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How I'm Developing A Portrait Illustration Style

Updated: Apr 2

Grayson Perry recently said 'I am not one of life's natural portraitists'. Well, neither am I - so get a sneak peek at my process for developing a portrait illustration style below.


I have been thinking a lot about developing a portrait illustration style after going on the (currently free and very highly recommended) Make Art That Sells Money Bad Ass course. On it, art agent Lilla Rogers explains a few times about how being able to draw faces as an illustrator is so important for getting work. Yes, I thought, but I'm a map illustrator, so I can just avoid it. Well, sticking your head in the sand is one way to avoid growth, isn't it?

So, with Grayson's and Lilla's words ringing in my ears, and a newly acquired iPad, which allows you to change pretty much any aspect of your drawing at any time (thank you Procreate) I started giving it a go.


Now, I did find that one aspect of my belief is true: I am definitely not a natural, and my first pencil attempts were truly awful. But, then I thought maybe I should try another medium, so I got out the gouache brush and tried from a different angle.

A block of nine different illustrated faces from different ethnicities and backgrounds
My first portraits by Nicola Howell Hawley

I don't think this was too awful for a first attempt, but I can tell you that my pencil sketches absolutely were. Perhaps, then, when working on a portrait style, it's a good idea to find the right medium.


I also went looking for source material for lots of different faces and people to add to my image bank. I found a lot of it on Pinterest, as well as some portraiture tips, and built myself a Pinterest board of inspiration.


And, I purchased and began working on Jake Spicer's You Will Be Able to Draw Faces by the End of This Book, so here's to improving even more!


Some other artists (that I love) do portraits and faces wonderfully well, and I turned to these people for help. So, for inspiration, I suggest you check out Polina Bright and Sibylline Meynet.


I also found this list on the Domestika website, of websites that offer free portrait reference photos for the artist. I'm particularly intrigued by the website that offers reference shots from photos taken when people were arrested!


Okay, so I'm not there yet, but I think a style is definitely beginning to come together. And it's much better than anything I've attempted before, so I'm taking it. Now all I have to do is try to link it in with my actual style.

Anyone else struggle with the whole idea of having a 'style'? Comment below! Also, you can check out some words on that from illustrator Georgia Camden, here.

As always, thanks for reading,


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