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How do I Become a Portrait Artist?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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To become a portrait artist you should have some intrinsic artistic ability or interest. This does not mean you have to be born with amazing artistic skills, but you should want to become a better artist. You will likely need to practice a great deal to become as good an artist as possible, so having a desire to draw or paint makes that practice a fair amount easier to do. Once you have practiced enough, you can become a portrait artist by creating a body of work, finding potential clients, painting portraits, and receiving adequate compensation for your work.

A portrait artist is someone who draws, paints, or otherwise visually creates artistic renderings of a person’s image or portrait. Before the advent of photography, this type of artwork was typically quite popular among royalty and the wealthy, as it allowed them to adorn their homes with images of themselves. Though it may not be as popular as it once was, there is still a desire among many people to have portraits created of their image, and once you become a portrait artist you can provide that service.

One of the first steps you should take to become a portrait artist is to practice and refine your own artistic ability. You may want to take classes in art, especially those with a focus on drawing or painting people. While life drawing classes in which you draw live subjects can be especially helpful for understanding proportions of human bodies and how to capture the shape and movement of a person, you should look for classes in portraiture or similar subjects. You may even consider receiving a degree in fine art or a similar field to help you become a portrait artist.

Once your abilities are refined enough and you feel ready to become a portrait artist and create artwork of live subjects, you will likely want to build a portfolio of your work. You should select only your very best work for this, as you want to demonstrate your abilities. It can be helpful to work at the sizes you plan to offer, and you may consider focusing on standard sizes that will be easier to matte and frame.

You should then find potential clients who will want to commission portraits from you, based upon the work in your portfolio. This may be difficult at first, but try advertising your services in local newspapers or on the Internet. You may need to be persistent in your efforts, and likely charge a fairly low price at first, but as your work becomes more refined and you increase your portfolio you will have further opportunities. Be sure not to undercut what you are worth, however, as you should still present confidence in your abilities and know that you have the talent required to become a portrait artist.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Dec 05, 2013

@KoiwiGal - Honestly, though if someone is a beginner I would suggest that they start out with traditional materials and then move onto more unconventional mediums after they grasp the basics.

Portraits are extremely difficult to get right because you aren't just drawing a face, you're drawing a particular face. No one will notice if you don't get a tree exactly right as long as it looks like a tree in general. That's not true at all of a portrait.

By KoiwiGal — On Dec 05, 2013

@Iluviaporos - You don't have to just specialize with the subject matter either. Oil portraits might be traditional but I've seen all kinds of different non-traditional mediums recently and they seem to be fairly popular. Everything from wood carving or burning to crayons to burnt toast.

Of course, if you want to sell yourself as an expert in a strange medium, you have to make sure that you actually are one first, since people won't be impressed unless you've managed some kind of beauty or realism with your work.

But it's kind of cool that there are so many different options available in a field that used to be so limited. Portraits might seem like the stuffiest of art forms but they can actually be really exciting.

By lluviaporos — On Dec 04, 2013

There are all kinds of ways to be an artist these days. There are plenty of places online where you can show off your skills and offer to paint portraits for people. You might even want to specialize in something like pets or weddings or creating family photos or something like that.

It might sound ridiculous, but dog and cat portrait artists can actually make a lot of money if they become popular, because there are plenty of people willing to pay well for a portrait of their pets.

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