Starting a Portraiture Business
22/11/11So having made the decision to become a professional portrait painter I learnt a few essentials which formed the basics to getting started in business.
1. The original portrait sample
2. The presentation of your original work.
3. The photographed original sample.
4. The business card.
5. The price list.
6. Start-up costs.
1. The Original Portrait Sample
You'll need to create at least one sample portrait in each size and in each medium you'll be offering. Your first original samples must be the best portraits you've ever created to date. They need to represent the size and complexity a client can expect by commissioning a comparable portrait.
2. The Presentation of your Original Work
Make sure your work is mounted and framed and quite frankly if you have no talent for this then get the professionals in. Presentation is everything. Don't blow it at this stage.
3. The Photograph of your Original Portrait
High quality photographs of your finished work are essential to show your portraits at their best, and will constitute the beginning of your portfolio. In my opinion a professional photographer is essential for this. Plus the quality of photographs will be good for the web and if any prints are required of your original work.
4. Your Business Card
It represents you so don't make it cheap and tacky. Take some time to get it right!
5. A Price List
I don't mean to be overly simplistic, but you'll need to price your portraits at a level where enough people buy them so that you're covering many walls in your community. But you don't want to price them so low that people begin to think that work that's too cheap can't be good - particularly if the artist devalues its worth. In the beginning your price may not necessarily have any relationship to your cost in producing the portrait. Ultimately, of course, you'll need to understand the nature of your cost of doing business and how to manage it.
To begin with, you'll need a price that is specific to every size and medium you offer. You'll need to determine whether you'll offer a framed or unframed price. If you're just starting out doing unframed pencil head and shoulders, then there will only need to be one price on your list!
You'll need to determine at what point you'll need a business license (state and local) and to begin charging tax. Contact your local tax jurisdiction for information.
6. Start-up Costs
In comparison to nearly every other type of business, the start-up expenses for a portraiture practice are ridiculously low. You don't need retail space, retail inventory, personnel, working capital loans, an advertising budget or any of the other expenses normally associated with new business development. You may choose to add some or all of these elements in the future, but they're not required to start. There is no better sales tool that having happy clients with well-painted portraits on their walls.
None of the things I've mentioned throughout this article are expensive, either in terms of start-up costs or ongoing expenses. The most important equipment you'll need is a good easel and a camera that can produce suitable photo references. If you'll be painting in other than natural light, you need suitable lighting.
In closing…a note on practice:
Teachers routinely stress the importance of practice. They aren't just talking about repetitive acts; they are talking about the concept of "perfect practice."
In math or chemistry, perfect practice means systematically and accurately showing the steps involved in getting an answer. In vocal training, it means vocal exercises and scales that incorporate proper breathing, posture, mouth and tongue positioning - not just hitting the notes in a song.
In portraiture, perfect practice means working with proper tools and under conditions that enable growth, rather than truncating your potential from the start.
Some of the worst culprits:
-poorly lit models in live sittings;
-bad working light;
-inadequate photographic resource material; and
-incomplete or poor quality materials.
Due to the nature of pet portraiture, most custom pet portraits are painted from photos. Obviously, live sittings are not practical unless the animal is asleep. Artists paint dog portraits, cat portraits etc. from a favourite photo submitted by a client. The photo should be as detailed and clear as possible for the artist.
A fine arts degree may not be called for, although this would certainly add to a pet artist's credentials. A prospective client will ask to see a portfolio of work completed so far and may ask for references.
Deciding on a Medium
Most artists begin with charcoal sketches or pen and ink drawings. The only way to decide on a preferred medium is to practice and experiment with a variety of mediums, starting with simple pencil sketches and migrating to acrylics, pastels and oils.
A client may request a pet portrait in a specific medium such as oils, but the preferred medium really is the domain of the artist. A professional pet portrait artist may be able to migrate comfortably between different mediums but certain artists will only stick to one or two mediums.
How Long does it Take to Complete a Portrait?
According to Melanie Phillips, a full time UK artist who paints dogs, cats and horses for clients worldwide, a portrait in oils will take between three days to two weeks to complete, depending on the size, background involved, breed of dog and quality of the photo that the client has submitted.
Tips on the Business Side of Pet Portraits
• Ask for a non-refundable deposit before commencing a portrait. Many artists ask for 30% of the total cost. Show the client the work in progress, either by uploading photos onto the Internet or by inviting him or her to pop into the studio if they want, to ensure they are satisfied.
• Do not post or give the finished product to the client until the remainder of the funds have been transferred to the artist's bank account. Most artists work this way, and it saves considerable time and effort trying to recover debts further down the line.
• Initially, advertising may be necessary until work comes in, such as arranging exhibitions and setting up a website portfolio with contact details. Carry a portfolio of work and business cards around to show to potential clients.
• Diversify if possible. Clients are all different, some love classic portraiture, others like pop art or an impressionist style. If it is within the artist's ability, a diverse portfolio will add to the possibility of attracting additional clients.
Here are some tips to help you start a portrait painting business:
1) Painting portraits is all about seeing. Study people's faces in all types of lighting. Try to see the big planes in faces - not the details.
2) Keep stepping back as you paint in order to observe the sitter and your canvas from a distance. You should be able to freely step back about eight feet.
3) Paint loosely with big brushes called "flats."
4) Light your sitter with only one light source from a 150 watt bulb. The light should fall on one side of the sitter, slightly above the head.
5) Take a few dozen Polaroid pictures of the sitter so you can study them when the sitter is not there.
6) Keep the background simple so as not to distract from the sitter's face.
7) The sitter should sit with his or her body turned slightly to the side and his or her head facing you. The eyes should be on a level with yours.
8) Schedule four to five sittings with the sitter.
9) Use a toned canvas. A medium earth tone or a medium grey-blue is excellent. It helps tie the painting together.
10) The easiest way to check proportions is to turn the portrait upside down. You will notice immediately if the features are right. Turn it right side up and make corrections.
11) There are certain standard sizes for portraits. Here are three of the most popular canvas sizes:
20" x 24" for a head and shoulders portrait
25" x 30" for a head, shoulders, and hands portrait
30" x 30" for a portrait that takes in the head, shoulders, and hands and goes nearly to the waist