Illustrated Portraits

Sister's portrait by Minni Havas

A club poster by Miiki Saksi

Dutch-born, Helsinki-based illustrator Vincent Bakkum ( paints beautiful and exotic portraits of women on “preferably big” canvases using acrylics. He starts out by taking black-and-white photos of his models and working from these.

“I’m not interested in the life someone has lived,” he says. “I’m taken by the outlines, the graphic value of someone’s features. I’m drawn to lips, eyelashes, hair, the smoothness of skin. A face or a body are graphical values to me.”

Study and sketch
“I draw every face a bit odd and not exactly how it is supposed to be,” says Swedish artist Annelie Carlström (, who lives in Stockholm. “But I study every detail in the face very closely. I start with one eye, then the nose, then the mouth, then the other eye and then the skin, and the shape of the face.”

No matter what the artist’s medium of choice is, the sketch is key to a successful portrait.

“I try to have a general idea of what I want to achieve before I put anything down,” says Malaysian-born Schin Loong ( “It doesn’t have to be perfect – an expression I want to nail, or a colour palette or just a general concept, is helpful. Then I sketch it out on paper with a pencil, scan it in and clean up the line art using Photoshop.”

A work by Miiki meant to recall Lady GaGa

Annelie also uses Photoshop “to lay bare the drawing” and for its cloning tools, but she starts by drawing with a 0.3mm propelling pencil. “Pencil is, in my opinion, the best material to work in when you are doing detailed portraits,” she says. “There are so many variations of grey tones.”

When Italian artist Oscar Diadoro ( is commissioned to do a portrait, he works from a photo while first sketching on paper to study the composition.

“Once I’m satisfied, I digitise the sketch and start retracing it,” he explains. “I put the source image in a layer and reduce the opacity to 50 per cent. This helps me to distinguish the lines from the image itself. While retracing with the Pen tool, I work in outline view to have the background image always visible.

Joan of Arc by Michael Hayes

“I work only with strokes to ‘ink’ the illustration at first, then outline the strokes to work on details and smooth lines. Once I’ve got the black-and-white version, I start colouring. Every colour is set in a separate layer and I use the colour swatches in Global mode, so I can adjust or change colours without selecting every shape individually.”

Illustrator Peter James Field ( uses pencil, colour pencils or paint for his portraits or figure pieces, although digital processes in Photoshop are also very important to the development and delivery of his art.

Working mainly from photos for his commercial art, he acknowledges that producing a drawn portrait from a photographic reference can be a challenge. “I always start by looking carefully at the reference picture, converting it to greyscale and making sure that there’s a good contrast between the lightest areas of the face and the shaded areas.

Discover a muse by Michael Hayes

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...