Making money by making portraits
I had barely launched my career. My journals were full of the self-doubt and ignorant arrogance of a person at the beginning of a journey. Most days, I walked the line between giving up and persisting by avoiding having too many thoughts about money and how I’d manage to keep making it in the long term.
That’s when a friend of mine, someone still pursuing their BA in studio art, informed me that I had it easy because I did portraits. For my friend, an abstract painter and lover of self-portrait photography, the path towards profit with art was much less clear. My appreciation for rendering a likeness made money a forgone conclusion in their mind.
And maybe they were right. For years, commissioned portraiture is what has paid my bills—though never all on its own—and the specialized skill of representing people differentiates me from many artists. But easy? That’s not a word I’d use to describe any art career, much less my own.
Portraits, when done well, are both exquisitely complicated to create and deeply rewarding in an emotional sense. They are a massive responsibility: for the artist, who must have the confidence to say something about another person with their art, and for the subject, who will always feel a strange tie to the object whether or not they like the work.
In other words, neither making portraits nor commissioning them are for the faint of heart. If the portraitist finds it marginally easier to make ends meet than another kind of artist, my feeling is that we earned it.