What is a Portrait? Definition, Features and More

What is a Portrait? Definition, Features and More

5,000 years ago, portraiture evolved into a new art form in ancient Egypt, where it was renowned. Before photography was developed, the only means to capture someone's appearance was through a painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait. 

This blog will discuss what a portrait is and what it really means. 

How Is a Painted Portrait Created?

Portraits are created by looking at and understanding the sitter. The artist can decide the ideal way to portray the sitter's story once they have an idea of how they want to depict the subject. When an artist makes a portrait of a person, they present a particular impression of a person. That impression may differ depending on how the artist feels about that person.

What Are the Reasons Why a Portrait Is Important?

Portraits of people can tell us about how we see them. Portraits are often used to describe a person's appearance but can also convey an idea of who or what they are. They can also express how a person wants to be seen and capture a particular emotion that the sitter is experiencing.

What Does a Portrait Really Mean?

canvas painting of a man

(Photo by Shutter Games from Unsplash)

Portraits are creative depictions of individuals. They can represent the full and partial figures, typically just the sitter's head and shoulders. 

Portraiture can be created in any form, including photography, painting, and sculptures.

5 Distinguishable Features of a Created Portrait


Created portraits typically have much brighter and more intense colors than photographs. This is because most painters use pigments, which are much more vibrant than the dyes used in photography. Additionally, painters can control the way light reflects off of their paintings, creating an effect that is much more dramatic than what you would see in a photograph.

Facial Expression

One of the most noticeable things about a created portrait is the facial expression. A real likeness will capture not only the features of the face, but also the emotion that was present when the picture was taken. The eyes are usually one of the first things to give away a fake portrait, as they are often too bright or too lifelike. 


The pose of the portrait subject is usually one of the most distinguishing features between a created and a real portrait. A created portrait typically has the subject looking directly into the camera, while a real portrait often has the subject looking off to one side. Additionally, the pose of a real portrait is often more relaxed and natural than that of a created portrait.


A good portrait should have a believable background, either providing context or setting the scene. Whether it's an outdoor landscape or a detailed interior scene, the background should be well-rendered and believable. The background can also set the mood of a portrait. A sense of scale for the figures can be established with the help of the background.


Each portrait has a layout and a structure according to composition, which also influences how the subject is seen and understood. It emphasizes the focal point and guides the viewer's eye through the image.

3 Common Types of a Portrait

Self - Portrait

An artist's own image is depicted in a self-portrait. A self-portrait can be created in any medium and be as detailed or abstract as the artist desires, just like a portrait of another person.

Posthumous Portrait

It is created after the subject has passed away. This portrait can be done by either recreating an existing portrait or following the client's specifications.

Photography Portrait

Photography portrait is a very well-known and common type of portrait. This is all about trying to capture a person's personality, identity, soul, and emotions by utilizing the background atmosphere, poses, and lighting.

Source image from Pexels.com

How to Make Your Own Portrait

When people think of drawing a portrait, they tend to get overwhelmed and think that it's something that only talented artists can create. However, you can also make your own portrait. 

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make your own portrait.

  • Choose a photo 
  • Sketch to add support.
  • Pepare color
  • Paint the eyes
  • Shadows and darks 
  • Add mid-tone colors
  • Lightest colors on top
  •  Add definitions and details
  • Primary colors for the hair and build up
  •  Finish up 
  • Paint in your background

What Can You Do With Portraits?

portrait painting in a museum

(photo from Alina Grubnyak from Unsplash)

Portraits can be placed in museums or galleries, or you can just put them in your home as this can be a memory of your loved ones. But what really can you do with a portrait? You can look, learn, know its importance, feel what is experienced by the subject, or even see the power of the portrait.

How Much Do Making Portraits Cost?

The cost of making portraits varies depending on the size of the portrait, the medium, and how much time is needed to complete the portrait. Generally, a small portrait (8x10 inch painting on canvas) will cost around $100-200, while a large portrait (24x36 inch painting on canvas) will cost $1,000 or more.

If you would like a portrait done in a medium other than paint on canvas, such as charcoal or pastel, the price may be higher because these mediums are more labor intensive. If you need many revisions to get the portrait just right, that will also increase the cost.

Learn More About What Portraits Are by Checking Out Memorialize Art.

If you want to learn more about portraits and what goes into them, be sure to check out Memorialize Art. We have an excellent collection of articles that discuss all different aspects of portrait art, from the history to the techniques used by various artists.  By understanding more about what makes a good portrait, you can start creating your own masterpieces!