Tradition Studio: Fine Art by Matt Philleo

Q & A

"Colorful and exacting in detail, the (art) collection draws the eye and holds its attention." Wausau Daily Herald article

Gallery Art

1.Does the artwork come framed?
Most artwork featured in the gallery is framed. If unframed, it will be specified in the info corresponding to the image.
2.What if the artwork arrives damaged?
I will take every precaution to ensure that this does not happen. I am very meticulous with my packaging, and I completely insure the work. If, however, it does arrived damaged, ship it back to me, and I will correct the damage if possible, redo the painting, or reimburse your full purchase price if necessary.


1. What is the difference between your portraits and the portraits offered at a photo kiosk or studios that say you can have "your photo turned into a fine art heirloom"?

Most photo kiosks that offer to turn your photo into a painting simply use a computer program to artificially print your photo onto canvas or canvas-textured paper. The program may even imitate brush strokes to give the print a painterly look, but the final product is still not an original work of fine art.

My portraits are painted by hand, in traditional media: paint on canvas, or in the case of drawings, pencil on paper. I use a Renaissance glazing technique, where I start with a white canvas, and add translucent (like stained glass) layers of paint slowly and meticulously, to build up the color and depth. Light shines through the layers of paint reflects off of the white canvas beneath, and through the layers of paint back to your eyes. The result is an intensity of color that can't be achieved any other way.

Once the colors and values (contrasts between light and dark) are pretty much locked in, I start adding the details that bring the painting to life. I use a 15/00 detail brush to capture the fine nuances that make every person unique, like eyelashes or even individual strands of hair. Again, all of this takes time and patience, but the end result is worth it.

2. Why are your prices so much lower than other portrait artists?

For those that do actual portraits in the traditional way, it takes both time and talent. I've seen prices go into several thousands of dollars for a small 20" x 24" single head and bust portrait, and I'm sure there are reasons why the artist feels they need to charge that much. All I know is, the average person wouldn't be able to afford it.

I tried to price my work so that I could get paid enough to live on, but also so that the average person could have a quality work of fine art in their home if they want to. I put in about 50-80 hours on an average sized painting, and about 15-20 hours on a drawing. For the price I charge, this equates to an honest working class wage. But more than that, I feel blessed that I'm able to do what I love doing and make a living at it. So why should you have to pay more?

3. Why are your prices for portraits lower than the prices for the rest of your custom artwork?

It's really a matter of time. In portraits, clients generally supply me the photo, and I simply paint from it. With the other genres, I may have to do a lot of research, photography and design work before I can even start the painting, which takes a lot more time.

4. Are there additional fees if I need to have something in my portrait changed?

Yes and no. If something in the portrait needs to be changed due my inability to capture the look that you wanted, whether it be a situation where the person doesn't look enough like them or they're not smiling enough (or even too much!) or the color is a little off on Uncle Joe's shirt, I will fix the problem. No additional cost. Even it's a situation where there was a miscommunication as to what you wanted, I will generally give you the benefit of the doubt and assume I didn't understand you correctly. Again, I will correct the problem–for no additional fee.

However, if it be a situation where you decide you want to change Uncle Joe's shirt from red to blue, after I already painted it, then I would have to charge an extra fee for that. Typically, I will charge an hourly fee based on the original price, the amount of time it took me to complete the painting itself, and then the time to complete the change. For example, let's say the price of the portrait was $600. It took me 40 hours to complete, and it took me two hours to do the change. The fee would be $30.00 (600 divided by 40, times 2), plus a shipping charge if necessary. I can't think of where I have ever had to do this, but it's nice to be prepared just in case.

5. Do you communicate changes or instructions on artwork by phone or by email?

I will communicate in the form that works best for you.

6. Do you provide a proof of the portrait before you ship it out?

Absolutely. I will, at your request, email you an image of the completed portrait, for your approval. This would be the best time, of course, to submit any changes to me, but it can still be done even after you receive the painting, if need be.

7. What if I don't like my portrait, after receiving it?

I'm certain you'll be pleased with the quality--in fact, during my eighteen years as an artist, I've never had a customer return a portrait yet. But since I know there's a first time for everything, put your mind at ease and take a look at my bold guarantee.

8. How long will it take to get my portrait?

Generally, you'll receive your portrait in two weeks or less after I get your order. If it's a very large or complex portrait, or if I have backlog of orders, I'm backed up with other orders, it may take longer--in which case I'll promptly let you know.


9. Is there an additional cost if I need the portrait (or any other art commission) rushed?

That depends. Generally, it takes me about two weeks to do a painted portrait, and a week to do a drawn portrait. If you need it in a week or less, there would be an additional fee of 25% to get the painting to you by your deadline.

10. How do you ship and who pays shipping charges?

I ship either by USPS or UPS, depending on the cost and time involved. I ask for a flat 5% of the order to cover shipping/ packaging costs. Your portrait will be protected against any damage with stiff cardboard and bubble wrap. In the case of original artwork, I always insure everything I ship out, so you have complete peace of mind.

11. What kind of photo should I send you?

The best kind of photos to send, simply enough, are photos you think are good. Choose photos that are in focus, where the person(s) shown has an appealing pose, facial expression, and is illuminated by good, even lighting. If possible, send several pictures, so I can get a better idea of what the person looks like.

Snapshots with a strong flash illumination are not recommended--but if this is all you have to work with, I can still create a striking portrait. Keep in mind, however, it will lack that "studio lighting" look. Also, if you're using a copyrighted professional photo--I will either have to substantially change the color, design, etc, or I will need the photographer's permission to base my portrait off it.

12. How should I send the photos?

To guard against damage, use a commercial photo-mailer or sandwich your photos between two sturdy pieces of cardboard, at least 3/4" larger than the prints you're sending. Make sure all four sides are taped well. If you're sending digital photos, send them as JPEGs and email them as an attached file.

13. Will I get my photos back?

Yes. I will return them with your finished portrait.

14. Can you combine photos of different people into one portrait?

Absolutely. You may want, for example, a portrait of the whole family, but never had the chance to get them all together for a photo session. I'll round up the crew for you! Just send me the separate photos, and I'll put them together, and make it look like they were all there at the same time and place.

15. Can you add other objects or props to the portrait?

Yes, if you'd like, I can include anything that will help to bring out your loved ones' personality. It could be a guitar, a basketball, a golf club, a book, or even something more symbolic.

16. Can you change the way the person looks in the portrait?

Certainly. For example, I had a client that wanted me to add a mustache to her husband's face in the portrait that was missing from the source photo she gave me. I've also had clients request that I make the person in the painting smile a little more than they were in the photo. That's no problem either. I just tell a few jokes while I'm painting the portrait and it's amazing how the person lightens up. J

17. Can you take something out of a photo when you do the actual portrait?

Yes. It's very easy to omit anything out of a photo, or add something as well.
Seriously speaking, I want you to be happy with your portrait for a lifetime. Just let me know what kind of alterations you'd like in the special request box of the order page and I'll incorporate it into your portrait. If it's too farfetched, I let you know.

18. Are your portraits printed or painted/ drawn?

Every detail of my portraits are painted or drawn. I use the old Masters' traditional glazing technique of building up layer upon layer, for a rich, visually dazzling surface. My wife and I were shopping recently and noticed a "Portrait from Photo" kiosk, where they exhibited one of their "paintings." She commented on how flat and lifeless it looked., and as I got closer I could see I got closer, and you could see the artificial brush strokes embossed over a typical four-color print. Computer technology does some amazing things, but it still can't imitate all the nuances of genuine, human-created fine art.

19. Will my portrait on canvas come rolled or on stretcher bars?

All portraits on canvas will already be on stretched on gallery quality wooden stretcher bars, ready to be hung or framed. If you'd like just the canvas without the stretcher bars, please let me know in the special instructions on the order form.

20. Does the artwork come framed?

No. Good frame making is art all of its own, and unfortunately, I don't have time to frame all of the paintings and drawings I create. Also, you'll want to choose a frame that is best suited to your own tastes and home/office decor, so it's best to take the portrait to a frame shop, where you'll get exactly what you want. Finally, having the portraits unframed allows me to keep costs and rates down to a more affordable level

21. Why are your paintings in acrylic and not in oil?

Acrylic paints have come a long way in the last few decades as an excellent alternative to oil. They are flexible, durable, water-resistant, non-fading, and non-yellowing. With my glazing technique--done in the centuries-old tradition of the Masters--acrylic can achieve a depth of color almost as rich as oil. I prefer the quick drying time and low toxicity of acrylic paint as well. Finally, oil paintings tend to yellow over time, but paintings done in acrylic don't have this problem.

22. Do your paintings need glass or plexiglass to protect them?

No, that is not necessary, since I put a protective satin varnish on all of my painting, which gives them an even sheen, and makes them easy to clean as well.

23. How do you care for the portrait?

For a painting, if a layer of dust builds on the surface, simply take a slightly damp cotton cloth and wipe the surface clean. You will not damage it in any way by doing this. Having it in an area where sun is shining directly on it may cause dark colors to fade over time. Also, the painting should be displayed in a normal room temperature setting.

A drawing should be protected by glass or plexiglass. Then, simply clean the glass as you would a mirror.

24. Can you do a "live" portrait from a sitting?

Yes. We would start with a consultation to discuss the details of your commissioned portrait, do a few live studies at your home or my studio, and then I would finish the portrait in my studio, using photographic references. For rates and more information on live portraits, please contact me.


1. How long does it take you to do a mural?

This will vary from project to project. The larger the room, and the more detail there is, the longer it will take. Average time ranges from a few days to a few weeks.

2. Are there harmful fumes or odors that I'll have to worry about as you paint the mural in my home or business?

No, not really. I paint in acrylics, not in oils, which are non-toxic and fast drying. However, since acrylics are an artist-grade quality version of latex, there is a slight ammonia odor associated with them, which shouldn't present a problem for the average person. It will probably have an odor half as strong as your average interior house paint.

For those who are allergic to ammonia, I can also paint the mural on canvas or panels in my studio, and install it on your wall once it's dry.

3. How do I calculate a price for a mural?

I base my prices off of detail and square footage. To find the square footage of the wall that will be painted on, multiply the length x the height.

4. How far will you travel to do a mural?

I'll travel pretty much anywhere, as long as traveling expenses are paid for or compensated in some way. I live in Wisconsin, but I've done murals as far east as Virginia, and as far west as California. If you live in California or Florida and can get me out of my state during the winter months, I'll be one happy man!

5. Are there any surfaces you can't paint a mural on?

Not really. If it can be primed, it can be painted. Exterior walls that have cracked, chipped, and peeling paint will need to power sanded or replaced, otherwise the primer and paint wont adhere properly, and you'll be losing bits and pieces of your mural every year. If the surface is just weathered a bit, that's no problem, I use a high-quality primer that will seal any slight defects or dryness.

Interior walls will have to be relatively smooth in order for a mural to look good. "Orange peel" texture is about the roughest a wall can be before it is too rough to interfere with the quality. "Popcorn" textured walls are out.

Again, there are options if your walls are unsuitable for priming, due to being weatherized or too highly textured. I can paint on panels or canvas within my studio and install them on your wall.

6. What if I don't like the mural after it's painted?

All my artwork is backed by my guarantee, and murals are no exception. If you don't like what you see after it's completed, first give me a reasonable chance to correct the mistake. I promise I will do everything I can to make it just like you want it. But if for some reason you still don't like it, I will paint the wall back to its original color with comparable paint (what was on the wall to being with) and you won't owe me anything.

Landscapes & Wildlife

1. Can you paint a scene from a photo?

Yes, as long as it's not copyrighted. If you have an idea in mind from a photo used in publication, such as a book or magazine, I would only be able to use it as inspiration for the final painting. The image would have to be changed substantially.

2. Can you do a portrait of my loved one within a landscape background?

Absolutely. Just let me know what you'd like done and we'll work it out. As long as the lighting would reasonably match up, you can give me a photo of your loved one in, say for example, that was taken in your backyard, and I can make it appear as if the person was standing in a beautiful nature park.

3. Can you take a photo of my mounted deer and do a painting from it as if he were alive in nature again?


Pet Artwork

1. Are there any pet portraits that you cannot do?

As long as I have a photo to work from, I can draw or paint the portrait for you. I don't care if it's a dog, cat, bird, guinea pig, Boa constrictor–as long as I can tell what your pet looks like from the photo you give me, I can do an excellent portrait that you'll be proud of.


1. Can you make drawings or paintings to my exact specifications to get across a point visually?

Yes. I really enjoy doing this. Whatever concept you would like portrayed visually, just let me know, and I'll illustrate it for you. Some of my clients know precisely what they want, and they even do a crude sketch for me to base my work upon. I'm fine with that. Others just have a vague notion of what they want, and we communicate back and forth with sketches and ideas, until the concept is "fleshed out." When you commission me to do artwork for you, you're the boss. You tell me what you want and the way you want it done, and it's my job to make it happen, not to try and convince you to do it my way.

2. Who retains the copyright privileges to commissioned artwork?

Most of the time, you the client would. When I do a painting or drawing for you to your specifications, for your purposes, once it leaves my studio and is in your hands, it belongs to you. You can copy it in any way as you see fit. I do ask, however, that you allow me the privilege of copying the work for promotional purposes (so others can see what my work is like and what I can do for them)

There are some paintings (not commissioned personally for them, but work in my gallery) that I have given clients one-time reproduction rights for a specific purpose, such as a book cover. In this case, I generally ask for a fee, and that my name is credited to the creation of the work.

3. Are there any subjects/topics you will not paint or illustrate due to personal or moral objections?

I have to be up front with you and say yes, there are some things that I am not willing to paint, if they go against my personal beliefs as a Christian. I would certainly let you know right away if this is the case. It's not very often that I've had to turn any commissions down, but in those few instances, my potential clients have always been very understanding of my reasons, and I deeply appreciate that.

4. Why is the down deposit higher (50%) for symbolic, landscapes, and wildlife custom art than for portraits (10%)?

Portraits generally don't involve as much planning and preparation beforehand as compared to the other genres. With symbolic work especially, I spend several hours consulting with the client, researching, taking reference photographs, and doing designs before actually starting the artwork itself. Because of that, the down deposit is higher to compensate for the extra initial investment of time. Naturally, all of this extra preparation work is done so that the final art will be of the highest quality.