Portrait Illustrations


I don’t often do portraits in my work (at least not of real people).  In those rare instances the challenge comes my way, I enjoy trying to capture the subject while still retaining my visual lexicon.   Just recently, I was contacted by Chris Curry at The New Yorker to create a portrait of African American political activist and comedian, W. Kamau Bell.   Chris was unsure if I’d be interested in doing the assignment because of the lack of portrait illustration on my web site(s).  I accepted the challenge after having looked up W. Kamau and really liking his work and plus, he has such a great face to draw.  A few years ago, I did a portrait of Adam Sandler for Rolling Stone so I thought it would be a good idea to do a similar thing;  create a realistically rendered sketch and layer it in the print making process with my characters and type.  Chris loved the idea and in the end was very pleased with the result.  It’s a bit of an adjustment for me to respond to a picture of someone’s face in my work but like Chris, I am also happy with the final art.

My portrait of Adam Sandler for Rolling Stone (below).  I find for some faces, it’s better to avoid any stylization and go straight for a realistic rendering.  After all, the goal is to capture a likeness and above all, that is paramount.


Here is a portrait I created of Orson Welles for Entertainment Weekly (below).  This one was really easy because Orson looks like my work.  The article was also interesting.  It was about how the film studio was mad at Welles for creating all these art films, which were nothing like his blockbuster hit Citizen Kane.  The studio refused to release these films including one titled, Mr. Arkadin.


Below is a portrait based on a fictional character in a novel called Sacred Games.  This illustration, a Bollywood spy thriller, was created for The New York Times Book Review.  This was also easy because I could completely make up any sort of likeness.


Below is a piece called Vikram.  It’s my favourite kind of portrait to do because he doesn’t exist.  I like to draw the characters in a style that evoke a degree of seriousness that would make the viewer think it is an actual portrait of someone real –  which is really fun to do.



All images © Gary Taxali – All Rights Reserved