How to make money as a portrait artist

portrait artist

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Lucian Freud’s self portraits. Cassius Coolidge’s famous poker playing dogs. These outstanding works represent portrait painting in its many forms; idealistic, realistic or just downright hilarious. Each piece tells an interesting story about its subject – the essence of a well-executed portrait. The privilege of a personal portrait is no longer considered a luxury, as almost anyone can own a reasonably priced portrait, so if you’re a talented artists, you could make some money from your portraits

Practice makes perfect If you want to earn from your art, gain as much experience as you can other genres such as landscapes.  This will help you grasp the principles of composition, perspective and colour theory. Repeatedly sketching the same figure will ensure a connection’ with your subject that will really shine through in a painting. Life drawing classes are a fantastic way to brush up on observation and anatomical skills, and you can use your own pets as models or observe wild animals in their natural habitat.

Invest in good quality materials A selection of paints (acrylics or oils), brushes (for different effects) and supports for your artwork (canvas boards or box frames) are all you need to get started. Don’t buy the cheapest to try and save money (you should factor in the cost of your materials when you charge for your paintings). Invest in a table easel with adjustable angles if you can and allocate a workstation or desk where you can store your materials and rest your easel. To make sure you have sufficient amounts of light when painting in the evening, invest in a daylight lamp so that your colours remain consistent.

Market your product Art is a great hobby, but that’s all it will remain if you can’t reach a wider customer base. Use your initiative and put up samples of your work and advertisements in your local newsagent, playgroup or gift shop. Advertise in your local newspaper or area website, and offer to paint from both photographs or from life so that you can be flexible around the client’s requirements. Ask family and friends if they would like a portrait, at little or no cost. This is better than charging a hefty sum for your very first portrait; aiming too high at first will only set you up for a demoralising fall. Create a simple website of your work so that you can direct people to via business cards or leaflets, including information on prices – you can research other artists’ work to see what they charge. Keep a spreadsheet with your clients’ details, the work produced and the fee, so that you can easily keep track of what you have earned from your creative business. By following these simple steps, learning all you can about your craft and producing high-quality work, you can ensure you’ll have consistent work for years to come.


Joanne Ward Joanne is busy with her new baby on maternity leave, so doesn’t have a website up and running yet.  However, you can contact her via the Editor at Work Your Way


photo credit: Bob Broglia via photopin cc

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