Important historical figures, royalty, and celebrities have been the subjects of fine oil portraits for centuries. But for many families, the time-honored tradition of portraiture may seem like a daunting and cost-prohibitive extravagance.
Not anymore. Donald Robert Sayles of Classic Portrait Source has spent his lifetime perfecting a process for creating fine art oil paintings and photographic portraits. Now, Donald wants to bring the time-honored tradition of portraiture to North Shore families, with a particular emphasis on young children.
“It sends a message to the children that they are important,” says Donald. “And when children feel important, they will do important things.” Donald advocates that families develop a tradition where the oldest child gets their individual portrait done at about age 5, followed by each subsequent sibling, and eventually the whole family before any engagements start.
As the son of professional photographers Harold and Alice Sayles, Donald learned photography in their family-owned portrait business, established in 1945, before opening his own studio in Houston, Texas, in the 1980s. In 1994, he then brought the concept of gallery-quality portraits to Birmingham, Michigan, and made a name for himself creating portraits for Detroit-area executives, celebrities, and—perhaps most meaningful for Donald—young children.
Wilmette residents Karen and Brian Bowen decided to have Donald paint a portrait of their three daughters after meeting him at a charity auction for House of the Good Shepherd. “I had been thinking of doing this for a while as I like the sense of timelessness and permanence that I associate with portraits,” says Karen. “I am very pleased with the result, and I was also pleasantly surprised that the medium of portraiture could produce something that fit so well with our casual, utilitarian home atmosphere.”
Thankfully for those with young children, gone are the days of sitting still for long modeling sessions with an artist. Donald’s process starts with a one-hour photographic sitting in one of his studios. This is when the artist will create the image that will capture the essence of the subject.He uses methods from the old masters—when they painted from life-lighting, composition, pose, and expression—and a view camera with large 4×5 film to instantly capture those precise elements. With soft background music playing, the artist will get to know the subject and with a trained eye will observe such things as body language, natural movements of the hands and head, and changes in expression. The artist will quietly adjust the lighting to strengthen the desired mood. With children, the conversation can be about stories or other fun subjects. Occasionally, they may even sing a simple song. During this time, the artist will be clicking the shutter at the perfect instant to capture the various expressions.
After the sitting, clients can choose from a wide selection of portrait options at varying price points. Often, they are so pleased with the results that they stop at this point to purchase the photograph because it looks so much like a traditional oil painting. Or, they can go to the next step, where Donald and his team of highly trained artists create a full hand painting, using the photograph projected on a canvas as their guide. This process provides the additional flexibility to paint the subject in any setting, such as a beach, without actually having to go on location for the shoot.
Most portraits are completed within the short time span of two to three months. Classic Portrait Source will also help with the very important element of framing the portrait. They have a selection of ready-made frames and also represent a long established custom-frame manufacturing company in Chicago.
While Donald’s main studio is located in Michigan, he has set out to bring this art to a wide group of families through his partnership with Macy’s, where he has a permanent studio at Chicago’s State Street store. A Donald Robert Sayles portrait of comedian Seth Meyers on display in the store depicts Donald’s talent for capturing one’s personality—in this case, an ironic one—in portraiture. He has also created portraits for children of celebrities, including those of actress Lauren Holly, and many high-level corporate executives.
“It is just like when Pierre Cardin brought high-end fashion to department stores,” says Donald. Now, it is high-end photographic and oil painting portraiture available to anyone. Classic Portrait Source has a wide range of prices from $350 to $25,000.
In addition to his two studios, Donald makes himself available at numerous traveling events throughout the year. He will be doing sittings at Oakbrook Center’s Macy’s Furniture Store on June 22 and 23, August 24 and 25, and October 12 and 13, which will include an exhibit of portraits for those wanting to see examples of Donald’s work.
For more information, visit classicportraitsource.com or call 312-781-5170.
—Elaine Doremus Slayton