Your custom portrait – choosing the right reference picture

While my blog parade #borrowedmemories is still open for new entries until the 31st August I was wondering what  to write here in meantime. Last week I took a break from writing a new post because I am working on my portfolio page.

Your custom portrait

Since my childhood days I draw portraits on commission. Though I learnt drawing with a living model during my studies I usually work with reference photos for my custom portraits. This is because most of the time I am asked to draw for another person as a gift – like the portraits of my Paw prints on your heart post.

So as most of my commissions are meant to be a surprise it is often difficult to find the right reference picture. As it is hard to get a proper photo of a black animal it is even more hard to draw according to these photos. Some artists even refuse commissions with poor quality reference photos. But I love the challenge in these commissions. And in the end a blurred photo sometimes gets the best drawing result.

Therefore if you want to order your commission just ask – here or on my etsy shop (you will get 10% of with CUSTOM2017 until 4th September 2017). I will help you with choosing the right or the best reference for your drawing. You also can send me a choise of pictures and I will have a look at them. So here are some general tips to find the right picture.

The more detailed the photo – the more detailed the drawing

Look at these two drawings I made a few years ago – same little model so the difference is clearly visible. The first reference photo was taken in a mobile photo studio. And the flashlight made no natural lightening. So the second one was taken by a friend of mine in a wood while playing with the child. So not only the light but also the smile is more natural.

8 things about a good reference photo

  • Details –

    the more, the better. A living drawing shows a lot of interessting details

  • Light

    over- or underexposure destroy details and make the image look flat. The drawing looks more vivid with a natural shadowing.

  • careful use of flashlight

    (indirect) flashlight can make beautiful reflection in the eyes but also can make the face look pale or create unnatrual shadows. If you are not sure, take one picture with and one without flashlight.

  • The eyes

    either open (best with those beautiful reflections) or closed. First will give the drawing a vivid optic while closed eyes may look dreamy or melancholic. But please no pictures with narrowed eyes and artificial smiles..

  • #nofilterneeded

    we all love those beautiful instagram filter options. They look good on a small mobile screen – but they are not good for making a good detailed drawing. If you do not have another picture without filter Photoshop will help – but this needs additional work. So whenever possible please choose a photo without filters applied.

  • The portrayed face

    should be big enough. Of course Photoshop will help scaling but with a small resolution this may result in losing details.

  • The character

    For a natural vivid drawing choose a picture which shows the character of the portrayed person. Otherwise the result may look like a drawn application photo.

  • Perspective

    Important for children or animals – please take the picture on eye level. Otherwise there will be shortenings and reductions which can look strange both in the reference photo and later in the drawing. A bird’s perspective can be interesting but most of the times professional photographers use ladders and special objective lenses for these pictures. If you have no other photo I often change the selection and draw a smaller part of the picure (for example just the head instead of the whole body).

What do you think – did I miss something in the list above? Is this list helpful? Did you ever order a commission of any artists and did you get good advice before ordering?

portraits commission
Closed eyes – can look dreamy and sensual when not narrowed unnatrually
Commission – drawn according to a photo with heavy instagram filters applied
What do you think about the results?
I love those drawings – I had to choose a selection and leave out some blurry parts – but this achieves the effect
Sharing is caring - Thank you in advance.

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KeyaDesignFlintTushar SinghThierryElegant duchess Recent comment authors
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Thanks for sharing. Very helpful tips about how to select the picture.


My girlfriend is a photographer/sketcher and I can safely say all of these elements are pretty much on the spot. She follows similar rules.

Elegant duchess

This is very helpful and spot on! I never asked for one but I was offered a drawing when I was in Paris, I wish I said yes as these look amazing and as you mentioned, it’s all in details


You didn’t miss a beat – these are very good btw

Tushar Singh

Wow! You’re really good at this.
Thanks for the tips! Natural light sure made the sketch and the photo a lot better. The smile might have something to do with the kid feeling less restricted when playing in an open field compared to being stuck in a photo studio with big lights and cameras.


Hey! Just thought I’d let you know I nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award! I really enjoy your blog, thank you for improving the world in the way you do Check out the nomination post here: