June 28, 2012

Illustrators often draw portraits for the magazines. Steven Heller, an American art director, author and coauthor of innumerable books on design and illustration, thinks there is a magazine portrait boom. Now that modern glossy photography can cope with any artistic task and beats the drawn portrait in verve and insight, portrait illustration is becoming more and more popular.

CEO magazine illustrated covers

A modern illustrator doesn’t even meet the model, as opposed to the portrait-painter of the previous era who had to make the person strike an uncomfortable pose. He/she doesn’t talk to the model, doesn’t have a romance or a quarrel with the object of painting. An illustrator can’t see the model getting angry, coughing or snoring. 

Andre Carrilho's portrets

So why do we still need portraits and how do some illustrators make really great ones? Heller has had his say that, compared to photography, illustration suggests more emotional, subjective and creative approach to a human’s face. And in the epoch of total love for celebs their faces are in demand. And what is more, an illustrator is able to enliven the well-known features by means of a new technique. 

Hanoch Piven

In Heller’s world art-directors choose between a portrait and a photo, being guided not by financial considerations. In real life, the task given to an illustrator is often to draw a substitute for a photo that they lack or that is horrible. It also has to be nice to look at and to meet the aesthetics of the magazine. Like an interior portrait: my aunt wearing pink for the light blue sitting-room.

Vanessa Dell

An illustrator that loves his/her job can’t get inspired by the task. That’s why a viewer gets bored from such pictures, too. But when an artist and an art-director decide on something more interesting than copying the photo from the Internet — this can be interesting. The illustrator can highlight a distinguishing feature of the model’s nature or social position. Heller announces that an artist steals one’s appearance in order to show him-(her)self. One can add whatever he/she wants to the image of the person. This is the game everybody likes to play. Especially when there is the difference between an artist’s idea of a person and a viewer’s one.

Viktor Melamed

It is clear that there are some basic methods like caricature, hyperrealism, dispersion into abstract lines and spots that everyone can use. And there is fantasy and taste (or intentional lack of both) that make a picture special. Even when there is no great meaning, it can be fun.

Pablo Lobato

Technique is what we appreciate in a portrait, and in this case the more it schematizes the image the better. It fights the instant recognition. It gives grotesque and hyperbolizes. Caricature can be used effectively either to show the sense or to conceal the nonsense.

Miss Van

But of course, all these tricks work on condition that the likeness is needed. We have nothing but the face and the portrait that bears no resemblance to the model is a bad one. The fun for the artist is to compete with the power in creating and giving birth to milliards of unlike faces.

Richard Solomon's agency illustrators


Bigactive agency illustrators


Bang! Bang! agency illustrators