Mark Lovett
On Starting A Portrait Painting Business
Mark Lovett Studio
from Gaithersburg, MD, USA
started June 2000
alexa rank
market size
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gross margin
time to build
7 months
average product price
growth channels
Organic social media
business model
best tools
Wave, Instagram, YouTube
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
1 Tips
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Start A Couple's Portrait Painting Business

My name is Mark Lovett and I'm a professional artist - oil painter. My oil painting business is Mark Lovett Studio located in Maryland.

Flagship Product: Client commissioned, hand-crafted, realistic, portrait paintings in oil, on linen canvas, is my flagship product. The goal of these works of art is to bring a soul to life on canvas in a creative yet realistic manner. Quite a bit of time is involved in creating these custom paintings and prices generally range from $7,500 to $25,000. Canvas sizes generally range from 16x20" to 30x40"

My clients are located throughout America. They find me through word of mouth and from online searches. Some of my clients include Congressman Bill Livingston, Forrest Whitaker (Academy Award Winning Actor), Gregg Allman of Allman Bros Band, Terraforma, Lendlease, SunEdison, Broadsoft, Martek Global, designDATA, Boland.

Some of my most rewarding commissions are paintings of loved ones who have passed away. I feel like I can contribute to the healing process of the family.

Since starting in 2000, I've seen an annual growth rate of approximately 20%.

Currently, I'm in the preliminary stages of a portrait painting commission for a client.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I've always been an entrepreneur at heart. It was in my blood, passed down from my father. My father used to say 'Son, nobody will pay you as well as you'll pay yourself!'

At age eight, I began my life-long love affair with music, which years later, led me into oil painting and photography.

Keep your expectations realistic and keep doing your best, one day at a time. You will succeed.

My father loved music, singing, dancing, and soloed in choirs, church, on live radio as a young man, and my mother was a classically-trained ballet dancer who also loved to sing. Both of my parents are still very good dancers. My father had an old Kaye acoustic guitar that he played when he came home after a hard day of working as an attorney in Washington DC. He would sit on the porch and strum the guitar as he sang. When the family traveled in the car we would sing songs together and harmonize. (Such family-singing was much more common when I was growing up than it is now, due to the proliferation of TV, CD’s, DVD’s, iPod’s and the like.)

At age eight, I remember being fascinated with my father's guitar. When he wasn't playing it, he often left it exposed, and I would pluck the strings and enjoy the sounds. My dad saw that and bought a ukulele for me, but, since it only had four strings, he had it re-strung with six strings like his guitar; he then showed me the basic chords in several keys. Having a good ear, I was soon playing whatever I could hum. By age nine, we were playing together, and I was doing some harmonizing, which seemed natural to me. My dad gave me guitar lessons, but, since I could play by ear, I didn’t stay with them for long.

By age twelve, a group of 15-16 year-olds, who had a band, we’re looking for a rhythm guitarist who could sing and harmonize. Someone suggested me, and I joined that band (The Joey Spiranza Band). Joey had amazing talent and, when last I knew, was still making his living as an entertainer in Florida. Anyway, I was earning my first money with that band. I played with them for several years. We did mostly Junior High and High School parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and occasional weddings.

My dad encouraged this by building a soundproof Music Room in our basement, where my band and I could practice. My dad also took my brothers and me to hear many fine musicians and singers “live”, which augmented my interest in being a musician. When I wasn’t performing, I was listening to guitarists and learning what they played by ear. I still do that to relax and as a break from my painting and photography.

Marijuana was “The Thing” for kids in those days, especially for musicians, and some of our band’s members grew their own. My parents were “squares” and didn’t know I was smoking “pot” and drinking beer for several years. These activities, spurred by the breakup of my parents and family, led me into various other drugs, and I eventually quit high school and went to live on my own at 17.

Early Adulthood | Music & Odd Jobs

I played music and sang professionally for the next 15 years. At times, I supplemented my income from music with a variety of different jobs (selling shoes, being an electrician, etc.). By my late twenties, I decided that I wanted an education; I took the High School Equivalency Test and passed it and enrolled in Maryland University, from which I graduated with a B+ average, although I was in my early thirties by then. Gradually, music became my hobby, although I continued to play in clubs frequently, and I ventured into real estate finance along the way, but I felt unfulfilled and lost, a man with no inner compass.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

Day One

On my daughter’s eighth birthday in 2000, after I had been clean and sober for two years, my wife asked me to purchase some art supplies for her party. I bought art supplies and set them up for my daughter and her friends so they could paint, and I decided to paint along with them. My daughter and her friends finished their painting in 15 minutes and left the room, but I became totally immersed in mine and remained at it for hours. It was the beginning of my love of, and years of studying, oil painting.

Since that time I have devoted myself to honing my skill, attending Philadelphia's Studio Incamminati, pilgrimages to world-class galleries, as well as thousands of hours of practice.

Early Artist Influences

I began spending long hours in the art museums and galleries in Washington, D.C., and New York City. I also traveled to Italy and studied art in galleries there as well. My favorites were Bouguereau, John Singer Sargent, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Tissot, Vermeer, Harlamoff and Rembrandt.

Appeal of Art

I have never been attracted to art that glorifies chaos, wars, and the dark side of life. I prefer the simplicity, light, and beauty of life that art can capture – from sunsets to fields awash in flowers, to the intrigue of the human face and eyes, the windows to the soul. Whether in oil paintings, music or photography, I look for joyful and loving art, for the medicinal or healing quality that it produces, and the challenges of capturing the essence of the subject on canvass and bringing the subject to life. Hopefully, it will be enjoyed for generations.


My goal is to touch people’s hearts. It’s not for me to say how others view my work, but I’ll refer you to my website. In some cases, I have quoted their remarks which include: “I am crying, this is not just who is today but you can see her depth and who she will be later. HE IS AMAZING.” “His unmatched work exudes compassion, understanding, and artistic genius. We will be in his debt forever.” “Tell him how much I appreciate not only his work as an artist by his connection to her as a person.”

My most rewarding experiences have been creating portraits of loved ones who passed away. Somehow I feel I can play a small part in the healing. Patrick Weller commissioned me to paint a portrait of his son (who passed away) and his wife, as a surprise gift. This experience was particularly meaningful for me, and very emotional at times, because Patrick & Lisa’s college-age son was senselessly murdered less than a year prior, and I was so honored. After painting the portrait Pat Weller writes "The painting has brought Lisa a joy greater than I anticipated. There’s a feeling our son is still by her side with the painting:). Something to be cherished."


I have converted my garage in my home into a portrait studio where I create both oil paintings and photographs.


Types of Art Products

I create primarily commissioned, realistic, oil portrait paintings for clients to capture their souls and bring them to life on canvas. I used to create figurative paintings on speculation for galleries. Many of these can be seen on our website.

Methods of Painting

For a painting commission, I begin by taking many resource photographs of the subject, or if not possible, gathering available resource photos. Upon review, the images start talking to me, and I communicate my ideas with my client. Eventually, a plan emerges.

As a professional photographer, fluent in computer software imaging technology, such as photoshop, the computer helps me create the initial layout. I sometimes use the client’s photography and live settings, in combination with my own photographs of the subject. Many subjects can’t or won’t sit still long enough to maximize a live sitting. I have painted live models extensively, but most clients just don’t have the time for it.

I don’t ever simply copy a photograph; I combine photos and interpret them into a work of art. I hand to stretch the finest weave Belgian linen that has been primed four times with oil ground, and sketch the design that I have created in pencil or charcoal and then seal it.

I don’t paint carefully between the lines, but, rather, my drawing is only a guide, and I strive to avoid sharp edges in the initial stages. I paint a thin layer of oil paint on my canvas, which forms the under-painting from which I build. After drying, I begin another layer and then repeat the process. Each layer will either warm or cool the painting, darken or lighten it, and infuse texture.

While constantly assessing the work between sessions, I work, stating and re-stating it, until my goal or vision has been realized to the best of my ability. Depending on the complexity of the subject and/or scene, it may be from 50 to 250 hours. I usually work on two paintings simultaneously, which gives me something to do when a layer of paint is drying on one, and it tends to keep my mind fresh to alternate between two.

Painting Style

I strive to find a balance between realism and impressionism in my work. When I paint someone's loved one, I'm going to nail a perfect likeness but in a slightly flattering way. Sometimes at night, when walking through my house, I’ll see one of my paintings but not realize I am looking at a painting. For a minute, I think someone is standing there. So, I do strive for the kind of realism that makes the person come alive. I want my paintings to be living, breathing, life-like works of art. However, I leave realism behind when it becomes boring or it doesn’t match the vision that I have of the subject.

Backgrounds, clothing, fabric, flowers, and other elements, are all subject to change and enhancement. I seek an element of surprise, some bold brushwork, a creative element that doesn't exist in any photo. I try and express myself and take the best of realism and merge with the best of impressionism. I do the same thing in my photography. In post-processing, I change crops, add and subtract elements, warm and cool colors, darken and lighten until, in the end, I have a unique work of art with my own vision and stamp on it.

Daily Routine

I have none. Each day unfolds in its own way with unique challenges. I’m a husband and father of two, who earns a living creating oil paintings and photographing people and events; so, necessity drives many of my decisions. In between painting and photoshoots, I work on the computer quite a bit creating photo albums and slideshows, and online photo galleries for clients. Whenever I have any spare time, I turn to my guitar, sometimes with my son, or my band, who still plays out occasionally at private parties or for group functions.

When I’m ready to start painting, I first set the mood. I put on quite soothing spiritual music, often Gregorian Chants. After I organize my palette and studio and stand back looking at my work from the previous day, I squint down, look at my reference material, look again at my work (this time through a mirror), then assess the direction that I want to go. On my knees, I then pray for five minutes or so then begin. If I find myself, later in the day, becoming frustrated or confused, I get on my knees again with my face on the couch and once again pray, asking God for guidance. I will do this as often as necessary throughout the work. Making a spiritual connection is essential to my process.


It is very important for an artist to blog. Also, to creating art, we need to get the word out. I had to make time, regularly, to write articles, on a WordPress website (so search engines will index it), include good photographs of my art, and create an interesting story. It's not hard to do. Many people are interested to know why we create our art and how we do it.

Evolution As an Artist

In my early stages of painting, my work was more impulsive. I used more intense color saturation, paid less attention to design and composition. At this juncture, I have realized that to appreciate the light, there must be shadow. To appreciate the bold, saturated color, there must be beautiful harmonious grays surrounding it. Too much texture in the wrong places can cause a stiff, hard look, so it has to be handled delicately. Value, (light and dark) is key. Without this foundation laid correctly, nothing can help the painting. I strive to keep the drawing correct, but keep it loose, lively, and interesting. Maintain some mystery. Don't show it all. Less is more.

I started my career painting Monet-inspired impressionist landscape paintings. Later, after studying the human figure and painting from life, I became a figurative painter, painting speculatively for galleries, such as Rehs in NY. I painted Degas-inspired children’s scenes, attractive ladies, and even nudes. As my career progressed, I became aware that God gave me the ability to capture an accurate likeness, so I focused more on portraits of people commissioned by clients. Commissioned portraiture has become my primary interest of late.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I’m working in an extremely small niche, but that's ok because I attract clients from all over the country. I can easily work with a client outside the USA as well.

I've been doing this long enough to become established. God blessed me with a talent that I didn’t discover until late in life, but I put in the time and hard work to develop and hone the skill. Over the years I've developed a good portfolio and client base. My website has been developed on the Wordpress framework with tender loving care. A great deal of time has gone into the presentation of my work, displaying quotes from satisfied clients, and information explaining to potential clients how the commission process works. Also, there are many detailed articles about the oil painting process and publications that featured stories about my art.

My website has been optimized for search engines and receives a good amount of traffic and a large share of internet searches using portrait painting key phrases. A lot of my business comes from potential clients’ online searches for portrait painters.

I plan to continue creating commission portrait paintings for clients. I meet many wonderful people and I love bringing their loved ones to life on canvas for them. It's very rewarding. I love what I do!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Trust God and follow your passion with faith. Dont conform to the world in fear.

I have come to realize how important it is to stay in the moment, the here and now. I can’t do anything about the past, and I can’t control the future. When I am thinking about either, this is not a place where I want to be. My art (painting, photography, music) keeps me in the present, the only place I want to be.

Faith is very important as well. When I start a new painting, I can’t let doubt creep in. I must just do my best each day and trust God that it's going to be great. He never lets me down.

My attitude needs adjustment every day and my mind needs to be focused properly. I start my day on my knees with a prayer to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, asking for guidance throughout the day. When I keep my thoughts on Him life is good. This brings about amazing positive changes in one's life. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" says scripture.

Leaving a legacy of art is very appealing to me, and I hope I can enrich others’ lives through it, but building valued relationships are most important. I hope that I can inspire others to follow their passion!

“Art is not what you see; it’s what you make others see.” Edgar Degas.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Art Tools - I use an endless amount of art tools (such as brushes, oil paints, easels, canvas) which are beyond the scope of this article.

Online Marketing Tools

WordPress framework - for website

Plugins - Woocommerce (for eCommerce), Yoast for SEO,

Siteground - website host

Web Design & SEO - Lovett Web Design - for website design and SEO

Invoicing Software - Wave

G Suite - for email

Social Media - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, Google

Computers - iMac and Macbook Pro computers

Photoshop - for photo editing

Nikon D4s & D800 - camera bodies for portrait photography for resource photos

Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens - for portrait photography for resource photos

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens - for portrait photography for resource photos

Converted Garage - for studio

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Follow your dream and passion! Don't let anybody discourage you. Dont conform to the world in fear. Trust God and follow your passion with faith. Keep your expectations realistic, and keep doing your best, one day at a time. You will succeed.

Mistakes to Avoid - High expectations. Thinking you can succeed quickly. Dont get frustrated and quit too soon before the miracle happens. If you expect to make a good income learn the needs of your potential clients and how you can best serve their needs.

Where you can go to learn more?

In this post, 'The Mona Lisa Painting Commission' I recreated the Mona Lisa in the style of the old masters and wrote in great detail about the process. The article receives tens of thousands of visits from all over the world.

Mark Lovett   Founder of Mark Lovett Studio
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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