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What is a portrait artist?

A portrait artist creates likenesses of individuals using one or more mediums. This might include pencil, ink, paint, pastels, or another type of medium. Portrait artists may accept commissions to create likenesses of individuals, including famous people and celebrities. This type of artist requires a massive amount of raw talent but also the education that hones the talent and provides him or her with an arsenal of techniques and skills.

Portrait artists need a strong background in art, and in order to be well-rounded, need experience with various types of mediums. Although many artists eventually settle on a medium they love most, having experience and skills with other mediums can improve their job prospects.

Work Environment

Portrait artists may work in a huge variety of environments. Half of craft and fine artists are self-employed and work from home, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 51,400 of these professionals were employed in the year 2012. Working from home, a portrait artist may spend most of his or her time in a home office, a studio, or in places where they feel most comfortable. Some will work directly with the public, such as the street artists who work on Jackson Square in New Orleans. Others will work in the space their employer provides. If working from home is a little too risky for you, there are plenty of industries that employ portrait artists full-time, including the motion picture and video industry, miscellaneous store retailers, the publishing industry and specialized design services.

Education Requirements

There is no formal school requirement for portrait artists, because the talent an individual has can speak for itself. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends that artists earn at least an associate or bachelor’s degree in fine art. Not only can this make an individual a better artist, but it can definitely improve the job prospects and opportunities. An artist with an impressive resume and background will almost always be considered over an artist who has no formal schooling.


The salary of a portrait artist is similar to that of most other artists – it can vary wildly, depending upon numerous variables. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected data showing the median annual salary for craft and fine artists in 2012: $44,380. However, the bottom earners brought home less than $19,200 and the top 10% brought home more than $93,000. Portrait artists whose careers take off and whose art is highly sought after could make significantly more than this. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states with the highest pay for portrait artists are: Washington ($70,580), New York ($69,380), California ($62,160), Connecticut ($59,720) and Michigan ($54,710).

Job Outlook

Although this is an exciting and fun career, the job growth rate for craft and fine artists is significantly lower than that of all other careers – 3% through the year 2022. Many things affect the growth rate, including the economy at any given time, and the location of the artist. To increase their prospects, portrait artists can take computer art courses and digital media courses, as artists who work with computers are always in demand. The states with the highest levels of employment of portrait artists are: California, New York, Florida, Washington and Texas.

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