The internet is full of artists, good and bad. But it’s also full of AI’s and businesses pretending to be artists. In other words, it can feel like a minefield. So how do find an artist you can order from online who will be right for your pet portrait project?
Will the end result look as good as the examples? And how can you make sure you’re working with a real person? Fortunately, with a little research you’ll be well prepared to sort the wheat from the chaff.
For some background before we get started, I’m Zann and I buy lot of handmade goods and custom art online. I’ve also been a professional pet portrait artist almost 10 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of art fads and shenanigans. In this post, I’ll give you my reasonably experienced painter’s perspective on what’s impossible to fake.
Read on to find the best pet portrait artist you can!
Buying Custom Art Online: The Basics
This post is organized by the qualifiers I use to gauge whether I’ll get good service from an artist. Feel free to skip around if you feel you’ve got some areas covered.
1. How to tell if art is made by a real person
2. Can I guarantee I’ll like the results? How do I know it will look as good as the examples?
3. How to find a local portrait artist
4. How do I know if they’ll ship to me?
5. Where to look for great pet portrait artists, and other custom art
1. How do I know if my custom art will be made by a person?
With all the AI art out there, it’s tough to tell if art is made by a real artist or not, right?
Good news: it’s actually really easy.
And you don’t need to comb through images pixel-by-pixel or try to spot “tells” like mismatched earrings, either. The key to finding art made by a real person is… look for the person! In other words, does the website, marketplace, or platform you’re on show who is making the art as they’re making it? Is the person and their process consistent? Transparent? Check out my list below for how to tell if art is made by AI, or an artist, or a bunch of underpaid workers in a warehouse.
What to Look For:
- One website, one artist.
A professional artist is likely to have their own website, not just a Facebook page or a listing on a marketplace
- Art videos and tutorials, social media and blogs
Artists spend a ton of time making art, and in general like to share what they do and how they do it. Personally, I’ve never met an artist who doesn’t have a blog, a YouTube channel, or at least a Facebook page where they share how they work
- Process photos and videos with the artist’s face
This is a big one. It’s possible to rip “making-of” images off a bunch of artists’ websites and throw together a scam page. But it’s really, really hard to consistently show the same face, going through the same process, getting consistent results… unless it’s your face and your process and your real actual art.
- Art prices that make sense
If a website advertises 4ft-tall handmade oil paintings for a few hundred dollars, they’re lying. It’s either not handmade, not oil, not that size, or all three. Because you can’t run a business selling 4ft handmade oil paintings for a few hundred dollars. More on pricing below.
What to be careful of:
If a bunch of different people are shown making the final products, you haven’t found an artist. There are lots of businesses that make what I call “art-like-objects” by using technology, or by just painting over printed photos. The end results are disappointing at best, and blend all the teeth together into one horrific mega-tooth at worst.
Many services exist to match artists and buyers together. These aren’t a problem in themselves. To the contrary, third party sites (like these) can add an extra layer of guarantee to your purchase. Just make sure the artist exists outside that one marketplace – they should still have their own website or at least social presence.
- Photo manipulations
The examples may look great, but “art” based on your snapshot might suck.
2. How to Make Sure You'll Like the Results
This one is tricky because no matter who you work with, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll like something that doesn’t exist yet. But, there are ways to mitigate the risk of disappointment and make it more likely you’ll get something you adore.
Realistic expectations and good communication (as well as familiarity with the terms and conditions of whoever you’re ordering from) go a long way.
Tips to get art you love:
- Read the terms and conditions, particularly the following:
- Refund policy. How much are you on the hook for?
- Do they take feedback? When?
- Revisions. How many?
- Look at reviews in different places.
On-site reviews (in other words, reviews on an artist or business’s own URL) are often biased. On Shopify, for example, I have the option to show all reviews, or to show only 5-star reviews, or 3-star and up reviews, or to sort reviews with the best reviews first. On the other hand, while off-site reviews like Google and Facebook offer some tools to businesses to manage reviews, it’s not total control.
- Contact the artist
Any contact goes a long way. You can explain in your own words what you’re hoping for in your pet portrait and even ask if they’ve done something similar before.
Lastly, here’s a gut-feeling thing that’s served me well: if you’re worried, don’t do it. Hold off until that feeling goes away, because you’re probably on to something.
3. How to find a local portrait artist
If you can’t find a local artist by googling “pet portrait art [my city]”, there are other ways to find local artists. The search and filter functions in social media and other platforms may help you out.
Find local art on different platforms
Head over to the advanced search, look for “page” and set the location parameters to your city or region.
Search for hashtags like #petportraits[mycity] #[mycity]artist #petpainter[mycity]
Etsy is an online marketplace with a lot of custom goods, and you can use basic regional filtering but it’s not as granular as social media sites
- Google Maps
This can produce different results than Google search, and is worth a shot. You’ll not only find anyone with a brick-and-mortar studio nearby, but also anyone who has listed their service area.
Reach out to arts organisations
Another option is to search for local arts clubs and societies. They may be willing to ask their members on your behalf if anyone is taking commissions. This can be a long process though, with a lot of back-and-forth.
4. How do I know if they'll ship to me?
I live in Canada, and the shipping struggle is particularly real here.
Most artists will list on their website where they ship to (look for a FAQ section). Failing that, you can always ask. It’s also worth asking about duties and taxes, if you’ve been through that hassle before.
5. Where can I find pet portrait artists online?
Everywhere you look online, you’ll have to dodge businesses pretending to be artists using the tips above. That being said, some platforms make it easier than others! Here’s where I would start and what to expect.
It helps to search for “pet portrait artist” rather than “pet portrait paintings” or similar. Including the “artist” term can help you find an individual.
While Etsy does tend to have a lot of “semi-custom” work, using image manipulation or other digital techniques, there are also artists who create physical art. Etsy makes it easy to see how much business someone does, and has a good review system, too.
Home of the amateur and pro-am artist! Sometimes you can find a good deal here with a skilled hobbyist or up-and-coming painter.
Instagram’s hashtags are a great way to find and follow artists you love, and from there you can go check out their website, too. Instagram is a great place to find process shots and examples, while their website should tell you more about pricing, terms and conditions, and their business.
Artists on YouTube have some of the most comprehensive process archives out there. You can see a lot about how an artist works before reaching out to them.
- Google or Apple Maps
Maps can be great for finding stuff nearby. You can search for pet portraits, but note that there will be a lot of photographers in there, too. You can also find art studios and art organizations this way.
6. How much do pet portraits cost?
Pet portrait pricing varies widely, but I can help you understand why. Pricing needs to make sense, and can be a great indicator of the kind of business you’re dealing with.
Some of the factors that go into pricing include the size of the art, how easy it is to ship, medium (oil, acrylic, watercolour, digital, etc), the cost of materials, and finally, how difficult it is to acquire the skill set needed to create it.
Below, I’ve listed some gut-feeling ball-park price ranges for different media. Note these don’t include sizes and can’t account for quality, so on the lowest end of the scale you’re looking at small, entry-level work and at the high end you’re looking at large pieces by experienced artists.
Digital pet portraits (file only)…………………………………………..$5 – $60
Digital pet paintings/manipulations (printed)………..$45 – $200
Photo manipulations (eg. Crown and Paw)……………. $60 – $300
Charcoal pet portraits…………………………………………………………. $100 – $200
Pencil crayon pet portraits………………………………………………..$100 – $200
Pastel portraits………………………………………………………………………….$150 – $300
Watercolour pets……………………………………………………………………..$200 – $500
Acrylic pet paintings……………………………………………………………….$150 – $1500
Felt pet portraits……………………………………………………………………….$150 – $3000
Oil pet portraits…………………………………………………………………………$300 – $10,000
Again, these are ballpark.
Art pricing explained
The scale-by-media makes sense when you think about what goes into each.
Take digital portraits, for example. These can be made using photo filters or AI with a few (or no) human touch-ups, so at the low end the skills required are about the same as setting up an email account. Maybe a touch of photoshop. At the high end, you may have an artist who works on tablet and has a lot of drawing experience as an animator or other professional artist and is supplementing their income with commissions because they can work quickly. If you can find someone like that to make your digital art it’s a great deal 🙂
Then you have paper-based portraits: charcoal, pencil-crayon, pastel and watercolour. These media take time to learn! But, because the materials are inexpensive and portable, it’s easier for young artists to get the hours of practise they need. or example, when I was a teenager, I drew dogs in the back of the car, on the bus, in the airport, at school, at the park, at the mall. Imagine trying to do that with paint. Paper-based media have a lower barrier to entry, so they’re less expensive.
Finally, oil and acrylic. Oil paintings are some of the most expensive pet portraits you can buy. Why? Because they have a high barrier to entry, the materials cost a lot, they require solvents to clean up, and they take forever to dry — so you need a lot of studio space.
But… the results!! In my opinion, nothing can match the depth and feeling you can achieve with oils. But I’m biased. Realy it’s a matter of personal taste. Acrylics are a little easier to use than oils because of the water cleanup and quick drying times, and that may account for the price difference.
Uncommon pet portrait media like felt, encaustic, mosaic, ceramic or stained glass all also have high barriers to entry, and pricing can vary even more than usual.
Summary and a few fun examples
I hope that’s given you a thorough overview of how to find the best pet portrait artist for your project!
To finish off, I wanted to give some examples of artists who make really unique art, or whose work or process I admire. If any links get broken, please let me know at email@example.com
Wacuneko's felt cats
Wacuneko’s frame cats look like they could blink and meow they’re so realistic I’m absolutely mesmerized. Her process and the results are incredible.
Shauna Russell's splashy watercolour animals
Shauna pioneered a vibrant watercolour style that people instantly fell in love with (including me). I’ve seen her art reproduced in many places, but for commissions you have to go straight to the source!
Roberto Rizzo's acrylic rock animals
Roberto’s artwork has a presence to it that I really appreciate. His pet portraits are realistic and beautiful and incredibly cozy.
Crown and Paw's photo manipulations
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include Crown and Paw, but in the end it would be remiss not to. If you have a pet and an Instagram account you probably already know about Crown and Paw. While they’re a business, not an artist, I know their products make people smile and are affordable to boot.
I don’t get any kind of kickback from these sites, don’t worry.
I hope you’ll take what you’ve learned and find an amazing artist to work with! For examples of my work, visit my gallery here.