How to Sell Pet Portraits and Start an Art Business

How to draw pet portraits for money header. A pencil drawing of a cat.

Most working artists have drawn people’s pets at some stage, I know I certainly have. It’s the obvious way to start earning some cash. This is how you can sell pet portraits:

  • Assess the quality of the photo,
  • Agree on your terms,
  • Take a 10% deposit,
  • Photocopy the photograph to the required size,
  • Grid your photocopy,
  • Grid your drawing paper to the same scale,
  • Draw your pet portrait,
  • Make a hi-res scan or photograph the results,
  • Mount/Mat the drawing and wrap it in cellophane,
  • When the customer pays, try to up-sell the image with print-on-demand products.

That’s the summary, now let’s go into the detail. There is more to running a successful business selling custom pet portraits than you think. 

Let’s crack on with it.

(I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)

How to Get Started Selling Pet Portraits

If you really want to get pet portrait commissions you really should have a portfolio of past work to act as examples. Obviously, you can’t advertise your services without some previous artwork to showcase.

You’ll need half a dozen drawings. They have got to represent what you are capable of doing, and more importantly, what your customer can expect to receive.

Siamese cat pet portrait a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
Try to capture the pet’s personality

Don’t do what I’ve seen others do. Don’t advertise your best-ever work and then fob your customers off with a sketch that looks nothing like it.

Your aim is to surpass expectations, and in that way, your customers will be so delighted they’ll become raving fans.

This business is all about emotions. Pets are part of the family. It may just be just another pet portrait to you but it’s a family member to the owner.

When they receive your work they should be so overjoyed they’ll want to show it off to family and friends and spread the word on your behalf.

That’s the snowball effect. Your mission is to get the first few commissions under your belt and get ball rolling by word of mouth. This is how you turn a hobby into a successful business.

A ‘that’ll do’ approach is not good enough. You must always do the best you can.

Drawing courses are a great way to learn. This Basics course by Brent Eviston has over 73,000 students!

How to Find and Sell Your First Pet Portrait Commission

Your first step is to use your friends and family to kickstart your pet portrait business. Let them know what you are doing and actively ask them for help. 

Your personal network will be your best salesforce. Think about it, you have a ready-made fanbase only too happy to promote you to their friends and colleagues. Don’t underestimate the power of these recommendations.

They are the best testimonials you can possibly have.

 “Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Get at least 6 pet portraits under your belt. The best way of doing that, and getting paid at the same time, is to offer ‘mates rates’ to get your first few commissions.

Let everyone know that you are heavily discounting your work strictly on their behalf, so when they show their friends they’ll be happy to promote your true prices.

This is a general guide: How to Get Art Commissions: The Easy Way and Make Money

When you have a small body of work, spend the money to get some good Giclee prints made, and make a good portfolio. If the price of high-end prints is prohibitive, take good quality photos of the artwork and print those, preferably alongside your happy customer.

Top Tip: Remove the glass before photographing framed artwork. If that’s not possible, use a polarizing filter. Never use a flash.

Don’t forget to have a bio in your portfolio. Write about yourself in an engaging way. Keep it short and snappy and write it as an artist’s journey. This is self-promotion and an advert combined.

This is how to: Write an Artist About Me Page: A Great Bio in 4 Easy Steps

No one wants to know the nitty-gritty details. Edit, edit, and edit some more. Attention spans are short.

Advertise your prices. Do not keep your prices hidden, it sends out the wrong signals, what are you hiding? Don’t think people will blindly trust that your prices will be reasonable, that is not how things work. 

Include as much information as you can:

  • Behind-the-scenes photos of you in your art studio (kitchen table)
  • Your biography
  • The original pet photo alongside your beautiful portrait. 
  • Size options with the relevant prices
  • Framing options
  • Shipping options
  • Addons such as custom prints and print-on-demand products
  • Mock-ups of your custom portraits, framed and on the wall
  • Step-by-step examples of works in progress
  • Testimonials from delighted customers preferably with photos attached

You can do all this with 6 drawings or paintings. You don’t need a huge portfolio. 

This post will give you some tips: Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas

These are commercially available frames with the correct mat sizes. You should save these.

Frame SizesMat Aperture
6″ x 8″6″ x 4″
7″ x 5″3″ x 5″
7″ x 5″ 6″ x 4″
10″ x 8″3″ x 5″
10″ x 8″6″ x 4″
10″ x 8″7″ x 5″
10″ x 10″8″ x 8″
10″ x 12″6″ x 4″
10″ x 12″ 6″ x 8″
10″ x 12″ 7″ x 5″
10″ x 12″ 10″ x 8″
11″ x 14″ 10″ x 8″
12″ x 16″8″ x 12″
24cm x 30cm6″ x 8″
30cm x 30cm8″ x 8″

Smaller commercial frame sizes

Frame SizesMat Aperture
12″ x 16″ 8″ x 12″
12″ x 16″ 8.5″ x 11″
12″ x 16″ 9″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 8″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 10″ x 12″
16″ x 20″ 11″ x 14″
16″ x 20″ 12″ x 16″
30cm x 40cm8″ x 12″
30cm x 40cm(A4) 297mm x 210mm
40cm x 40cm8″ x 8″
40cm x 40cm 10″ x 10″
40cm x 40cm 30cm x 30cm
40cm x 50cm11″ x 14″
40cm x 50cm30cm x 40cm
20″ x 24 16″ x 20″
24″ x 34″20″ x 30″

Larger commercial frame sizes

Read this: What Size Art Sells Best? Prints and Frame Sizes

Ask your friends/family to take your portfolio to work with them and try to drum up some trade on your behalf. Have a contact form where potential customers can leave their name, email, comments, and an optional contact number. Put the form on, or next to, your testimonial page.

Don’t assume that everyone who expresses interest will try to contact you. Supplying your details, a business card and good intentions are not enough. It’s up to you to be proactive. You must follow leads. That’s business. Send emails and best of all, get them on the phone.

Top Tip use your business card effectively, read this: Artist Business Cards: 6 Tips For Artists – From a Pro

When you make contact and they can hear your voice, a personalized pet portrait stops being an abstract thought and becomes a reality. Get their favorite photo sent to you, or, if it’s feasible, arrange a visit and take the photograph yourself.

When you get in touch with your prospect don’t forget to use their first name and name-drop whoever it was that introduced you. 

Something like this for example:

‘Hi, is this Joan? Hello Joan, I’m Kevin, my Aunty Anne showed you my pet portraits and told me you were interested in having your dog drawn/painted.’

Simple psychology. They won’t want to offend your Aunt by rejecting you so they will hear you out. Don’t be pushy, just state how much you would like to draw their pet. If the price is too high for them, be prepared to offer a small discount as a gesture of goodwill (for being a friend of the family).

That’s how to get started from scratch.

Starting Your Pet Portraits Business

Use this opportunity to figure out how much time it really takes you to finish a drawing. Your family and friends will be forgiving if things take longer than expected. This is a learning process, after all, so use this time wisely. Now is the time to tackle the teething problems.

You will discover:

  • What kind of photos your customer is likely to provide
  • What size drawing works best for you
  • How long it takes to finish the job
  • How to present the work for maximum effect.
  • How to ship your work if it can’t be collected
  • How to frame the work cost-effectively should it be required
  • How to photograph/scan the work for your portfolio and print-on-demand products.

You will soon discover that your average customer will provide their favorite pet photos and they are not to be confused with photos that you can actually use.

More often than not, the poses are appalling, often taken using a flash, too small, out of focus, and lacking in detail.

Many people expect artists to be able to ‘make up’ the missing information out of the ether or change a pose entirely with no references to go by.

Do not agree with this type of request. I’ll explain why in a moment

It’s up to you to set the parameters. State what you can and can’t do, and keep it to that. Don’t try to second-guess what your customer is imagining, that’s a recipe for problems.

These tactics will work at the beginning and you might be able to build a business without anything more than referrals. Brilliant if you can avoid the internet rabbit hole, but let’s be realistic. In this day and age, a website presence is expected. I’ll cover that next.

How to Market Your Pet Portrait Business

Nothing beats word of mouth but there are times when the leads run dry and you’ll have to be more proactive. That is where social media comes in and you’ll need a website to make it work for you.

Make a WordPress Website For Your Pet Business

Setting up a basic website for your pet portrait business is easier than you think. I advise you to make a WordPress website for several reasons:

  1. Cost-Effective: WordPress is an open-source content management system and it’s free. While there are costs associated with hosting and premium themes and some plugins, overall, building a website with WordPress is cost-effective in comparison to 3rd party alternatives.
  2. Customizability: WordPress supports thousands of themes and plugins. There is an industry built around the platform that allows you to customize your website to fit your requirements.
  3. Ownership: When you build a website on WordPress, you effectively own it. This allows you to promote yourself and gather emails without relying on 3rd party platforms that could change ownership, rules, and pricing at any time.
  4. Flexibility: You can create any type of website you like on WordPress. From a personal blog to a fully-fledged business website and online store. This flexibility means your website can change with your business needs.
  5. SEO: WordPress is designed to be SEO-friendly. It’s a learning curve but once you know the basics of SEO you can create blog posts that will rank on Google and attract visitors to your website. 
  6. Support: WordPress has a large and active community of users and developers. This means that when you have a problem or need to ask a question, there’s every chance someone can help There are numerous resources, forums, and tutorials online.
  7. Integration: WordPress integrates well with most third-party tools and services, such as email marketing platforms, social media networks, and payment gateways. 

Follow a tutorial to get things set up. 

These guys have insanely popular courses on Udemy.
If you need a guiding hand this course will help you immensely

Here’s a simple guide to get you started:

Choose a Domain Name: Your domain name is your website’s address on the internet. Try to choose a name that is easy to remember, related to your business, and as short as possible. You can purchase a domain name from domain registrars like GoDaddy or Namecheap.

Read this: Art Business Names: Choosing a Website Name for Artists

Select a Web Host: A web hosting provider is a service that allows your website to be accessible on the Internet. You’ll see the same Hosts advertised all over the web, usually Bluehost, Why? Because they pay the biggest affiliate commission.

I use GreenGeeks hosting because they are carbon neutral, very affordable, and have great customer support. I started with Bluehost, changed to Hostgator, and after advice switched to GreenGeeks. I’m so glad I did.

Choose a Theme: There are plenty of super-fast free themes on the market and WordPress has a selection of free themes too. I have a Premium theme for one very good reason, I get great support.

I use GeneratePress, they are very good but there are others with more online tutorials that might suit you better. 

These 3 companies stand out. They all have free starter themes and a pro version with added extras and support.

Create Essential Pages: At a minimum, your website should include the following pages:

  • Home: Your homepage is the first page visitors see. It should give a brief overview of your business and direct visitors to other parts of your site.
  • About: This page introduces you to your audience and tells the story of your business. You can include information about yourself, why you started your pet portrait business, and what sets your pet business apart.
  • Portfolio/Gallery: This page showcases your talents. Include high-quality pet portraits of previous commissions with testimonials.
  • Services/Shop: This page provides details about your pet portrait services. Detail your terms and conditions, prices, shipping, deposits, size, medium, turnaround times etc. Include as much information as possible to build trust and avoid time-wasters.
  • Contact: This page tells visitors how to get in touch with you. Include your email address, phone number, and any other relevant contact information. Include the social media that you use regularly. 

Your website is the hub of your business. You must have a place where the public can find you. Social media is not enough on its own. 

You can use your website as an extension to your business, like a virtual flyer, and leave it at that, or you can set up an e-commerce store and start a blog to get found on search engines. It’s up to you where you take your business.

I will mention one issue if you intend to generate sales from the internet. Dealing with customers online is very different from dealing with locals.

It will be imperative to put everything down in writing and get a formal contract signed along with an advanced deposit before you undertake any work. Not only that, shipping is a major issue, especially if you intend to send your work overseas.

This post will help: How to Ship Art Prints Safely: The Easy Way

Shipping originals abroad is a nightmare. Not only are the shipping fees extortionate, art insurance is hard to find and prohibitive, customs can delay your delivery, and import taxes are often applied.

These things must be taken into account before you market yourself to the world. It’s not straightforward. Think twice before you offer ‘Free Shipping’.

How To Copy a Photo and Draw a Pet Portrait Quickly

The ideal photo is a three-quarter headshot taken from ground level. You will, however, seldom get offered classic poses for pet portraits. You may have to take it yourself.

Of course, that’s not always possible, not least because the majority of your commissions are likely to be of deceased pets. Most pets get memorialized as a work of art, sad but true.

'Siblings' A drawing by Kevin Hayler. Three cute puppies drawn in pencil
You can be a pet portrait artist

So given that you can only work from the references available to you, the more photos you have, the merrier. You should choose the most suitable reference. The customer can’t be relied upon to see it for themselves.

If using photos makes you uneasy, read this first: Is Drawing From Reference Photos Bad? Are You Cheating?

After you have assessed the task you must be upfront with the customer. If the references are too poor to work from, say so. Better by far to decline a job than to get it rejected.

There are times when the pose is great but the image itself is too poor. Things can sometimes be rescued. There are workarounds.

If the form is present but the focus is lost, if the eyes are semi-closed, or the ears are back and you want them forward, try scrolling through Google images, it will usually come up with the missing detail.

This will show you how to rescue your references: How to Plan and Compose Your Art: A Guide for Beginners

All pet owners think their pets are unique, and they are, emotionally, but a breed is a breed, and coat patterns apart, they won’t detect a difference if you have to add some extra details from elsewhere. They’ll be delighted.

Keep life simple. Play to your strengths. Know your medium and don’t casually agree to anything beyond your known skillset.

Do you lack confidence? Take a class and get into the habit of drawing. I found this class on Udemy, 115,028 students can’t all be wrong!

How to Approach a Pet Portrait Commission

I’m not going to cover drawing techniques in this post, it needs a post all to itself, and anyway, I’m assuming you’re already proficient in drawing. This is how I approach pet portraits and other commission work.

When I’m sent a digital file or given a physical photograph, I always make the file into a physical photo. I find it easier to reference things than an image on a screen. Then I enlarge some photocopies roughly to the size that I want to draw them.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you agree to make a 10″ x 8″ drawing for a client. The simplest way to stick to that size is to cut a 10″ x 8″ aperture in a card and align the enlarged photocopy that fits best. Easy.

I grid up a black and white photocopy. How big the grid should be is up to you. It all depends on your confidence.

Don’t struggle, read these:

I prioritize speed, so I line a ruler to the vertical edge of the image and draw a line on both sides. I have two parallel lines. I then use the width of my ruler as my guide for the remaining lines.

I do the same on the horizontal edge. Perfect every time.

These are ways I get things done: How to Draw Faster: 14 Expert Tips For Sketching at Speed

I draw the same grid on the paper but with a very light touch. I now have an exact 1:1 scale. The image should now be easy to draw.

What About Tracing Your Photo?

Plenty of illustrators trace their work. It’s up to you. I discuss it in a different post.

Read these:

The easiest way to get an accurate image is to shade a 6B pencil over the back of a photocopy and tape the copy to your drawing paper. Use low-tack framers acid-free tape to stop the paper from moving.

Draw over the main image and you will leave clear lines. There is no need to invest in a lightbox but it will save you time.

This is valuable information and there is much more like this in my guide. Check it out and see what you’re missing!

How Much Do You Charge For Your Pet Portraits?

Only you can figure out the time you need to finish a drawing. You must calculate the costs you incur, and the profit you need to make your efforts worthwhile.

Be realistic. Not every job will go to plan and you don’t want to work all God’s hours. Leave yourself some breathing room. You might be able to make 5 pieces of work in a week in theory, but in reality, perhaps 3 would be more like it. Don’t take on too much, you might burn out.

Think about how much money do you need to earn? What is the minimum wage? That can be your base figure while you establish yourself.

Let’s say you can draw 3 pet portraits a week. Divide the minimum weekly wage by three and that’s the minimum profit you need. Not turnover.

That’s only a starting point. You must progressively increase your prices until it hurts your income. That’s your price point. Don’t compare yourself with others, it’s meaningless.

This post will interest you: How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice For Beginners

You have no idea about the lives of other artists, it’s a false comparison. You don’t know their costs, the demographic they serve, or even if it’s their full-time income.

There are too many variables to know what’s really going on, market research doesn’t mean much.

And lastly, don’t get sucked into agreeing to a price by the size of your paper alone. Many customers will try to get you to draw two or more portraits on one sheet of paper to save money.

In their defense, they are unaware of how much extra work it involves, and they are usually slightly deluded into assuming you are drawing their pet out of love. You’re an animal lover, right? You must make it clear that each portrait is an additional cost.

How to Present Your Pet Portraits

It’s important to present your artwork as something extra special. This is a luxury bespoke work of art commissioned to celebrate a much-loved pet, and as such, it must be packaged to reflect its importance.

Always mount (mat) your work before you hand it over. It should never be an optional extra. Choose an off-white if you are unsure. I like to use a black-core mountboard. It’s slightly more expensive than the standard white-core board, but the black bevel adds an extra border-line around the art and makes it look great.

Three puppies pet portrait, drawn in pencil by Kevin Hayler
Custom Dog Portraits – Final Product

Be generous with the size and make the borders wide. The artwork will appear much bigger, and psychologically, much more expensive.

Wrap it up neatly in clear cellophane. If the picture is small you can buy self-sealing cellophane bags, otherwise, buy a heavy-duty cellophane roll, the same stuff florists use.

A good tip is to use one more piece of card to face the drawing in transit. You must not allow anything to touch the paper surface, even through the cellophane.

Finally, you can wrap the whole item in gift wrap or buy some attractive-looking carrier bags. The whole process should be like unwrapping a present.

Carry your drawing in a portfolio case so that you can open it up, upon delivery, in a grand gesture.

A good quality portfolio case

If you are price-conscious read this: A Quick Guide to Framing on a Budget (Info Without the Fluff)

Sell Print-on-Demand Products as Addons For Extra Income

Your earnings potential doesn’t end at the final delivery of your pet portraits. You should scan or photograph your finished work, not only to add the image to your portfolio but to place it on merchandise. These are the addons you can upsell to your customer.

The variety of print-on-demand products these days is astounding. It’s gone far beyond mugs and coasters.

Some more ideas include:

  • Phone covers
  • Canvas and fine art prints
  • Cards
  • T-Shirts and Hoodies
  • Cushion covers
  • Scarves
  • Tote bags
  • Daypacks

And the list goes on. Too many to name here. Look up this class on Domestika to get started

Check out some of the more popular Print on Demand sites and see what’s available:

I’ve experimented with I used them because every review I read commended their quality. I ordered a couple of samples, one print, and one t-shirt. The T-shirt was excellent. The fine art print was good but darker than I’d have hoped.

That said the quality was good. The solution would be to lighten my file and try again. Expensive but doable.

Addons are a potential goldmine. You already have the master scan, all you have to do is present the mock-ups, add your markup, and take the orders. The product will be delivered directly to your customer.

Even if they decide not to buy for themselves, they may well choose to buy something for other members of the family.

Do your research and check out a few companies before you commit your name and reputation to their services. Some companies will perform better than others.

If nothing else, include some flyers or cards with your order. Use the pet image to make some flyers specifically for your client. They will be happy to show off their new picture and promote you to their friends and work colleagues.

You can make your own graphics on Canva. They have lots of templates you can use.

You can buy art mockups on Creative Market you should check it out.

You can also read this: How Much Do Greeting Card Companies Pay Artists? A Concise Guide

How Big Is The Market For Custom Pet Portraits?

Let’s put it this way, 86.9 million households own a pet in the US alone (source). That’s 2/3rds of the population! 

Of those pet owners, the 3 most important statistics are:

  • Cat Owners – 46.5 million
  • Dog Owners – 65.1 million
  • Horse Owners – 2.2 million

The majority of those pet owners will spend money on treats and accessories in one form or another and form genuine emotional bonds with their pets. The US pet industry is projected to generate $143.6 billion in sales in 2023. The market for pet portraits is huge.

Selling Pet Portraits: Final Thoughts

The pet business is huge. There are millions of customers and a limited supply of good reliable artists. The opportunity is there for pet portraits and to make a good living.

Start small and your prices can rise as your order book begins to fill. As the opportunities arise, prioritize work coming in from more affluent customers. Think about pedigree dogs and cats and especially horse owners.

Your aim is to find a wealthy demographic who are happy to pay a premium for your talent.

It’s far better to have fewer customers who are willing to pay more than it is to price cheaply and have plenty of poorly paid work. After so many years of experience, I can assure you that if you try to compete on price you will burn out. 

In an ideal world, you’ll take your time, produce consistently good work, and have a waiting list of clients eager to pay for your services. You can only do that if your clients are paying extra. 

Now get your portfolio together and make a start today.

If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit

Commissions will get you started but you’ll also want to sell your artwork, this guide will show you how, Step-by-Step. Take a look!

If You Want to Sell Your Art

Check this out!

Psst…it’s only $12.99!

If you want some extra help, consider these articles:

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In the end, it’s all about practice. Join Sorie on Domestika and join over 100,000 students taking her sketching classes.


How to Draw Pet Portraits for Cash for Pinterest