10 captivating portraits by modern illustrators

These inventive illustrators will inspire you to polish your portraiture skills, says Anna Wray.

Whether you're an aspiring artist or a professional illustrator, the art of portraiture is one of the key skills to master. The best portrait artists will seek to find something in their subject that they can draw out and cast in a new and interesting light. Here we take a look at some of the present day's most creative and inventive portrait artists, in order to inspire you in your own efforts. Enjoy!

01. Svetlana Fialova

Portraits: Fialova

Winner of this years' Jerwood drawing prize, Svetlana Fialova's portrait of her boyfriend entitled 'Apocalypse (my bf doesn't care)' is captivating. Her drawing style is autonomous, yet highly observed whilst still retaining a feeling of spontaneity. Svetlana's style of drawing that has its roots in comic book illustration yet breaking out of the traditional format, instead layering narrative imagery (ranging from croc shoes to dead parrots!) in a series of bizarre combinations that just add to the portraits richness.

02. David Hughes

Portraits: Hughes

Here is a way to have fun with your fine liner. Wonderfully anarchic and bonkers, David Hughes' portrait of a girl eating an apple is drawn in a style reminiscent of the late Ronald Searle. I love the scratchy and analytical nature of this drawing. No need for colour just pure ink and line with a few splatters of intensity here and there!

03. Sarah Maycock

Portraits: Maycock

These portraits make me smile. Entitled 'Experimental life drawings' on Sarah's website and this is just what they are. An eclectic mix of quick sketched line and expansive washes of colour extenuating the models assets in not so much a flattering but highly amusing way non the less. Sarah's portraits are refreshing, drawn and painted in a flash of inspiration, liberated from the toil of intense observation, and work all the better for it.

04. Paul Blow

Portraits: Blow

This is something compelling and emotive about this portrait. The intensity of the expression paired with the vivid red of the face reminds me of the Fauvists and especially Paul Gauguin who used intensity of colour to accentuate emotion in a similar manner. The constrained and neat little marks of the hair add to this undercurrent of emotion and only adds to the feeling that something is about to happen, for good or ill.

05. Stuart Whitton

Portraits: Whitton

A clever and intriguing portrait by the illustrator Stuart Whitton, which was commissioned by M&C Saatchi as part of a campaign for the mental health charity 'Mindful'. Sculptural and precisely drawn, the portraits strength is in the detail, the typography is delicately distorted by the glass, the reflections in the glass layer and combine with the 'cloudiness' of the head, depicted by the action of rubbing away. A succinct and intelligent piece of work.

06. Rose Blake

Portraits: Blake

These great little characters were commissioned by The Boston Globe for an article about baby bloomers. These two look like they are on their first date after being newly single, kids left home, cash in the bank, armed with their interests underarm they look sort of nervous. Simple colour and minimal form express character perfectly with just the tiniest spots of careful detail.

07. Luke Best

Portraits: Best

Quirky, whimsical and eclectic are words that best describe Luke Best's collection of portraits. Created with a childlike exuberance with collaged shapes, textures, letters and scribbles. The illustrations are reminiscent of playing card figures gone wrong with the diamond shapes, queens like figures and random letters. Who knows what it all signifies, the lack of reason is all the better!

08. Olivier Kugler

Portraits: Kruger

Best known for his work for the Guardian newspaper Olivier Kugler specialises in observational reportage drawing from life. This portrait of a man in a NY lower eastside Tattoo parlour is a great example of Olivier's unique drawing style, fine spindly lines vary from areas of intense observation to quick and loose depiction and wonky perspective. His drawings retain the freshness of a sketchbook with the resolve of a finished piece of work.

09. Ceri Amphlett

Portraits: Amphlett

There is a childlike spontaneity and lack of self-consciousness about Ceri Amphletts portraits. Her work is often humorous and brilliantly experimental. Ceri's work isn't held back by 'getting things right' in her drawing, exemplified here in 'Lost at Sea'. There is a graphic tension between the monochrome block ink and gestural clouds and 'slightly gone wrong but compelling' face of the swimmer, funny yet strangely harrowing at the same time.

10. John Bellany

Portraits: Bellany

And here is my wildcard. The late (1942-2013), great, celebrated Scottish artist John Bellany who sadly died in August this year. I have included him in this article, as his influence is so apparent in contemporary illustration today. The portrait 'Anya and Luke' embodies that fantastic tension between gestural line, confident observation and quirky humour. I like it so much I spent all my money on this signed original lithograph last week, oops.

Words: Anna Wray

Anna Wray is an illustrator/author and a visiting lecturer on the Ba(Hons) Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. Check out her work and writing on her website.

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