How To Become a Portrait Artist

Man painting

If you have artistic talent, an interest in people and a strong work ethic then becoming a portrait artist might suit you; with the right skills, preparation and application it is possible to achieve. Taking arts classes will help you hone your skills to the point where you will not only be marketable but profitable!

From painting portraits as a hobby to earning money as a caricaturist or artist to the elite, there are many satisfying options to choose from.

A portrait painter must be able to:

Show practical expertise in human anatomy and the proportions of the human face.
Anatomically and proportionally inaccurate portraits will have a jarring effect on clients and viewers. One can learn this skill from books on anatomy and proportion or through figure, portrait or anatomy classes. Completing a degree or certificate program in realistic art is recommended.

Display proficiency in a variety of mediums.
Whether painting in oils, acrylics or watercolors, or drawing your subjects in ink, charcoal or graphite, a portrait artist must be very comfortable with their chosen medium. Take classes, read books and practice often.

Express meaning and show personality.
Recognizing and revealing the deeper emotional qualities of your subject might seem like an inborn talent rather than a skill one can acquire in order to become a portrait artist. Develop this ability by recognizing it in other artist’s work. Analyze which elements made the piece expressive for you and then apply them in your own art.

Pose a figure in an interesting, flattering and creative way.
To create a successful portrait that pleases you, your client and the general viewer one must begin with a well-lit and well-posed subject. Take classes in portrait photography, where the lighting, posing and set-up are taught, or learn from books and observation.

Take good photographs for reference.
Not all portraits can be done exclusively from life, which is time consuming and uncomfortable for the subject. Apart from quick sketch artists, almost all portrait artists rely on photographic reference. Taking a photography class is the most expedient way to become proficient in this area.

Maintain self-discipline.
Learning and sustaining your portraiture abilities takes practice and dedication. When working professionally as a portrait artist you will likely be self-employed and require a solid work ethic to succeed.

Be adaptable and collaborative.
The subjects of your portraits will have many opinions about how they are represented. It is advantageous when working with paying clients to be open to requests for changes, new ideas and constructive criticism.

Promote yourself.
You can apply to an agency for representation or market your abilities yourself. You will need a price list, one or more samples of your work and promotional materials like business cards and a website. Do market research and have a business plan. Armed with these tools you will be well on your way to becoming a portrait artist.

Don't forget to stay current with new trends in the arts by picking up continuing education classes online from time to time!


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