How Much Does a Portrait Drawing Cost?


You have finally decided to commission an artist to paint that portrait you always wanted. But you have never done this before so you have a few questions you want answered. The main question you will be asking is “how much does a portrait drawing cost?” but there should be more questions. Read on to learn more.

The cost of a portrait drawing or painting varies depending on size, medium, artist experience and location; the cost varies from $20-$200 for an amateur artist; $200 up to $5000 for an experienced artist and over $20,000+ for a well known and established artist. Sizes and materials will vary so be sure to ask for specifics.

A portrait of my god-daughter Dyana. Commissioned by her parents. Artist: Joseph Colella
A portrait of my god-daughter Dyana. Commissioned by her parents. Artist: Joseph Colella.
They paid less than $200 when I was an artist starting out. Today I would charge $1000 for the same painting.

The following list will provide a more detailed guide.

How much does a portrait drawing cost? Between $20-$200

  • Usually requires a full upfront payment or deposit

Where Would You Find This Artist?

  • eBay, etsy, Instagram, Facebook groups

Common Mediums:

  • Pencil, Charcoals, Acrylics

Framed/Unframed:

  • Usually unframed

Notes:

  • In this price range you will liaising with the artist online via email or social media direct messaging.
  • You may be asked to submit one or two photos. The intention is to reproduce the photo as a portrait.
  • The artist will attempt to make as exact a copy as their skill level will allow.
  • The size of the portrait will usually be small. They may use paper or low grade quality canvas or canvas board.
  • Most portraits in this price range will be produced quite quickly so expect to see the portrait show signs of tracing and hand smudging with no filled in background.
  • You may find some very talented artists at work in this price range. They are usually up and coming artists, hobby artists. Some may overseas professional artists working in ‘art factories’ where they produce portraits by the hundreds.

Indicative cost to commission a portrait: $200-$1000

  • Usually requires a 50% upfront payment or deposit to cover costs and the rest of the money on completion

Where Would You Find This Artist?

  • eBay, etsy, Instagram, Local Art Shows, Facebook, Word of Mouth

Common Mediums:

  • Pencil, Charcoals, Acrylics, Oils, Inks, Pastels

Framed/Unframed:

  • Usually unframed

Notes:

  • Again in this price range you will liaising with the artist online via email or social media direct messaging.
  • You will be either asked to submit one or two photos and the intention is to reproduce the photo as a portrait.
  • The artist will attempt to make as exact a copy. You will be working with an artist or art student who has a fair amount of experience and confident enough to be commanding more money than most unknown artists.
  • The size of the portrait will usually be from small to medium and will be produced using some quality materials. 
  • Most portraits in this price range will be produced with some level of skill and you may find a few gems in the making.
  • Some very talented artists work in this price range. 
  • You will probably be shown some progress photos and be asked up front for any specific requests or requirements before they commence on the portrait.

Indicative cost to commission a portrait: $1000-$5000

  • In this price range you will be looking more at portrait paintings rather than portrait drawings
  • Usually requires a 20%-50% upfront payment or deposit to cover costs and the rest of the money on completion

Where Would You Find This Artist?

  • eBay, etsy, Instagjram, Local Galleries, Regional Galleries, Online Search, Art Shows, Word of Mouth Referrals

Common Mediums:

  • Pencil, Charcoals, Acrylics, Oils, Mix Media

Framed/Unframed:

  • Framed on request

Notes:

  • In this price range you will be working with an established professional artist.
  • In this price range you will be looking more at portrait paintings rather than portrait drawings
  • You will be either asked to submit one or two photos and may even be asked if the subject would like to come in to the studio to sit for the artist. 
  • Where previously the artist would attempt to make an exact a copy, in this price range you will be working with someone who will work in their signature style – something they are known for. 
  • You will be working with a professional who will keep you in the loop as the portrait commission progresses.
  • The size of the portrait will be negotiable and the artist will be producing the portrait using quality materials.
  • Some very talented artists work in this price range. 
  • You will be asked up front for any specific requests or requirements before they commence on the portrait.

Indicative cost to commission a portrait: $5000-$20000

  • Usually requires a signed contract and 25% upfront payment or deposit to cover costs and the rest of the money on completion

Where Would You Find This Artist?

  • Instagram, Local Galleries, Regional Galleries, Online Search, Art Shows, Word of Mouth Referrals

Common Mediums:

  • Acrylics, Oils, Mix Media

Framed/Unframed:

  • Usually Framed on Request

Notes:

  • In this price range you will be working with an established professional artist.
  • You will be either asked to submit one or two photos for references but the artist will prefer the portrait subject to come in to the studio and sit for the artist. 
  • Sitting for the artist will be used as part of the cost justification and experience.
  • In this price range you will be working with someone who will work in their signature style – something they are known for. 
  • The size of the portrait being commissioned will be negotiable and the artist will be producing the portrait using quality materials.
  • Very talented and well known artists work in this price range. Expect a waiting list or to even be rejected for requests.
  • You will be asked up front for any specific requests or requirements before they commence on the portrait.
  • The artist will usually allow for many reasonable changes or edits to be made prior to completion.
  • The artist will provide a fixed time line and cost to produce the final portrait.

Indicative cost to commission a portrait: $20000+

  • Usually requires a signed contract and 25% upfront payment or deposit to cover costs and the rest of the money on completion

Where Would You Find This Artist?

  • Art Galleries, Artist Agents, Artist Directories

Common Mediums:

  • Acrylics, Oils, Mix Media

Framed/Unframed:

  • Usually Framed on Request

Notes:

  • This level of artist will be an established professional in their field and will most likely have a long waiting list.
  • They will be an exhibiting artist who most likely will specialize in portraiture.
  • They will most likely have many corporate clients and be known to have painted the portraits of politicians, the rich and famous and business leaders.

I found an artist, now what do I need to look for in a portrait?

You have approached an artist you like and they have provided you an estimated cost to commission a portrait.

Before you hand over your hard earned money and commission a portrait, I would like to give you some simple advice and tips on what to look for.

This way you know you know you are getting a good portrait from a skilled artist and not an amateurish piece.

1. Do your research and always ask for examples or portfolio of other portrait commissions the artist has completed. This could be links to their website portfolio, an Instagram page or if they are represented by a gallery they can provide a portfolio of works. As what their process is, a confident artist will give you more detail than one who is not.

2. If they have a social media presence and have an engaged audience, ask if anyone else has purchased from them and ask for any reviews or feedback they may have.

3. Speak to the artist and reach an agreement on price, medium, what exactly will be delivered and when. Get these in writing even if it by email.

4. As the artist if they provide a review period where they will show you either progress being made and if they are ok to accept changes to be made before the final piece is delivered. 

Finally, train yourself so you know what to look for when you view a portrait so that at a minimum you know what makes one portrait better than another.

Many artists make the most basic of mistakes and a trained eye will pick up on them quickly.

Credit to The Principles of Design for the additional information provided. I recommend further reading if you are interested in knowing more about art appreciation. Your local library and online resources are filled with this information.

The sad fact about selecting a portrait to commission is that a lot of the stuff on sale is just a waste of your money.

Don’t Throw Your Money Down The Toilet

No matter how much an artist or seller talks up their work – 80% is not worth the money. 

A trained eye and anyone who knows about art can tell you in the first 5 seconds if the work is any good.

Hopefully with these tips you will be part of the 20% who can spot a good artist and are able to commission a portrait that you will be happy to hang.

What to look for

When buying an original drawing or painting, take a look at how the subject – the main person or object is composed.

Balance – A balanced artwork leaves the viewer feeling visually comfortable. On the other hand, a work that is not balanced creates a sense of visual stress.

Whistler’s Mother – A fine example of a balanced work of art

The work should be balanced and the subject should not be located in one part of the page or canvas without some sort of counter-balance.

This counter-balance can either be another object or series of objects, a block of colour in the background – this is called Informal Balance.

Sometimes if there is no balance surrounding the central subject, then you will find that the main part of the subject i.e the face is actually centred on the page.

Another example of balance  the subject is centred

Another example of balanced and symmetry

Many artworks I see can claim to be balanced, but each time I look at them, they have that ‘not quite right’ look to them. The first two are fine examples of something not being quite right. Try the mirror test out on them after and tell me what you think.

They are also an example of a traced photo and then smudging used to fill in areas where the artist lacked the skill to do proper shading. The same problems are seen in paintings as well as pencil portraits.

Something is not quite right here
Still not quite right. Try the mirror test on this.
oh Kylie Jenner.. you used to be so pretty before you had work done

This last portrait above was created badly on purpose but there are many delusional artists out there passing off similar works as portraits they are happy to sell.

Important: The Mirror Test

There’s a simple test you can run on an art work to see if its balanced – and this is my all time favourite test as all you need is a simple mirror, any kind of mirror.

Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash
The Mirror Test

What you need to do is look at the artwork using a mirror – and you can use it on art images on the instagram or on art for sale on eBay, if the image obviously looks ‘not quite right’ in its mirror image, it’s pretty much a given that it’s not quite right.

This test also works with Proportion.

Try the mirror test on the examples I found and you will see how unbalanced they are

Bad Portrait Example 2

I won’t name the artists, but in each example you can clearly see how unbalanced they are and if you can’t, try the mirror test and see for yourself!

Bad Portrait Example 1

As an artist, you should mirror test your works all the time – I do to track my progress, no matter how good you are, sometimes you do get the smallest part wrong and the mirror helps you correct your mistake.

I still cringe at some of the earlier commissions I completed that now hang on walls in houses all over the world that didn’t pass the mirror test but were given away as gifts, I now destroy any work that wont pass this test rather than have it hung up on a wall.

Taking into consideration the explanation above, take a look to see if the artwork being sold has all its bits in the right place at the right length.

What you want to ensure is that if someone is not purposely trying to draw disproportionate features; that you check to see if:

  1. an arm is too long for the body
  2. a nose is much longer than on the photo shown for comparison
  3. their eyes are not too wide apart
  4. or one ear is not sitting on a forehead while the other is down low near the neck (I am not joking I have actually seen this).

The second item you should be looking at is

  • Is the drawing or painting traced?
  • Did the artist use a tricky computer program to scan your photo and then resample it as an artwork or drawing and then print it out.

When you look at a portrait you should also ask yourself, is the drawing or painting traced? 

I have seen so many examples of traced artworks being sold as either originals or as part of commissioned portraits. 

Where an artist has simply used tracing paper to draw an outline of your photo so the proportions are correct. The thing with traced portraits is, they will show up an artists lack of skill when it comes down to the finer details.

You will see in most traced works that yes they have the proportions correct, the image outline is to scale but when you look at the central items such as eyes, nose, lips and mostly the cheek and chin area.

They will try to pass the details off with shading that just doesn’t quite do it, in other words it doesnt look like the real person even though you can see their outline.

The other tell-tale sign is that you can clearly see a thicker outline of where the subject has been traced and all the other detail will be sketchy.

Using a computer program – On rare occasions I have seen this, the artist has scanned a photo and then used a program such as photoshop or adobe illustrator to convert a scanned image into a drawn one.

They will then try to print it off on a laser or inkjet printer and pass it off as an original artwork.

Some are even tricky enough to give it a once over with some pencils.

But the scam is discovered when you rub out some of the features and see the print which does not go away.

I hope that has helped you to work out what makes a good art work and what doesn’t. When armed with this information you will appreciate the effort and skills involved with commissioned portraits.

Even after all these years of painting portraits and drawing portraits I am always learning and I hope other artists will not take offence at including their works on this guide, for that reason I have not named names etc.

If you have further questions regarding the cost to commission a portrait, copies, artworks in general – feel free to contact me and I will try to assist to the best of my abilities.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a portrait drawing cost?

The cost of a portrait drawing or painting varies depending on size, medium, artist experience and location; the cost varies from $20-$200 for an amateur artist; $200 up to $5000 for an experienced artist and over $20,000+ for a well known and established artist. Sizes and materials will vary so be sure to ask for specifics.

Joseph Colella

I'm an avid artist and I love to share everything I know about art and all the new art related tips i've recently learned. Get Your WastedTalentInc Merch at Redbubble https://rdbl.co/2OkI0CM

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