Portrait Artists Career Information

Mar 05, 2019

Career Definition for a Portrait Artist

The activities of a portrait artist may include taking photographs for publications, creating privately commissioned pieces for museums or individuals and restoring older works of art. Portrait artists may also critique the work of other artists, teach and participate in exhibitions. In the United States, the majority of fine artists, such as portrait artists, are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In general, portrait artists must rely on their portfolio and professional connections to find work through galleries and private commissions.

Education High school art classes, fine arts degree programs available
Job Skills Meaningful expression, imaginative approaches, customer service, interpersonal skills
Median Salary (2017)* $49,520 for fine artists
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7% for fine artists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

In addition to high school art classes, many aspiring professionals pursue specialized certificate or undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the fine arts. In addition to completing a general education core, students can take classes in drawing, painting, photography, art history, and new media. As of 2016, there were over 300 postsecondary schools in the United States that offered programs that have been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, with the majority of the programs culminating in an art degree. Formal and informal training options can also include apprenticeships, internships, noncredit classes or private lessons.

Skills Required

Artists in general should have the ability to express meaning through different mediums and aesthetics. An imaginative approach to subject matter and manual dexterity are also important. Portrait artists in particular should have good customer service and interpersonal skills. An understanding of the art market and an online presence can also be key.

Career and Outlook and Salary

According to the BLS, opportunities for fine artists nationwide are projected to increase by just 7% from 2016 to 2026, an average rate in comparison to all other occupations. Competition for commissions and jobs is expected to be strong. The BLS also reports that fine artists in general, including illustrators, painters and sculptors, earned median annual wages of $49,520 in May 2017, with Connecticut, California and New York among the top-paying states (

Alternate Career Options

Consider these other choices in artistic careers:

Art Directors

Art directors are responsible for the overall design and layout of advertisements, publications and other forms of visual communication. In addition to a bachelor's degree, requirements can include previous experience in fine art or graphic design. As reported by the BLS, employment of art directors nationwide is also expected to increase by 5% from 2016 to 2026. In May 2017, art directors earned median annual wages of $92,500, according to the BLS.


Photographers use digital or traditional cameras to take pictures of consumer products, landscapes, people and other subjects of interest. They may also work as aerial or scientific photographers or photojournalists. Knowledge of digital editing software can also be helpful, and although not required, many aspiring professionals pursue bachelor's degree or other formal training options. Nationwide, a 6% decrease in employment is projected for photographers, according to the BLS. The BLS also reports that, in May 2017, photographers received median annual wages of $32,490.

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