Skip the Family Portrait This Year and Try Something New
How many pictures of your family do you have on your phone right now? Of those pictures, how many of them are actually pretty good. Like, frameable good? Sure, you might not be wearing matching outfits in a field of bluebonnets, but I'm willing to bet those pictures are every bit as good as something you might pay a professional photographer for. Maybe even better because the kids aren't wiggling in frilly dresses and starched khakis.
Since my nine-year-old daughter was born, we have a custom portrait painted, drawn or illustrated instead of having a professional photo taken. I have a gallery wall in my home full of the fun portraits, and it's my family's favorite wall in the house.
Each year I choose a different artist with a different style so no two years look alike. I try and alternate the more realistic portraits with the more abstract artists so we can still get an idea of what everyone looked like through the years. Sometimes our pets are even included.
The obsession with seeing myself and my family in cartoon form all started when I got married 15 years ago. I wanted the kids attending my wedding to have as much fun as all the adults. I hired someone to draw a caricature of my husband and I which was printed and handed out to the kids with crayons. Years later I still have one scribbled in waxy colors hanging on the gallery wall. Though the years I was gifted a mosaic portrait, my husband has been illustrated for his bands and later I made a set of dolls resembling my family with a friend. From there, the collection has grown.
How to Choose Your Artist
Decide what style of family portrait you want to have. Do you envision a set of kitschy crocheted amigurumi dolls representing your family or a hyper-realistic oil painting to hang over the fireplace in your formal living room? Neither is wrong — you just need to first establish a style and preference that represents your family and your home.
Find the Right Person for the Job
A quick search on Etsy and Instagram using terms like: "custom portraits" or "custom illustrations" will usually get you where you need to go. Also, some artists who don't advertise that they do custom portraits will if you ask them nicely. Another idea is to search for people that do pet portraits. Pet paintings are more common, but many times these artists will also do people. As a side note: if you're not ready to give up on your annual family portraits, you can opt for fun illustrations of your furbabies instead.
Starving Artists, Not So Much
Many artists will charge roughly the same amount as a photographer. Keep in mind, there may be stipulations on how many revisions the artist will be willing to do. In other words: it won't be like getting a set of 100 digital pictures where you can choose your favorite. Each artist is different, but remember this is not a photograph...and that's half the fun.
Gather Your Favorite Family Photos
This is one of the best parts of having a custom family portrait painted. Instead of trying to herd cats (aka gather all your kids and get a picture where everyone looks half decent), you can send the artist several of your favorite headshots. A majority of the illustrators I have worked with didn't need one family photo to go by; they wanted several pictures of each family member to put everyone all together in one picture. Typically, you can upload your favorite phone pictures to Dropbox or send them in an email.
Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck
You might be thinking: "When I get photos made, I can send Grandma a new one each year." Is Grandma really not seeing the 7,659 pictures you're posting of your kids on Facebook? I bet she is. Send Grandma something fresh and new — your illustrated family portrait. Many artists will actually send your images digitally so you can have them printed up yourself. If it's an actual painting, take a picture of it with your phone and make it digital. This is when I have copies printed to send the family. The pictures are also great on blank cards to use as "thank you" notes and more.
I'm not saying throw the baby out with the bathwater and never have professional family portraits again. What I am suggesting is that you try something a little different. If you really want a photo, have one from your phone enlarged and printed. There are some great apps available to make that phone photo look professional. Spend the annual photo budget on hiring someone to illustrate your family. Even if you just do it once, this fun spin on the traditional family portrait will be enjoyed by everyone for years to come. Trust me, I know from plenty of experience.