Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

Today’s question is one I’ve asked myself many times over the years. Is there still a market for portraits?

That was important to me because my studio was a portrait studio. “Fun art” wasn’t my focus for over forty years. I really wanted to be a portrait artist and studio time was limited. I had no time for fun art.

My focus has changed since then, but the question is still valid.

First, here’s the reader question.


Just wondering, what do you think the market is today for commissioned painted/drawn portraits. Everyone has access to pretty good photography wouldn’t that satisfy the need?


Is there still a market for portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

The short answer to Liz’s question is yes. There is still a market for portraits. Dog and cat portraits seem especially popular right now, but most animal portrait artists still get commissions.

But she also asks another question that I’ve considered more than once. Why would anyone want an art portrait when photography is so available?

Both questions deserve more than just a short answer, so let me talk about both. First, photography.

Why Not a Photographic Portrait?

For the most part, people who prefer photographic portraits and people who prefer art portraits are two different groups of people. There is some overlap, of course. I have drawn portraits for people who also had professional photographic portraits of their horses.

But my experience over the years has been that people who commissioned art portraits wanted something more than a photograph. They wanted my view of their horse or other animal. Call it “artistic vision.” More than just a likeness.

Photographers are artists. There’s no question about that. The more I learn about improving, enhancing, and combining photos in a good photo editor, the more convinced I become that photographers put just as much care into their work as I put into mine.

But for a lot of portrait clients, the artistic vision goes beyond a photograph.

A lot is involved. The artistic style of the artist is important. Some people want a hyper-realistic portrait (one in which you can’t tell the difference between the reference photo and finished piece when they’re side by side.)

Other clients prefer a more stylistic portrait or even abstract. It is possible to get a lot of that now with photo editors, but it’s still not the same.

My Personal Opinion

My personal opinion is that a lot of art portrait clients also like the idea that their chosen artist actually spent time on their portrait. Time designing the portrait, time rendering it, time framing it (if that’s part of the project.) The hands-on thought plays a major role, I think.

You know. Pencils in hand and touching paper. That is an important factor (in my opinion.)

That’s not to say that photographers and digital artists don’t also put a lot of time into their work. They do! The work they produce is no less a work of art than what I do.

But as old-fashioned as it seems, there is a lot to be said for the idea of physically making marks on paper or canvas. That is important to a lot of portrait clients.

In my opinion.

Is There a Market for Portraits?


Just look at all the great artists out there doing portrait work. Those who have taken the time to hone their skills and improve their expertise stay busy.

Given the situation over the last several months, it may look more difficult to make a living as a portrait artist, but there is still a market.

While it’s true that national and global circumstances have changed the economies in a lot of places, it is still be possible to successfully market portraits.

I began painting portraits in the 1970s. If you’re old enough to remember, you’ll remember that things weren’t great back then, either. In addition to a sluggish economy, there was no such thing as the internet. At least not on a wide-spread basis. I marketed portrait work locally with flyers and by word-of-mouth.

I wasn’t constantly busy with portraits, but I sold enough to get started. One thing led to another, and I spent the next 40 years painting portraits.

The advantage now is that you can get your work into the market without printing flyers, traveling to shows, or spending next month’s budget on advertising. So in that regard, it’s easier than ever to market portrait work.

Do You Want to do Portraits?

Then follow your dream. Maybe it will be a rough journey.

But maybe it will be a raging success. The only way to find out is to try it.

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