Forget selfies and get your portrait painted instead

That smiling studio headshot or the contrived selfie – however flattering – are, frankly, not only boring, they could be doing you an injustice.

Is this the image you want to convey to the world, to potentially leave as your legacy? How about this instead - get your portrait painted. By a real artist.

Portraits have an impact, whether they are online or on mantlepiece. And there comes a stage in life when something with a little more depth might be considered.

"Having a formal portrait painted is not necessarily something people think about in Australia," says Janis Lander, president of Portrait Artists Australia. "But in other countries it is a cultural event to have something beautiful done to hang on the wall and give to the kids. A rich and lasting narrative has been created."

A personal picture

Melbourne artist Anton Lambaart says a painted portrait will always be more interesting than a photograph because the artist brings his own view of the subject. "What you're trying to do is to add with a beautiful hand something beyond a photo, something you've found inside a person," he says. "It's always about the sitter and the relationship between the sitter and the artist."

And there's the rub. And the magic. The process is necessarily personal.

"It can be incredibly invading for most people to have someone look at you intently for an hour," says Lambaart, who spends his days as an advertising executive and agency owner. "It can be awkward to be almost caged for that period of time. They're not sure how to present themselves, how they're coming across."

Both sides of the canvas

A recent subject – a media figure turning 50 – was uncomfortable with the artist's gaze. "So over a glass of wine I said to him 'How do you like your sons to remember you?' And he sat up straight with a proud sparkle in his eye and said, 'I'm their dad'."

The resulting portrait, in oils, was a powerful profile of the head of the family. It's a style, Lambaart says, that was often used in portraits of the Doges - the ruling oligarchs of medieval Venice.


Then a second portrait created from the same single sitting showed the more vulnerable, innocent side of the man – the softness Lambaart saw in spending time with him.

The subject's partner identified with both of these personality aspects and ended up buying both paintings, one for each of the children.

High art

Janis Lander says you must like the artist's style before commissioning a portrait. It is essential to do your own research. "An artist will always try to please their client in a commission but it can always go either way and the person won't like it halfway through," she says. "A non-refundable deposit should be paid."

The price of a portrait depends on what point of his career an artist is at. "Some people might want an artist represented in public collections. But not everyone wants a big work."

You can expect to pay $3000 for a portrait from an emerging artist. Yet Lander says there are signs that what has been a slow market for some decades may be picking up.

The increasing profile of the Archibald Prize is contributing to an increase in inquiries from people wanting their portrait painted.

Inconvenient, confronting and expensive – yet does the idea of a portrait for posterity appeal to you?

A dedicated and long-time follower of fashion, Natasha Hughes has also reported extensively on men's grooming and presentation. The former Fairfax staff writer also has a commission to write across manners and deportment, and she's not afraid to use it.