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Portrait artists make their living drawing or painting people or animals. These artists sometimes have trouble earning enough to meet expenses when they are first starting out, but once they are established, portrait artists can expect to make somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000 a year. The best portrait artists may make much more if they market themselves well.
According to the SimplyHired website, portrait artists made an average yearly salary of $36,000 as of June, 2011. This breaks down to $17.31 per hour. Another source, the Indeed website, provides a similar average of $37,000 for June, 2011. This coverts to $17.79. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes portrait artists in the "Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators" category. Those in this category made $29,440 in the 25th percentile and $44,850 in the 50th percentile. Combining the figures from SimplyHired, Indeed and the bureau, portrait artists appear to have fallen somewhere between the 25th and 50th percentile of the bureau's fine artists' category.
Pay by Region
Pay for portrait artists varies based on the location of the artist. The Salary Box website indicates that rates across the United States ranged from around $35,000 to $71,000 in 2010. This represents a differential of $36,000 and an hourly rate range of $16.83 to $34.13.
Types of Portrait Art
Portrait artists may make different rates depending on the kind of portraits they do. For instance, some portrait artists will draw your picture in a mall or park for just a few dollars. Other portrait artists do professional oil paintings based on photographs you provide or a sitting session. These artists charge anywhere from $50 to over $1,000 per portrait, depending on the mediums used, the size of the portrait and the number of sessions required. Still other artists work as independent sketch artists for police departments.
Typically, freelance portrait artists have a higher salary potential than those who work for companies. The reason is because freelancers have complete control over how many portraits they do, the rates they charge, and, in some cases, the royalties portraits may produce. There are some benefits that working with a company can provide, such as a stable income, which is important when just starting in the field and building a reputation, as well as material for a good portfolio, which is vital to a later freelance career, since you constantly must attract new clients.