Pet Portrait Artist

Artist hiding behind portrait of a dachshund
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A pet portrait artist creates keepsake paintings of pets for their clients. A pet portrait artistry career is a great way to combine artistic talent with a love of animals.


A pet portrait artist can work in a variety of mediums including oils, acrylics, charcoal, pastels, and watercolors. While most portraits are painted on canvas, some artists choose to create their images on pillows, wall hangings, vases, lamps, or jewelry.

Most pet portrait artists base their paintings on photos submitted by the owner. Some artists allow pets to come in for “sittings” but this is not very common in the industry. It is important that the artist is able to communicate effectively with the owner and provide them with the opportunity to see their piece in progress and make any changes they feel are necessary to capture their animal’s likeness.

Pet portrait artists must be able to reach pet owners to effectively advertise and market their services. Many pet artists design web pages to act as an online portfolio of their work. They also may form a referral relationship with dog groomers, pet sitters, or doggie daycare operators. Another strong option is to exhibit examples of completed portraits at dog or cat shows, pet industry expos, and animal charity events.

Pet portrait artists may also enter their portraits in competitions at juried pet art shows. They may also show them at galleries. The additional exposure and awards from art and gallery shows generally results in increased interest in the pet portrait artist’s studio, which leads to an increase in sales.

Career Options

While pet portrait artists most frequently work directly for pet owners, they may also create pieces independently and consign them to art galleries or offer them for sale on their website. Other options for employment as a pet artist include working for breed associations, pet-related magazines, or pet book publishers.

Education & Training

No formal training is required to be a pet portrait artist, but many in the industry have attended art school or have spent a significant amount of time developing their artistic skills. A strong portfolio of prior work tends to impress potential customers, as they are generally much more interested in seeing examples of the product as opposed to the artist’s educational resume.

There are a number of professional artist organizations or societies that pet portrait specialists may choose to join, such as the Pastel Society of America, Oil Painters of America, or the National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society. These groups can provide valuable advice, workshops, juried show access, and networking opportunities for members. Participation in relevant groups can enhance an animal artist’s portfolio, especially if the artist is relatively new to the profession.


The salary for a pet portrait artist can vary based on the rates they charge for each portrait and the number of pieces finished by the artist each year. The artist’s rate for custom artwork can vary widely but is generally determined by the size of the portrait, the types of materials used, and the amount of time the piece takes to complete. A well-known artist will generally charge a higher rate than a new artist, and they may even have a waiting list.

The latest salary survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that mean annual salary for fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, was $53,080 in May 2010. The lowest 10% of fine artists earned less than $19,190 while the highest 10% earned more than $89,720.

While part-time artists might not produce the volume of work necessary to pull in higher-end salaries, many part-timers use their portraits as a supplementary source of income and hold another full-time position.

Job Outlook

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 62% of all American households keep one or more animals as pets (72.9 million homes). According to the 2011-2012 APPMA pet ownership survey data, there are 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats in these homes. The pet industry was expected to pull in 50.84 billion dollars in 2011.

Owners have been commissioning portraits of their pets for hundreds of years, and artists who are able to capture an animal’s personality and likeness in their work are always in demand. With owner spending on pets steadily increasing each year, it stands to reason that demand for pet portraits and other keepsake items will also trend upward.