 21, 2010

Love the painting. Can’t imagine why David would have given it up. Maybe it was stolen.

From: Laurel — Dec 21, 2010

Or a room-mate threw his stuff out when angry, or because it didn’t match the sofa. Jealous of the good old days? …

From: linda Kristin Blix — Dec 21, 2010

Every painting has an owner destined to find it. Your painting found it’s rightful owner. Great story.

  A painting with a past by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

“Crossing over”
original painting
by Louise Francke

This painting has a travel-log. In 1990, it was exhibited in Soho Gallery during Women’s Caucus. Eleanor Heartney reviewed it in the “Visions of Life” exhibit catalog crit prologue. It went from Chuck Levitan’s Gallery to Islip Museum and then to an artist friends studio where it was assaulted by his cat. By the time I got it back, it reeked. I tried everything to remove the stench and revitalize the work. Repainted the assaulted areas and gave it to a collector of my works. In 2009, Crossing Over resurfaces. A young couple had purchased it from another party in an estate sale. I befriended the couple and revisited Crossing Over at their home. The damage had reappeared through the paint but it no longer smelled. I took it back to my studio and once again repainted the affected areas and then some so the whole work would meld together. They have since moved to WI, taking Crossing Over with them. She is with the young who love her and who knows where her next crossing may be. I am grateful that I had a chance to revitalize her in her mid life crisis — so she hopefully will have a long life after mine has ended. There is 1 comment for A painting with a past by Louise Francke
From: caroline jobe — Dec 21, 2010

i love this painting and it was very interesting to hear of its journey, which is still not over. definitely worth repairing. love the colours and subjects.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The karma of art

From: Cadie — Dec 16, 2010

I would pose for a portrait at no charge if I knew the artist was decent and the work good. Being upfront seems to steam out the wrinkles and unfold the deals; no reason to avoid communication which is a form of creative imagination. I’m sure John Dinan will learn to cough up a little now and then and get his words straight — neither he nor his study has to “feel” uncomfortable or have a problem. BTW nicely executed work!!

From: Clif Dawson — Dec 16, 2010

It seems to me that if someone asks you to do their portrait then

they are your client. BUT, if you ask someone to sit for you then that person becomes your model. They are now working for you. Does this not mean that they should be paid for their time in some form? You did say that you needed to paint that particular face. I assume then, that there is some characteristic of that face that you need to study and master in order to advance your future capabilities.You study at school, you pay for it. Study under a master, you pay for it. Therefore, study a face, pay for it. Clif Dawson.
From: Dave C. — Dec 17, 2010

I agree with you Clif. When John said he asks these people to sit for him so he can paint their portrait and then wanted to know how to get them to pay him, I was a bit confused. If you see someone walking down the street or you see someone sitting at a table outside a sidewalk cafe and you feel you just have to paint them, you don’t tell them that they need to pay you for the privilege of sitting for you.

This reminds me of those photographers that wander the casinos of Las Vegas, snap your picture with your sweetie and then try to guilt you into buying the photos. If I commission an artist to paint my portrait then yes, I will expect to pay for it and full price at that, just as if I ask a photographer to shoot some shots of me I expect to pay for those, too. When I ask a model to pose for me so I can shoot some reference photos to be used in my paintings and drawings, I pay her for her time. Her time is just as valuable to her as mine is to me.
From: Patsy, Antrim — Dec 17, 2010

Yup, I agree with Clif and Dave. I thought I’d misunderstood when I read that you would even consider asking a model to pay for your painting of him! You pay him, or at least offer to.

If you plan to sell him the painting you “needed” to do of him, you must say so before you start. But you’d probably find potential models disappearing like the snow in last week’s thaw… And it’s not as if you have to pay income tax on your earnings as an artist in the republic… unless they’ve changed that now?
From: Donna — Dec 17, 2010

I agree with those above who are saying that this artist should not expect his model to pay. I too was confused when I read that he felt the need to paint the face, asked the person to sit and then wanted them to pay him??? Sorry, but this is wrong on so many levels. If anything, the model should be paid for his/her time given to the artist to improve his skills.

From: Kai — Dec 17, 2010

The standard practice where I live is that when you ask someone to sit for you, you pay them the going rate, which is usually $20/hr. $30/hr if nude. Sitting still is effort and time on the part of the model. If the painter is well-known, sitting for them may be considered a privilege and the model may offer to sit for free in exchange for the notariety. Usually the artist still gives them something–a small painting, study for the painting or copy of the work. When someone hires the artist for a portrait, they pay. I’m glad we all agree. John Dinan-if it is not the practice in Ireland to pay models for their time, perhaps it’s time to change that practice. You will be thought of as generous, a source of employment, and will have interesting faces showing up on your doorstep! If you can’t afford to pay, you can offer your time to them in exchange. A drawing lesson, a meal, something!

From: Greta L Stromberg — Dec 17, 2010

I consider myself a professional artist, although I do not make a living (nor could I) through my art.

I want very much to respond to this article, The Karma of Art. I strongly believe in this I concept. I often will give a painting away to someone who has posed or requested a painting when I know they are unable to pay the price I would usually attach to it. I would rather do this than ask a more meager fee. It becomes a gift of my soul to do so. This is so ingrained in me now that I see myself as someone who is here to provide a sense of presense in others appreciation in my work… a feeling of connection in the peice that has given them a part of their own soul to look at. This is my purpose now, in the later stages of my life. It is a gift to me as well.
From: Mike Young — Dec 17, 2010

You ask: you pay the sitter for their time and their image. They ask: its a commission, and they pay. Easy.

From: Debi — Dec 17, 2010

Clif has it right. ;O)

From: Tinker — Dec 17, 2010

Since most of my paintings, are either people or animal portraits, I find that if I do a “give-away”, which I often do for a fundraiser for a specific cause, either animal shelters or children’s hospitals, I will get more than the usual commissions in return.

What you freely give, good or bad, returns to you in some fashion, 10 fold.
From: John Berry — Dec 17, 2010

I may be soft in the head, but as I understand this letter, the artist is uncomfortable asking the sitter to pay for a portrait that the artist instigated, is this correct? If so, the audacity of that artist! what?! It would be akin to a landscape painter painting a farmers field, then knocking on the farmers door asking to be paid. If that is how things work, I’ve been doing it all wrong all these years. It hurts to think of all the income I’ve lost by not demanding to be paid by the owner of a field, or a face.

From: Alyson Champ — Dec 17, 2010

As I usually do some kind of preparatory drawing before embarking on a portrait, I give the model (or the model’s owner, if the model is not human) the drawing, or I offer to pay the model the going rate. People usually prefer the drawing to the cash. Animals don’t seem to care one way or the other.

From: Dwight — Dec 17, 2010

As others rightly say: this is a business deal and the sitter ought to be paid unless it is a commission. This seems to me to be a no-brainer.

From: Suzette Fram — Dec 17, 2010

If John asks someone to sit for him and then expects that person to pay him, then what he’s doing is soliciting for work. It’s no better or worse than someone going down the street and knocking at every door to find someone willing to pay him to paint their house, or clean their gutters. Surely, the price needs to be discussed before the work proceeds. If however, he wants to paint someone because they’re interesting, then HE’s the one who should be offering to pay them. The purchase of the painting is another matter entirely but he should not expect his sitter (employee) to be willing to pay the price of the painting. All he was asked to do was sit for a painting.

From: Richard Smith — Dec 17, 2010

When I first read John’s letter I couldn’t quite figure out who was paying who. I could not imagine asking someone to sit for a painting and then asking them to pay for it. I really hope I’ve misunderstood that. If I find someone I’d like to sculpt I either pay for their time, if they’re a professional model, or I offer them a plaster copy of the piece. If they ask to purchase the piece, that’s different but I’d never ask them to.

From: John Ferrie — Dec 17, 2010

Dear Robert,

We have to get our inspirations from somewhere. If you are a landscape artist, then you need to study landscapes. if you paint portraits, you need a subject. If you happen to score a commission where people sit for you, then more power to you. Thats the golden project and they don’t come around very often. I would say the best thing to do if being a portraiture artist is your thing, start with friends and have them sit for you. Make it fun, offer lunch or some wine and make sure you require only a small amount of their time. Why not advance to taking photographs and working from pictures. This way you can capture what you want without having the subject sit for hours on end. People would be flattered to be the subject of an artist, but when it requires a great deal of time it become waning… Then when you are rich and famous, you can pick and choose your subjects and have them sit and wait for you for hours while you decide when you are going to paint. Dare to dream…John Ferrie
From: Bonnie Hamlin — Dec 17, 2010

I think model releases are extremely important, whether it is a commission or hiring a model. There are lots of examples in art business books or on line. I use one that states among other things, how much I am paying the model for sitting and what I might plan to do with the resulting painting. I like to know ahead of time if a model doesn’t want their image in an art show, a magazine add, or on the web, etc.

From: Darla — Dec 17, 2010

Good point, Bonnie! You should have your model’s permission to display his (recognizable) image publicly, unless he is one of a crowd or in a similar public group. And it’s just good manners and fairness, not to mention good business practice, to get payment and other details down in writing first.

From: Jane Bauer — Dec 17, 2010

I am a pastel painter and do many portraits of people and animals.

I do as you suggested and give the portrait away or charge full price. Many of the portraits are from life with models. It makes me feel good when a year or so later I find that it is hanging over their fireplace. Lately I am finding portraits of children and animals ( horses, bulls, cattle, and dogs etc. ) can bring even more joy than a portrait of the person. My Grandmother and husband’s Uncle were artists also. I find that the history of artists paintings in the family live on from generation to generation and inspire the youth in the family to expand their horizon and draw and paint.
From: Ruth Gamsby — Dec 17, 2010

I live in Cumbria, England and our Art Society has a Portrait group which meets fortnightly. Our sitter is invited by our host-hostess and is not paid but expected to enjoy the social occasion. Some of the more proficient painters are happy to give the sitter their work after having taken a copy for their own folio. As most of us work in pastel and do not have need to keep the work this is a very satisfactory outcome for all.

From: Cheryl Combs — Dec 17, 2010

Am surprised that an artist would expect payment, when he/she is the one who has “asked” someone to pose/model. Modeling is tedious and laborious. Whenever, at my request, someone poses or models for me, they receive compensation for their labor. Should the model want a copy of the work, then I receive compensation, or give a study as a gift, depending on the model’s ability to pay. When a work sells and I still have contact with the model, I will share a percentage of the net proceeds so we both benefit from a job well done. The good will expands and lends mutual respect…

From: Roberta Levy — Dec 17, 2010

Great story. I just donated two of my pastels to an organization for their silent auction and I was told that large crowds of the attendees stood around my two paintings and made wonderful comments about them…and then they swiftly were sold at decent prices…maybe more than I’d ever get from them being on the art association’s walls in my town…

The information was more important to my psyche than if I were given a check for each of them. I sometimes can make more money in the stock market than I could ever get for my artwork… and the day after the auction was held, this new market started it’s upticking and I felt that was my karmic gift back to me….
From: Tatjana — Dec 17, 2010

I thought that the problem wasn’t with the modeling fee, but that the artist did not want to sell the portrait, while the model asked to buy it, although the artist knows that the model can’t afford the full price. That’s something that happened to me. It helps to be very clear up front what is going to happen to the painting. If the model likes it, I always give them a print.

From: Merrilyn Huycke — Dec 17, 2010

In my experience, portraits of musicians tend to build karma quickly. I’ve had one that was exhibited, then bought and hung in a bistro, then given to the musician who was the subject, then abandoned in a mysterious disappearance. It was finally returned to me. (I am still getting commissions as a direct result of the original watercolor portrait.) Now it hangs expectantly over our dining table, no doubt awaiting his next adventure. Weird.

From: Dev Ramcharan — Dec 17, 2010

I just want to thank you for the wisdom and enrichment that your messages provide to artists like me. They make us feel connected to a community, when the risk is that we (in the midst of the struggles and anguish of the creative process) can feel isolated and bereft of support which is based on knowledge and understanding, the kind that comes only from peers and from mentors.

From: Leza Macdonald — Dec 17, 2010

I’m really not sure about this. I think he might be missing the point of doing what you love!

As an Artist, I just want to make art. If no one will pay me at the moment to make art for them, I’ll make art for me.
From: Giovanna Picasso — Dec 17, 2010

Look Robert put your normal prize for your work, tell them you may this count, some time you can give in 3 part or 2 paiments but don’t low to much the prize because you low your Art. I hop your understand What I try tell you.
From: Susan A. Warner — Dec 17, 2010

Ah the Karma of the Painting! Giving away and getting back. Last winter I did a small, 11 X 14, Painting/Collage of Trees and Hills inspired by the Olympic venues in CA. My neighbor was so enamored of the piece that he offered to trade or barter for it. He

is a talented wood carver and had a small bird carving to offer. How could I say no? I will always know that he is enjoying that small slice of Winter and I am remembering the story of the Bird carving. That’s Karma.
From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — Dec 17, 2010

Although my main art form is abstract, I do portraiture as well, both for commission and for study (I like to try different techniques and media). I regularly ask people with interesting faces to pose for me, and offer them a print of the finished image, as I keep the original. I also have them sign a model release so I can use the portrait for various venues, such as calls to artists, and on my website. This has worked out well – the sitters are flattered, they have a print of the work, and I have my models and get to practice! I don’t plan on selling these pieces, so it works for everyone.

From: Lynn Arbor — Dec 17, 2010

Huh? I thought that artists pay the models. That goes back to Van Gogh who struggled to come up with the money to pay his sitters.

From: Edie Pfeifer — Dec 17, 2010

Seems simple to me, if these are faces he needs to paint, then he needs to ask them to model for him, and to pay them the going rate. That leaves him free to sell it wherever he wants to. If, when the painting is finished, the model expresses an interest in buying it, he can sell it to them at the regular price, minus the modeling fee. This should all be disclosed up front, before the painting even begins.

From: Mary Lapos — Dec 17, 2010

If people come to me to have their portrait done then I charge. If I go to them I tell them two things (if they are willing to sit). YOu can have the painting if you like it on one condition . . .that IF I need it for a show you will “lend” it back to me. Sometimes they don’t like it and I keep it. When they DO take it I make sure I have all the contact info about them. Admittedly, I don’t go traipsing over half the globe so my sitters are all “locals”. But it works for me.

From: Rich Mason — Dec 17, 2010

He says he deserves to be paid for his work, so do his practice subjects. Give some back is great advice…

From: D R Duffy — Dec 17, 2010

The sitter should be paid by the hour. It is $10 an hour here in the States. It is your business arrangement. The product is not given away or sold below your rate.

From: Rob Corsetti — Dec 17, 2010

WOW!?! – people pay you to sit for them? I always pay the people a modeling fee. Then have them sign a release. What am I missing here?
From: S. Knettell — Dec 17, 2010

Frankly, not to put a fine point on it, I think it is arrogant to think someone who is not a friend or family member should sit for you for nothing. There is no reason you should think you are such wonderful a painter that they should be so honored. Negotiate a fair fee- that way both of you are happy. Pay them.

From: Christine Vella Borda — Dec 17, 2010

I used to be in need of girls to model clothes for me, I knew that some of them would have been happy enough to do it for free since they used to find it fun and give them free exposure. However the best thing to do is talk about it before and just tell them that you need a sitter and you usually pay so much per hour but if they are happy to do it for free they would say so then. A small thank you present however is always welcome by one and all.

From: David Lloyd Glover — Dec 17, 2010

It was December 8, 1980 when I arrived at my studio and turned on the news. John Lennon had been shot! My goodness the world’s John Lennon had just left the earth. I think many of us felt that our younger selves had something taken away from us that night. I was not doing celebrity portraits at the time but felt compelled to put my thoughts on paper. I did a quick sketch of John looking pensive with his round glasses and head cocked and hand holding his chin.. I simply titled it “Goodbye John December 8,1980”. A few years later I gave the piece away and forgot all about it. Recently I was contacted by someone who now owns the portrait. They wanted to know how much it was worth. My answer was it is worth whatever you paid for it because you liked it so much.

From: Susan K. Burgess — Dec 18, 2010

John Dinan should listen to his feelings of discomfort in asking for payment from the model for a portrait which he initiated. If it were a commissioned work, the relationship between sitter and artist is clear. If the artist asks someone to pose, the artist certainly owes the sitter something in return. Robert, why would you be soft in the head for suggesting this? Why would anyone give up their visage, their time, and their whole persona for the artist to use without any reward or recognition? Do we artists think that the act of painting that person is payment enough? Offering the sitter an exclusive giclee of the portrait is a reasonable compromise, though, to giving the painting away. I think asking for payment from the sitter is really not cool.

From: Pat Hart — Dec 18, 2010

If artists ask someone to sit (i.e. work) for them, they should expect to pay standard model fees or some other mutually agreed exchange, especially when these are subjects they need or want to paint. If a person orders a portrait, the boot’s on the other foot and that’s business. You are providing a requested service for them. Even Picasso gave portraits to people he wanted to paint: vid. Sylvette D., 1954, a girl he saw in passing, and whose profile attracted him. He asked her to sit for him, started realistically, then made several abstracted studies. She was allowed to choose one. That’s a mutually agreed exchange and one I’m sure her descendants, if any, are very pleased with!

From: Libbie Soffer — Dec 18, 2010

John, I’m puzzled as to why your portrait sitter’s time would not have the same value as your own time… Is your discomfort because at some level of your psyche you understand that fact? The model is also a skilled worker possessing special gifts that you recognize and want to capture in paint. Commissions are a different entity that could evolve out of someone’s seeing your work. The model is, indeed, a collaborator in your process and

deserves compensation. There is not a finite amount of reward for beauty as Robert Genn has so diplomatically offered in his response to you. I am an an artist and sometimes model,
From: John Dinan — Dec 19, 2010

I’d like to thank all my fellow artists for such a wide range of helpful comments to my original query. In my defence I must state that I have never asked sitters to pose and then ask them to pay – that sounds like an ‘ambush’ to me; I think that impression came about through the edited version of my original query. Artists spend so long painting alone, isn’t it great to have such a forum for practical advice – thank you all again. John Dinan

From: Zed Memphis James — Dec 20, 2010

Asking someone to sit is entering into some sort of participatory agreement with them. While a friend might agree to sit without compensation, or even require a discussion of such, a casual acquaintance or relative stranger will not have sufficient understanding of the transaction. It should be established in advance if there is any sort of consideration or compensation involved. It can be anything the painter and model decide, from a proferred mocha latte to a discount on a picture, but to be fair, the arrangement should be well understood on both sides, then no one has reason for qualm or complaint.

From: Lola — Dec 20, 2010

I don’t understand why so many people commented with such negative feelings towards the artist. I totally understand John Dinan, this happened to me several times. I ask someone to sit for me and offer a regular modeling fee (I pay $20 per hour), but if they are not professional models, they often decline the fee saying they would be glad to sit with no compensation. Friends and neighbors often do that. During the session, some of them ask to buy the piece, speculating it’s worth to be way (way, way) below my regular prices. I get strong pointers that they would like to be given it for free. The feeling of discomfort is about – weather I part with the piece, so I can’t use it to do a studio work from it, basically wasting this whole session time and material. At that point I offer a print for free, but the sitters often get in the mood of “you think you are so good ”…which is very uncomfortable. But, dealing with people isn’t simple, so this is a part of our business. This may be avoided by insisting that the model takes a fee and explaining that I need the original for my studio work, make it clear this is very important for you, and that’s why you pay models to sit for you so that they don’t waste their time. If the model asks for the price of the finished work, just say what it is. Sometimes they are shocked because they undervalue art…but there is nothing we can do about that. Another thing you can do – make a few quick sketches as a warm-up, and give them to the model for free. The worst thing you can do if they didn’t take the fee, is to sell the piece to them for a small amount – then it appears as if the model is paying you to sit for you – which is probably why many people commented negatively. If the model turns out to be a serious collector and wants to buy for the full price, just deduct a very generous modeling fee from it – that’s the best case scenario, a win-win!

From: Frances Stilwell — Dec 20, 2010

I haven’t read all these entries on possibly themost entry-inspiring topic so far, but could not the artist make good quality giclees of a successful portrait he’d solicited the model to pose for, adn give that as well as/instead of the siting fee? Then the original can still be sold for a high price and the model has the image. I haven’t figured out how to get my name entered: I am Frances Stilwell, corvallis Oregon. How does all this apply to the stranger you see on teh street and you take his photo to later turn it into a lively portrait?

From: Susan Holland — Dec 20, 2010

I love the one of the woman putting on her makeup. That one really is wonderful, John. Nice work!

From: christine harfleet — Dec 21, 2010

I hope John has learnt a very valuable lesson here. Of course everyone’s time is valuable not just the artists. you wanted it you pay for it. to give is better than to receive unless it’s a pure business contract.

From: pog Summers — Dec 21, 2010

i think quiet morning is a stark , highly effective painting…simplicity is the power. great job!!!

From: Solette Gelberg — Dec 21, 2010


Your painting “Quiet Morning” is fabulous !
From: Jon Rader Jarvis — Dec 21, 2010

The pressure to show less thanthe best comes from our shared difficulty in producing enough work. A mentor from years past had the perfect solution. For every good image idea there are at least 5 variations in scale color or viewpoint that will multiply our out put. One will stand out to save back for our own collection, competitions or for museum donations to make our name, the rest will supply at least 4 additional one man shows and provide more than enough work. Try it! It has worked for me for 25 years!

From: Adrienne Moore — Dec 21, 2010

I am amazed to enjoy this topic and so many diverse opinions I run a life drawing studio from my house and Ihappen to find an interesting idea for a portrait or a full lenght drawing and so alerting my group on this kind of a model thaqt we choose and we agree to pay them exactly what we pay the usual life model . WE cashed in recently by asking a Mexican singer to come and pose for the Friday class . She was initially so worried that I was insuiniating that she would pose without clothes .I at once reassured her that she could pose in her costume form Spain and all of her usual fans and reguilai and she surprised us by agreeing and holding poses sowell that we all aenjoyed this ind of a model…. we paid her what we usually pay our usual models. Shortly after this eventI was able to recommend that she and her partner would entertain the Folk group in Steveston to her kind of Spanish gypsy music and it was ahuge success concert .Our artist group were invited to show our paintings from the life drawing class to complement this woman’s singing it was a win win …no money sold on the portraits just lots of good vibes Adrienne Moore

From: MINNIE — Dec 21, 2010


From: Merrilyn Shoemaker — Dec 22, 2010

Wow, Luann, I went through exactly the same feelings. Thank you for sharing your experience. I don’t feel so alone. (At the beginning, it was even hard to call myself an artist.)

I, too, really like your work. I’m a big fan of the Lascaux Cave painting and suspect you might be too. If you haven’t heard of them, you might want to google it. Thanks again.
From: Margaret Burdick — Dec 27, 2010

In response to John Dinan, having spent time on both sides of the easel, the answer seems clear to me. When someone asks you to paint something for them, you discuss what they want and the cost to them. When you ask someone to pose for you, you pay them. Perhaps the confusion arises because he’s painting portraits? If he was drawing the figure it might be more obvious. You hire a model at the going rate. Since he’s not working with professional artist’s models, but instead, his neighbors, at the onset (as you yourself wrote) you pay your model something they feel agreeable to. If they aren’t comfortable being paid money, you could offer a meal or something comparable to the money you would pay a model. Artists never concern themselves with what an artist’s model might think when they sell their painting. So, pay your models and keep your work. If your model wants to buy the portrait after they’ve been paid, then you have them pay you for it. And if you ask a different price for it than you usually get for a commissioned portrait, that’s the sort of thing you work out per ‘customer’. As a gallery manager, I sometimes arrive at certain compromises or ‘deals’ with buyers, with the artist’s permission. So if you pay your model with a good meal, they might buy their portrait from you for a bucket of oysters or a bushel of apples or a boatload of fish. Just as fellow artists will sometimes trade one painting for another.

From: Gavin Logan — Dec 27, 2010

Ha there ever been a forum as good as this? Thanks, Robert, and all the gnomes at Painters Keys. Happy new Year!!!!!

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Long Autumn Shadows

oil painting, 36 x 48 inches by Gordon Lewis, Regina, SK, Canada

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