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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Brown

How to Commission a Stunning Athletic Portrait

Commemorate your favorite pastime, hard-won victory, or treasured memory with a one-of-a-kind portrait.

Painting of mountain biker leaping through the air, in red and gold, against a blue and white abstract background, by Nelson Ruger

Portraits come in all shapes, sizes, mediums, colors, and styles. They're as unique as the people (or animals) that they portray.

One of the wildest types is the abstract portrait.

Nelson did a series of several abstract portraits back in 2019. He was the featured artist at the Epic Rides OZ Trails Off-Road mountain biking event in Bentonville, Arkansas, and had painted a public art piece for the event, to be signed by all the competitors. After seeing that piece, a handful of the riders wanted their own similar portraits to commemorate the weekend. The cycling series was born!

There are a few key components to getting a great athletic portrait, or any type of abstract portrait. The better you understand those requirements, the better your final product.

Here is what you need to know to commission the best abstract portrait.

Abstract portrait of leaping mountain biker against a colorful painted background

1) Pick the Perfect Pose

The first step of getting the perfect portrait is finding just the right photo. Whether the portrait will be of yourself, someone else, or even your whole family, you want just the right image to show off the person (or people) you're celebrating.

For an athletic portrait, the position of the body is most important. As you can see in the example above, the pose of the athlete is what really stands out.

The background doesn't matter, or any other people in the photo (unless you want them included).

Think about what you want to focus on. Imagine the subject with the background removed. Do you love the photo just as much with no background?

Talk with your painter about what features you want to highlight, and what parts you don't. Work together to define which elements to include in the final painting.

If you can't decide on a final photo, bring your options and talk through their merits with the artist. They may spot a unique or special aspect in one of the photos that you hadn't seen before, or even be able to combine elements from different photos.

Find a great pose, and you'll get a great portrait.

2) Choose Your Key Colors

Do you want to highlight your team or event colors? Do you want your painting to express your favorite hues, or shades that make you feel a certain way? Do you want it to be bright or subdued?

These are all color choices the artist will help guide you through.

Do you know where you want to hang your portrait? If so, complementing the design of the room is always a good place to find inspiration.

Be honest and open with your thoughts and responses to help narrow in on just the right color palette for your piece.

Portrait of family running in a marathon, in blue and green, against an abstract gold and red background, by Nelson Ruger

3) Approve Your Digital Mockup

Once you've talked through the whole piece, your artist will probably put together a quick digital sketch of the ideas you talked about.

This allows you to get a very clear idea about what the final piece will look like, before pulling out paint and canvas.

It allows you to really see the abstract concepts you talked through, and make any adjustments to things you're not crazy about before they're permanent.

Once you're happy with the mockup, both you and the artist can feel confident about starting the full-sized piece.

Painting of mountain biker signed by Epic Rides winners, painted by Nelson Ruger

4) Hang it Proudly

The length of time it will take to prep, paint, seal, and ship your new portrait will vary depending on the type of paints used (oil paint can take weeks to dry, while acrylic only takes hours), the complexity of the design, and the size of the piece. The artist will let you know what to expect and send updates along the way.

Once it's finished, it's all yours to enjoy for a lifetime. Hang it proudly. Whether it celebrates an achievement or memorializes a moment in time, it should make you smile every time you look at it.

For More Info:

If you have the perfect idea for your own abstract portrait (or just want to find out more) visit the Commissions page over at the Nelson Makes Art store, or drop us a note at

Nelson and Amy would love to chat about your idea!


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