What do you get the pet parent who has everything? A custom pet portrait, of course! So there’s a big market of animal lovers looking for artists who can perfectly capture their animal companion on canvas or screen.

Painting pet portraits is a creative career that might be worth exploring if you’re a visual artist with a talent for the genre. Try it as a side gig for making extra cash, or pursue it full-time and see just how far you can go with it. There’s no shortage of people who are willing to pay good money for a beautiful pet painting, and with a bit of business acumen and art skills, you should be able to source plenty of clients in need of a portrait artist to paint their furry, feathered, finned, or scaled friend.

Here's what to know about starting a career as a pet painter, including some helpful tips for securing new clients. 

What Is a Pet Portrait Artist?

A pet portrait artist is a creative professional who creates custom artwork of animals. Portraits are usually painted on a commission basis and may take the form of a variety of mediums. This includes pencil sketches, watercolor or oil paintings, and digital portraits made in Photoshop and other illustration programs.

watercolor cat
Skillshare instructor Sohan Khalsa paints a cat portrait from a reference photo.

Pet painters generally work as freelancers, often communicating directly with the pet parents who are commissioning the piece or hiring themselves out for commercial projects. And regardless of medium, the most important skill for a pet portrait artist to have is the ability to create high-quality work. Developing your own unique style or point of view can also be key to success, since there’s quite a bit of competition in the field.

Pet Painter Tasks and Job Description

Creating stunning pet paintings is obviously a big part of what you’ll do as a pet portrait artist, but it’s not the only task. Working as a pet painter requires a few other essential skills and job requirements, all of which you’ll need to manage as you build your business.

These include:

  • Inbound marketing: Word-of-mouth is a great way to get new clients, but you’ll have to do some active marketing too if you want to find new customers. These days, that typically includes social media and digital marketing (more on that below), but print advertising in local pet publications and attending relevant events could be useful, too. 
  • Time management: When you run your own business, it’s up to you to stay on top of everything that needs to get done. As a pet portrait artist, you may need to balance multiple projects at once, and you’ll want to get your work done by the promised deadline so that you keep your customers satisfied.
  • Administration: Another important part of operating a solo business is handling all of the administrative tasks. For pet paintings, that will likely include contracts and payment processing, though fortunately, there are online tools that can make both of these things easy to do.

How to Become a Pet Portrait Painter

There are multiple ways to get started as a pet portrait artist. It’s up to you which path you pursue, though keep in mind that a lot of the legwork will be experience-based since you’re almost always going to get hired based on skills rather than your resume.

dog painting
A realistic pet portrait created with Photoshop by Skillshare student Kimberley White.

Get an Art Degree

An art degree is not a necessity for becoming a pet portrait painter, but it can’t hurt. Getting a formal education allows you to devote all or most of your time to developing your skills as an artist and exploring different mediums. That being said, many career artists don’t go to art school, so don’t let a lack of an art degree keep you from pursuing your goals.

Gain Experience Painting Pet Portraits

The best way to become a pet portrait artist? Start making pet portrait art. Use your own pet as muse, create portraits of your friends’ and family members’ pets, or use photos of animals you find online for reference. Whether paid or unpaid, every single pet portrait that you create can be put into a portfolio that you can present to potential customers.

If you want this to become your full-time career, take the time to diversify your skills and work with different mediums. The more options that you can offer, the more client opportunities you’ll have.

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Average Salary of a Pet Portrait Artist

How much you can earn as a pet portrait artist depends on how you price your work and how much work you have. You will also need to account for expenses, such as art supplies, shipping costs, and website hosting costs.

So, how much does an animal portrait cost? Professional pet portraits can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $10,000, with more established artists able to charge more for their pieces. It’ll be up to you to price your art in a way that provides you with ample compensation for your time, your talents, and your supplies, though ultimately your work is worth what people are willing to pay for it.

A good strategy as you’re getting started is to price slightly low and then increase your prices gradually as you become more established. Don’t undersell yourself, but do consider that it takes some time to get to the point where you can charge hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for your pet portraits.

half dog half sketch
How much can you charge for your pet portraits? It depends on what people are willing to pay.

How to Find Pet Painting Jobs

A lot of your time as an independent artist will be spent finding new commissions. It’s a lot of work, but the internet has made it much easier to connect with potential customers and show off what you can do. Here are some steps to take as you establish your pet portrait business.

Create a Website

Having a website will add credibility to your business, and it will also function as a lead generation tool. Make sure that you include an “About” page, a contact page, and plenty of examples of your work. You may also want to give a quick rundown of the various services you provide, as well as how much you charge for each.

Your website doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should look professional. Make sure your pages are well-written, and invest in a personalized logo to help develop a cohesive brand identity.

Build a Strong Portfolio

As a visual artist, your portfolio is your resume. And as noted above, a completed portrait doesn’t have to have been commissioned and paid in order to qualify for inclusion. More important is building a portfolio that showcases the very best of your work, with a sentence or two of explanation to go along with each image.

Establish a Social Media Presence

Don’t underestimate the power of social media for finding new pet portrait clients. Like your website, your social media pages serve to lend legitimacy to you as an artist and to your brand as a whole—with the added benefit that it’s a lot easier to make those all-important first connections.

Pick and choose which platforms make the most sense for you based on your audience. Facebook and Instagram are where many artists focus their social media efforts, though you might have some luck on Pinterest, Twitter, and TikTok, too.

Sell Your Work Online

Make it easy for people to buy your portraits by setting up shop online. Your website can serve as one place to do this, as can ecommerce platforms like Etsy and Society6. Some platforms will lend themselves more to commission work, while others can be useful for selling existing prints. In either case, it’s a good idea to diversify where you sell your art so that you can make as many sales as possible.  

Join the Conversation

Take a community-based approach to building your network by joining groups like the Society of Animal Artists, as well as getting active in relevant social media groups. You’ll be able to swap industry tips with other artists, and you’ll open up the door to opportunities you might not have found otherwise.

Volunteer Your Talents

Reach out to animal rescue and welfare organizations in your neighborhood to find out if they have any need for your services. You may be able to auction off a commission for a rescue fundraiser, paint a portrait to help a long-time animal resident find a home, or make custom art for the organization itself. All of these are ways to give back and use your talents for the greater good, and as a bonus, they’ll lead to more people discovering your work.  

What’s Your Pet Painting Style?

parrot watercolor
An expressive watercolor parrot portrait by Skillshare student Elvie Mogs.

Whether you’re painting dogs, cats, parrots, or any other type of beloved animal companion, developing your personal pet painting style will help you stand out and make your mark on the industry. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but do try to establish a signature style that will define your work and set you apart.

The best way to do this: Practice what you know, try out what you don’t, and take on new challenges as they come up. Over time, you should figure out what your unique point of view is and become more confident in your ability to make a successful career out of creating pet portraits.   

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Written By

Laura Mueller

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