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.

Original Art or Reproductions or Both

Have you ever wondered what the best way to sell art is? I mean, is it original art or reproductions, or some combination?

If you have, you’re not alone. Most artists trying to make a living (or even just pay for art supplies) have asked themselves this question at one time or another. One reader asked it to me.

Is it better to sell reproductions and keep the original, or sell the original of an art piece? What would determine which route to go?

Original Art or Reproductions or Both

Reproductions used to be all the rage. Successful artists created great art, had reproductions made and sold the reproductions and sometimes the original. It was a good way to make good money on art. But it didn’t work for all art or for all artists.

I’ve had reproductions made two ways.

The Old Fashioned Way

Back in the 1990s, I sent an original colored pencil drawing to a printing company, they took a high-resolution photo of it, then printed a run of reproductions. Reproductions made this way are technically called lithographs and the process is lithography. It’s essentially the same method used to print books, magazines and newspapers.

Original Art or Reproductions - An image reproduced as a lithograph.
Park Pony, shown here, is the first original I reproduced professionally. It was reproduced as a lithograph. The lithographs were beautiful and very well done, but did not sell.

Printing this way is less expensive per copy because you run a lot of copies all at once. In general, the more copies you make, the less it costs per copy.

But I had to pay for the complete order up front and I had to manage the inventory. I still have most of it, though I may have sold enough to pay the cost of the order.

The Newer Way

In 2003, I took several images to a local photographer, who used a very high-resolution camera to photograph them, then was able to print reproductions to order as I needed them. This was definitely more expensive per copy, but I had no inventory and could order reproductions only as they sold.

This type of reproduction is often referred to as a giclee (zhe-clay) because it’s printed using ink jet printing and archival inks. It’s a great way to do on-demand reproductions and is actually quite reasonably priced once you get past the photography.

Original Art or Reproductions - An image reproduced as a giclee.
Morning Dreams is one of four oil paintings and two colored pencil pieces professionally photographed for reproduction as giclee reproductions.

These reproductions didn’t sell very well either, I ended up with was high-resolution digital images of those pieces. Pretty expensive digital files!

Why Reproductions Didn’t Work for Me

Not the Right Market

I’ve never had success with reproductions and decided a long time ago to stick with originals. That suited my business model, which was portrait painting. The people who bought portraits weren’t interested in reproductions. Why should they be? They had the original.

The people who purchase reproductions didn’t want pictures of other people’s horses. They wanted more generic images. Horses in landscapes, for example.

Or generic racing scenes or hunt scenes. I wasn’t doing that sort of thing, so the print market wasn’t a good fit for me.

Not the Right Art

It’s a great ego boost to have reproductions for sale, but it’s also a great responsibility. Unless you have a lot of money to spend (and how many of us do?) you need to be very careful about the images you choose to reproduce.

I’d really like to blame the market for the failure of my reproductions to sell, but the blame is all mine.

Park Pony (the lithograph) was a nice drawing, but a lousy reproduction. It just didn’t have enough mass market appeal and I would have been much better off to not have reproduced it.

Morning Dreams is a more generic image, the kind of image that has done well for some artists. But it’s not good enough. My technical skill was simply not at a level to justify reproducing the image, and I painted the painting on a short deadline, so it didn’t get the kind of attention I would have given a portrait. Those are two ingredients in a recipe for failure when it comes to selling reproductions.

Not the Right Marketing

In both examples cited above, I believed that all I had to do was get my artwork out there and people would buy it. Yes, I did a little marketing, but not at a level designed to generate interest or sales.

So sales were few and far between.

So How Do You Decide?

Even professional artists producing high-quality artwork on a regular basis sometimes produce images that don’t sell for one reason or another. So how do you decide what images to reproduce or if you should offer reproductions?

The second question is easier to answer than the first, so let’s tackle that first.

Should You or Shouldn’t You?

With modern technology, it’s very easy to reproduce images. Today’s cameras, scanners, and printers are good enough that any artist who wants to take the time can do reproductions of any of their drawings they want (or all of them.) If all you want is a website with loads of reproductions for sale, that’s up to you.

But in order to have more than just a website, you also need to market and the better your work, the easier marketing is.

What I suggest is that you wait to reproduce work, and that you spend that waiting time creating the best art you can. Yes, draw the subjects you most love drawing, but also keep in mind the things that appeal to other people.

Don’t rush into the market before you’re ready, like I did. That was so discouraging both times that I haven’t tried it since.

How to Select Images

After you have a body of work (maybe six to ten pieces,) start with the best one. If you’ve shown them around, either in person, on social media, or in other ways, pay attention to the images that get the most attention.

If you find that a particular image or type of image sells well as an original, then it’s worth trying as a reproduction.

And if you get people asking if a certain image is available as a reproduction, consider reproducing that image.

How to Sell Art – The Basics

It’s doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, someone wants to know how to sell art.

For most of us, making art is fun, even when it challenges us. But marketing? Not so much.

I know all about that! Art doesn’t sell itself, after all (sad to say.)

How to Sell Art - The Basics

How to Sell Art – Marketing Tips

A lot can be said (and is said) about selling art. There’s so much detailed information available that it’s downright confusing. Especially when some of it seems contradictory.

When it comes to certain topics, simple is better. Marketing of any kind is one of those topics. So is the specific topic of selling art. So lets talk about a few basic—and simple—tips to get you started.

In our previous discussion on marketing, I listed some marketing myths. Today, I want to replace each on those those myths with a tip.

If I make it, it will sell… if you get it in front of the right people

The first myth was that making art was enough to sell it. Its mere existence meant someone would buy it.

The secret to selling art isn’t making art. Yes you have to make art in order to have something to sell, but the real secret is getting your art in front of the right people.

Who are the right people?

People who like your favorite subjects rendered the way you render them.

People who like art enough to want to spend money on it, and have money to spend on art

All three factors are important. After all, a person who likes what you do, but doesn’t have the money to spend on art is not going to buy your art.

On the other hand, a person who likes what you do and has money to spend, but isn’t interested buying art also is not going to buy your art.

They all work together.

Before you can put that infromation to work for you, you have to identify the people most likely to buy your art. Your target audience. I shared tips for identifying your target audience in a post call Getting Started as a Portrait Artist. Those tips work for all artists.

If I’m not selling, I’m not good enough

The second myth was that if your work isn’t selling, you’re not a good enough artist.

We all can improve as artists. Part of the artistic journey is learning new skills and improving old ones.

But if you’re not selling your work, the reason is probably that you’re not getting it out there. If people don’t know you make art, or don’t know what kind of art you make, how will they buy it?

So if you’re not selling, getting better at marketing is the solution, along with improving your artwork.

Don’t follow trends, set them

Myth #3 was following trends to sell art. This was big for me. Why?

Because I knew from the start that I wanted to paint portraits of horses that looked like the horses I was painting.

The reason this was such valuable knowledge is that I began getting serious about art just before abstract art became the big thing. When I went to school, most of the students were more interested in painting abstract than representational art. Getting a good art education in that situation was an uphill battle, and many’s the time I wondered if I had a future.

Then I made a simple decision.

I’ll paint what I like to paint in a way I like to paint, and will look for people who like my work.

I stopped fretting over what everyone else was doing, and found the market that fit my work.

That’s what you should do, too.

Stop following art trends, and create your own art trend. Even if it’s a very narrow niche market, there will be others who like what you do enough to buy it. All you have to do is find them! (See Point #1)

Yes, you can sometimes make sales by taking advantage of fads and trends, as a commenter on that previous post said. But find a way to fit it into your area of specialty. Trend following can help you if it doesn’t take you away from what you’re best at.

Set aside time to market, then use that time wisely

Have you ever found yourself thinking you can market effectively in just a few minutes a day? If you’ve tried it, has it worked for you?

Finding the people interested enough in your work to buy it means intentionally spending time on marketing. How much? That depends on your daily schedule.

If you’re a full time artist, you may need to start spending 3 or 4 hours a day doing marketing in some form.

If you’re part-time, as I know many of you are, then an evening, or maybe part of a weekend.

What you do depends in large part on the type of art you do and your target audience. It’s really a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say you have to start somewhere and it will take time. Even if it’s just an hour a week.

Part of spending time is being consistent. You need to do more than a spurt of marketing once in a while. It’s far better to spend a small amount of time daily or weekly than to spend a whole day marketing whenever the mood to market strikes.

Set aside funding, then use that funding wisely

The fifth myth was that you can market effectively without spending money.

There are ways to start marketing without spending a lot (or any) money. Social media is pretty much free, after all.

Email is much more effective, and you can start an email mailing list for free with many providers. Several email service providers have free plans up to a certain number of subscribers. MailChimp offers you free service for up to 2000 subscribers. Mailerlite‘s free package is good for up to 1,000 subscribers.

I also use some marketing plugins with this blog that are currently free, but that I’ll one day upgrade.

In each case, the free plans do what I need to do, but the paid versions offer more options. Sometimes those options save a considerable amount of time. When you’re running your own business, time is money, so consider all of your options carefully.

If money is tight, start where you can, but plan for the day when you can pay for marketing. Make the best use of those funds when necessary.


I’ve barely scratched the surface on this marketing thing, but I hope I’ve given you hope enough to get started on your own marketing.

Because selling art is not a hopeless proposition. Nor need it be as complicated as it sometimes looks.

Art Selling Myths (And Why not to Believe Them)

Time to talk about a few art selling myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about selling art. She wanted to know specifically if I’d noticed oil paintings selling better than colored pencil pieces or vice versa.

That post got me thinking about some of the common myths we artists tend to believe about selling art. Since understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work, sharing a few art selling myths is a great place to begin a discussion on selling art.

And before you start thinking this is an academic discussion, let me assure you I’ve wrestled will each one of these myths for years. Some of them are still a struggle. So I speak from personal experience.

Why You Shouldn't Believe These Art Selling Myths

There are a lot of art selling myths in circulation, so I’m going to focus on the five that gave me the most trouble.

I’ll also offer a suggestion or two to help you overcome each one.

Art Selling Myths

Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it.

This is the field of dreams syndrome. Remember that movie? Throughout the story, the lead character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was told all he had to do was build a baseball field, and players would come.

He did and they did, stepping out from rows of corn like magic.

A lot of artists seem to be of the same mindset. I know I thought that way for years. All I had to do was make art and people would flock to buy it.

The problem is, it never worked. It didn’t matter how many paintings I painted, most of them languished in the studio (or under the bed, since I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years.)

It still doesn’t work. In most cases, art does not sell itself.

Not even if you put it on social media.

Art Selling Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it. Otherwise known as the Field of Dreams mindset.
Image by WhiskerFlowers from Pixabay

What to Do

This is a mindset problem, so the only way to deal with it is changing your mindset.

How do you do that?

Experience changed my mindset. Years of painting without marketing or selling eventually taught me the importance of marketing. That time wasn’t wasted because I continued making art and my art improved.

But if you can sit yourself down and reason out the link between marketing and selling, you’ll be yards ahead of the game. Hopefully a lot sooner than I was!

Myth #2: If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.

I suppose it’s natural to reach this conclusion if you believe the first myth. After all, if art sells itself and your art isn’t selling, it must be because it isn’t good enough.

It makes sense, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is look at the sales records for places like Christy’s to see that art that looks bad to you (meaning you don’t like it,) sells all the time. Sometimes for a ton of money.

Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials and so on—can and does often sell. Sometime for a lot of money.

What’s my point? You may not think your artwork is good enough, but someone else will. All you have to do is find them and that’s called marketing!

What to Do

This, too, is a mindset problem. Every artist I know has moments of thinking their work isn’t good enough. Some of us (yes, me) never think our work is good enough.

But we are usually our own worst critic, and the solution is the same as the solution to Myth #1.


Stop it.

The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.

Myth #3: If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no.

Unless you can create complete works of art in a day (or perhaps several of them a day,) you’ll never be able to take advantage of trends. You just won’t be fast enough.

Sure, you’ll gain skills you wouldn’t have otherwise gained, but you’ll also gain a ton of art that can’t be given away.

What’s worse, you’ll end up with a collection of art that fits no particular style. Your work will not have a common thread. It will be all over the place.

And that makes marketing very difficult.

What to Do

If you tend to chase trends in art, the first thing to do is stop it!

Figure out what you’re most interested in drawing, how you most enjoy drawing, and what motivates you most.

Then draw those subjects in those ways and have fun. People who see your work will come to recognize it, and sooner or later your work will begin to attract people who like the same type of work.

And if you must dabble with trends, make sure to incorporate something recognizable into the trend-following artwork. Something that connects it to the other pieces.

In other words, stop following the herd.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Myth #4: Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.

Oh, how I wish this was true!

Do you know, when I’m doing marketing right, I spend at least half of my day marketing?

The percentage is actually higher, because there’s a lot more to marketing than just, well, marketing. There’s all the business administration that goes with it.

So when I consider bookkeeping, order fulfillment, correspondence, inventory control (someone has to buy art supplies,) and all the rest, 80-90% of my time is spent on marketing or marketing-related things.

Granted, not all those things are directly related to marketing, and you might not consider some of them “business” because they’re fun. But they still factor into the equation on some level, so must be considered.

What to Do

The best remedy for this myth is intentionally setting aside time to market every week. It doesn’t matter whether you market day-by-day or week-by-week. It is important to get into the marketing habit early.

Also pay attention to the types of marketing that work best for you and spend most of your marketing time there. Take email lists, for example. It’s a proven fact that the people on your mailing list are far more likely to buy from you than almost any other group you might imagine. It makes more sense to work on building your mailing list then your Facebook following.

Know which marketing activities yield the best results, then make those activities priority.

Image by annca from Pixabay

Myth #5: I can market without spending money.

Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?

Well, yes.

Sort of.

You can promote your work on social media and get sales. But if your percentages are the same as general percentages, you won’t make many sales.

According to the studies I’ve read, only about 1% of your social media followers actually buy something from you. Of the people who make purchases through social media, they appear to be more likely to buy small things or services. Things like coloring pages, collectibles, or courses.

There are also services you can use with a blog or website that allow you to sell without spending money. I use Easy Digital Downloads to sell and deliver tutorials, for example. It does what I need it to do.

For now.

But it does take money to make money, and if you really want to do marketing right, you will need to spend money sooner or later.

What to Do

If you’re like 99.9% of artists, you’ll be working on a shoestring budget when you begin marketing. That’s normal!

So make use of those “free” marketing tools like social media and word of mouth.

But get rid of the notion that you can market forever without spending money by starting to set aside money for paid marketing opportunities. Start now.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. A few pennies set aside out of every dollar accumulate faster than you might think.

Art Selling Myth #5
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

There’s nothing quite so liberating as finding a paid marketing opportunity for which you already have money set aside. Money that doesn’t have to come out of the household budget.

5 Art Selling Myths that Don’t Have to Hold You Captive

Which of those art selling myths is holding you back? Identify it, then overcome it. Start with the solutions I suggested, but don’t stop there.

Work at changing how you deal with any of these problems or any of the many other marketing myths currently in circulation. Yes, it’s hard work, but you won’t be sorry.

Getting Started As a Portrait Artist

For many centuries, making a living as an artist required painting or drawing portraits. While there are now many more ways to generate art income, portrait work is still a staple of many studios. Getting started as a portrait artist can be time-consuming work, though. Is there an easy way to do it?

There is no quick start program for getting started as a portrait artist. Like everything else art-related, it takes time, patience, and persistence.

Getting Started as a Portrait Artist

But you can do a few things to make the process smoother. And possibly faster.

Tips For Getting Started As a Portrait Artist

There’s much more to becoming a portrait artist than we have time to discuss today, so I’ll begin with four basics. Doing these things doesn’t guarantee success, but not doing them could hinder progress.

 Tip #1: Consider Your Target Market

If you don’t know your target audience, you’ll spend a lot of time and money promoting your portraits to people who just aren’t interested. It’s important to understand who is most likely to hire you before you start marketing yourself.

Figure out the people most likely to hire you, and you can focus on those areas from the start. That alone makes it easier to gain portrait work and name recognition.

Does that mean everyone in that target audience will become a client? Not at all. But it does mean those people are more likely to take an interest in your work.

Does that mean you never promote your work to other people? No, because you can never be sure who will buy something from you.

But best place to begin promoting yourself as a portrait artist is with people who like the type of art you do.

So what does a target audience look like?

Members of your target audience share three characteristics.

One, they like the same subjects you like. Say, horses or dogs or classic cars (yes, classic cars, houses, and landscapes can fall into the portrait category.)

Two, they like art and prefer your style.

Three, they have money to spend and are likely to spend it on art.

It does you no good to promote your portrait work to other artists (a lesson I had to learn the hard way.) Nor does it do any good to promote your dog portraits to people who want portraits of their cats and their kids (unless you’re willing to step outside the box; not usually a good idea when you’re getting started.)

It’s not necessary to spend weeks figuring this stuff out. An afternoon is usually sufficient.

And if the thought of finding a “target audience” is too scary, then just look for people who like the kind of art you make.

Oh, and who have money to spend on it.

For more specific help in identifying your target audience, read 3 Ways to Identify the Best Target Audience for Your Art, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Think Local

Once you’ve identified your most likely clients, go where they are. Do you paint horse portraits? Check out the local saddle club, or county fairgrounds. If you do dog portraits, look for kennel clubs and so on.

When I was getting started, I found regular horse shows hosted by the county fairgrounds in two neighboring counties. I went to those shows as often as I could. Sometimes, I went with just my camera. Sometimes I set up a small booth or just sat in the stands and sketched or watched. I got to be a regular and made friends among the horse owners. I rarely sold anything on-site, but it was time well spent, and I often went home with batches of new photographs. Photographs I still sometimes browse through.

Local shows are often free admission and close by, which means reduced expenses all the way around. If you’re working for a living and building an art career on the side (which most artists are), cutting costs wherever possible is a necessity.

The purpose of attending such shows on a regular basis is to be seen and to see. If all you do is make friends and take pictures, you’ve had a good day. Building relationships is key. Think of it as laying the groundwork for future business.

And those pictures could become the reference materials for a new drawing or painting.

Work Your Way Up

Leverage time and experiences at local events into larger events. The friends you make at the local level know about regional, state, and association events. Chances are they know far enough in advance for you to make plans to go, too.

Attending a large show could involve a lengthy drive and possibly admission fees, so when you’re beginning, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend very many of them.

But you do need to go, whether you’re exhibiting artwork or not. The opportunities to meet horse people from around the region and across the country is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Take a camera, drawing equipment, and a stack of business cards. Take a lot of pictures, and hand out business cards to people interested in your work.

Build a Body of Work

Do as much painting and drawing as possible. You need at least a half dozen pieces to exhibit, more if they’re small. That means six oil paintings or drawings that are as good as you can make them and framed for exhibit.

Choose your best work. You can take them all if you want, but display only the best. It’s nice to have backups to replace paintings or drawings you sell, but your display should always showcase your best work. This will be the only opportunity a lot of people have to see your work; make the best impression on them you can.

Don’t Give Up

Don’t expect overnight success. Chances are you will not see significant sales right away. It is possible, of course, but it isn’t probable. You need to establish yourself as a trustworthy artist with not only the skill and talent to do the work, but the determination to see it through when you get a custom order.

Getting Started as a Portrait Artist is not Easy.

For most of us, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and time to build a career as a portrait artist.

But it can be done and, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort on your artwork and on promoting your artwork, you can do well as portrait artist.