Learn how to sell portraits and get commissions like a pro from Master Portraitist Kevin Murphy.
Criteria to Selling Your Portraits
In my career, I (Kevin Murphy, Evolve Artist founder and master portraitist) have never tried to sell a portrait. That's not how I market what I do. People spend money on things they want. You can't sell rotten apples to people because people don't want them, right? It doesn't matter what you charge. A rotten apple is a rotten apple. In the following post, I will go over ways to learn how to sell portraits and gain commissions.
You can’t sell your portraits if they don’t have any value to somebody. However, if you have a painting that has value, when somebody sees it, they’ll walk away and think, "I’ve got to go back and take another look. I really want this in my home.” Then you can sell it. This comes down to your artistic vision and the quality of your work, along with the price.
How to Price Your Portraits to Sell
The price that you charge has to fit within the range of the budgets of the people that you interact with. If you're trying to sell a $50,000 portrait in a place where people make that in a year, you're not going to be able to make sales.
But if you're in a place where people have expendable cash, they're not having to decide, "Do I have health insurance this year or do I buy the portrait?" They're just having to decide whether or not they like what they see and if they'd like it in their home. You have to have the right audience to be able to gain an understanding on how to sell portraits with the right price tag.
The price that you charge has to fit within the range of the budgets of the people that you interact with. You have to have the right audience.
Evolve Artist Founder & Master Portraitist
If you're charging $200 for a portrait or $500 for a portrait, the pool of people who can easily write that check grows dramatically. That is, if they want it.
Do NOT Hard Sell Your Portraits
How you sell portraits matter. I'm a portrait painter, and in my career, I have never tried to sell a portrait. Because you can't hard sell this stuff.
Selling More Than Just a Portrait
Knowing how to sell portraits is not as simple as putting an idea out there. A portrait is something that has to resonate with somebody. Until they see the portrait of their child or their spouse or their family, they can't envision it. What you have to do is to excite them about something much grander than a portrait that has a price tag attached to it.
The moment you start trying to sell your portraits to them as an idea, you'll see people back away. Firstly, it's an expensive purchase, especially as you start getting into the higher-end pros. Even though they can see that there are beautiful paintings of other people, they don't know how they're going to turn out. And again, most people aren’t living in a time where we’re seeing portraits in everyone's homes.
However, think of knowing how to sell portraits this way: there are 7 billion people in the world. If you do twelve portraits a year, even if you do them for 50 years, it won’t be too hard to find that many clients. The people are out there. It's how you access them.
How Kevin Sells His 5-figure Portraits
The way that I know how to sell a portrait is to talk about why I love portraits and why I'm excited about being a portrait painter. I love it because portrait painting is part of a tradition that goes back to the beginning of man. I get goosebumps every time I think about it.
Think about George Washington. Before the internet, George Washington was the most recognized man in the world. There wasn't a place in the world you could go that people didn't recognize him. Yet George Washington died 35 years before the invention of the camera. This is because Gilbert Stewart painted him. That image wound up on our dollar bill and it became spread around the world. The portrait has immortalized him.
This applies to anybody whose face we recognize who was around before 1820 or so, like Napoleon or Benjamin Franklin. That's the power of a portrait.
Why wouldn't you want your child to be part of that tradition? Or your spouse? Those of us who have kids know how fast time flies with them. A portrait can bottle each precious moment.
When you talk to somebody about a portrait, if you're excited about it and you're able to share the significance of it, the people who resonate with you will start to realize that it's a gaping hole in their life. You've inspired them, and you'll be standing there with the skills to deliver.
At no point do you say, “By the way, my portraits are this, they cost X.” Don't try to sell your portraits. This sounds like a far cry from learning how to sell portraits. But, if they want the portrait based on their excitement, they will ask you. Imagine that you go to an event and you're sitting around talking to people and one person has an interest. If you do that once a month, you're booked for the year.
You'd be surprised because every place you do a portrait, if you do it right, it generates clients. Because those who see it will realize it's missing in their life too.
How to Generate More Clients
John Singer Sargent must have painted thousands of portraits. But he didn't go out and network and meet all of those people. The vast majority of those people came to him through jobs he already did.
If you are doing beautiful work, people see it. Some of those people are going to want it for themselves. Once you get the ball rolling, as long as you are delivering something beautiful, clients will always be there. It doesn't matter what it is.
If you are doing beautiful work, people will see it. Once you get the ball rolling, as long as you are delivering something beautiful, clients will always be there. It doesn't matter what it is.
Evolve Artist Founder & Master Portraitist
I always tell people to paint what you love. There's somebody who loves any subject.
For example, you'll find a thimble convention somewhere in the United States every weekend of the year, every weekend. If you love thimbles and you paint thimbles, you will find a client base for them because there are specialty thimbles where there's only one in the world. It doesn't matter what the subject is. There is a market. If you think about it, this blog post isn't just about how to sell portraits. The ideas here can refer to any type of art!
Paint what you love and the people who love what you do will find you.
Evolve Artist Founder & Master Portraitist
Paint what you love. And the people who love what you do will find you. Don't chase what seems to sell. Paint what you love and paint it beautifully. You'll always be okay and you'll love your job. You'll get up every day looking forward to it.
Why Kevin Wants to Help Artists
As you’re developing your skills, keep it simple. Take one step at a time. Perfect the first step. Get your footing, then move forward. If you can, whether it's Evolve Artist or another program that's offering those basics, capitalize on them, take advantage of them.
I'm primarily self-taught and I can tell you that I have, for many years, struggled needlessly to figure out how to make things work and properly figure out how to sell portraits and gain more commissions. Those struggles have made it possible for me to build the Evolve Artist curriculum and so I'm thankful for them. But I can tell you I labored needlessly for so long.
Evolve Artist is my way of shortening that curve for other people. It’s how I pay it forward. The art world has been incredibly generous and extremely kind to me. If not for art, I would be a construction worker. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I loved it when I was doing it. But if not for art, I would have been a construction worker.
The world that was open to me through art has been amazing. If I can pay that forward with what I've learned and make it possible for other people to change their lives and get into a career and build a life around art, which they love and which feeds their soul, that's what I built Evolve Artist for.
Final Thoughts on How to Sell Portraits
As you navigate learning how to sell portraits and build your skills with the above ideas, the process becomes second nature. Keep at it and you'll see results.
That's your master's guide on how to price portrait paintings. This is the seventh post from our Master's Guide to Painting Better Portraits series. Subscribe to stay posted!
Read the previous posts in the series:
Master's Guide #1: Where to Start a Portrait
Master's Guide #2: Simplicity in Portrait Painting
Master's Guide #3: How to Build Confidence in Portrait Painting
Master's Guide #4: How to Capture the Likeness of a Face
Master's Guide #5: The Quickest Way to Improve Your Portrait Painting Skills