Twiggy by Stanley Chow

The best portraits – whether editorial illustrations of celebrities, advertising drawing based on models, fine art portraiture or any other artwork with a person as the central subject – not only represent an individual’s defining physical characteristics in an instantly recognisable fashion, but their personality too.

So what is the secret of convincing portraiture, whether done digitally or in traditional media or a mixture of the two? And how important is it that depictions be faithful to the subject, or is there a great deal of latitude in terms of personal interpretation? We talked to a group of leading illustrators to find out. Predictably, there was no outright consensus, though everyone offered useful individual insights into how they produce memorable work.

Work for HSBC by Annelie Carlstrom

When drawing or painting a face, Dutch illustrator Anje Jager advises that you first look carefully at the face, not just as a whole but also as several forms together – eyes, nose, mouth, etc – plus darks and lights, “almost more as objects than as a face”. You should also ask yourself, she says, “What’s an important feature of the person? What does he stand for, and how can I bring this out in the way he looks? Can I exaggerate something in the face just a little bit that makes this feature come out more? Can I leave out something that distracts, that is not important?”

These questions matter whether you’re drawing totally freehand, using reference shots or tracing a photo. How you build the strokes and lines, and which features and aspects you choose to include, mark out how the subject will be perceived.

Work for Anna-Pi Lennstrant by Annelie Carlstrom