One of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing is to look at a wide variety of art and think about what the artist is trying to communicate and how they use the techniques and tools at their disposal.
In this post, I'll share a wide cross-section of portrait illustrations to get you excited about creating projects, and I'll link to some tutorials in which you can learn how to create portraits of your own.
Ready for some illustration inspiration? Then let's begin.
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From Envato Elements
Envato Elements offers a huge range of traditional illustration portraits as well as more creative, experimental pieces. Here's a quick selection of creative illustrations that excite and motivate, challenge and comfort.
If you're trying to create a character portrait, one thing you should know is that it's all about collaboration between artist and subject. Why has the artist chosen this colour palette? Does it reflect something they saw in the subject or something they felt within themselves? What did the artist want to communicate by juxtaposing sharp angles in the subject's neck, jaw, and hair with the tenderness in the eyes and soft sensuality of the lips? What does this portrait make you feel? Illustrations of people are a fun thing to do—just keep these tips in mind.
Freedom of expression is essential to the creator, and no less so in portraiture, where the pressure to honour facts and details can stifle and hamper communication. In portraiture, therefore, it's critical to guard one's creative instincts—the instinct that guides one about what to include or exclude. You'd expect a "faceless" illustration to lack emotion, but this artist is following their instinct to exclude facial details and rely on other strategies to communicate the vulnerability, tenderness, protectiveness, and joy of motherhood: gesture, line, colour, shape. Use this portrait of a woman touching her baby bump for any pregnancy projects or designs.
Mexico's "Day of the Dead" creates endless possibilities for creative expression thanks to its fascinating juxtaposition of the joyful and the macabre. Though there is a tradition of technique, pattern, motifs, etc. in this type of portraiture that each artist must adhere to, there is still so much room for individual interpretation and expression. This is what keeps the tradition fresh and endlessly exciting.
Bringing the childlike into the adult sphere has been more popular in the 21st century than at any other time in human history. Rich fodder for psychologists and social historians no doubt, and endlessly cute and comforting for many. This creative illustration eschews the Disney-style wide-eyed innocence for small, thin lines for the eyes, which works well to communicate the joy and sweetness of this self-portrait illustration.
Abstract illustration is another way to communicate a variety of complex emotions and evoke a wide range of responses. With a handful of repeated and reinterpreted geometric shapes and a limited colour palette, this artist has managed to create a bold and creative illustration of portraits.
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From GraphicRiver
There are also loads of riveting portraits to be found at GraphicRiver, with thousands of vector portrait illustrations to browse. Here are some of the best options.
This portrait of a woman in hijab is rendered with so much detail that it could almost pass for a photo. In a traditional illustration portrait, you can reach a high level of realism, while also being totally free to create the look you want. The best of both worlds!
One of the great things about portraiture that we hope we're capturing in this article is the range of styles possible within this one genre. This template borrows from the Pop Art style of the 1960s, while updating it with a more contemporary look. Create your character portraits with different hairstyles and patterns. This template includes a variety of illustration options to customize and create character portraits that resemble you or your friends.
Art is a great vehicle for furthering social justice. This piece does that very well by capturing a same-sex couple and their children in an idealised cartoon-style family portrait illustration. Why? Because families come in all combinations. Illustrations of people should show diversity and inclusion.
Portrait illustrations can veer into the realm of fantasy any time you want! This haunting illustration blends the subject with the background and makes the whole scene merge together to communicate the ethereal nature of a lost, mournful ghost.
Here's another family portrait illustration, but this time it looks more like a posed studio photograph, with the subjects smiling for the camera. The way they're standing so close makes it clear that this is a loving family illustration.
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From Placeit
Placeit is a useful online tool to help you create banners, T-shirt designs, mockups, and more—right in your web browser! It doesn't specialise in portrait illustration, but it does have a few great examples to help you get inspired for your next project.
This type of flat illustration gained popularity a few years ago, and this is a great example of the style, with its simple flat shapes and long shadows. The style is somewhat deceptive—although it looks very simple, pulling off a successful and creative illustration is not as straightforward as you might think.
This is billed as a T-shirt design, but it could also work as an album cover—stylized portrait illustrations like this one are very flexible and very on trend in the art world! They take their inspiration from snapshot photography, where the subject is captured in candid posture rather than posed. This brings a fresh dynamism to illustration.
How about something a bit more edgy? This is such a striking portrait, with the folded arms, crossed swords, and the face obscured by a mask and reflective goggles. Even if Anarchy weren't written below the illustration, it would still communicate a certain sense of threat.
Using a text like the one above gives this illustration some inspiration. We all want to live our best life, don't we? This is a great example of vector portraiture—just a few lines manage to communicate a sense of thoughtful yearning that fits the style of portrait perfectly.
There's a lot going on in this Japanese-influenced design, but at the heart of it is the portrait of a woman, probably in her twenties. Again she has an interesting pose, half-turning as if she's just heard us call out to her. The grid is an unusual background choice, but works thanks to the fluidity of the rest of the portrait.
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From Reshot
Reshot offers hundreds of creative portrait illustrations, and they're all free to download and use, with a simple commercial license. Here are a couple of the best ones.
You can see the abstract style in this illustration, with inspiration from Picasso and other cubist artists. This creative illustration is broken up and reassembled in different forms, and viewed from different perspectives. Add the bold colour scheme and geometric patterns, and you've got an unforgettable portrait.
There are loads of business illustrations out there. What makes this one more of a creative portrait is the way in which the elements are made slightly abstract and distorted from reality, and then arranged in a way that communicates dynamism and frenetic activity. The monochromatic colour scheme with just those two pops of yellow is also an unusual but effective choice and a great representation of flat design illustration.
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From Mixkit
Mixkit offers a small but high-quality selection of creative portrait illustrations by talented artists from around the world. And the best part is, they're completely free to download! Improve your illustrations with this inspiration list:
This highly stylized portrait illustration is all about being at one with nature. There is no star here. This portrait of a woman with beautiful leaves surrounding her creates a harmonious whole.
Illustrations of people doing regular things like taking the train can turn into a more documentary style, allowing the artist to depict a person in the context of a whole scene. This one uses a stylised depiction of the interior of a train at night to create a mood of isolation, fatigue, and loneliness. It's another example of communicating mood in portraiture without many facial details.
What makes this portrait so effective is the contrast between the black and white subject and the brightly coloured shapes exploding from their ears. This creative illustration has a surreal scene that's compounded by the troubled expression on the subject's face. In totality, a disturbing and fascinating portrait.
Colour is a powerful tool when creating illustrations, and this portrait achieves its power and drama through its use of colour. The shades of blue contrast beautifully with the shades of pink, making the fire and the man stand out from the rest. The light coming from the tablet screen onto the subject's face is a nice touch too.
Unexpected design choices can help make a portrait successful. This striking family portrait illustration is a great example of that because the people are upside down so that we can't quite read their faces easily, making them peripheral. Meanwhile, the dog, who is in the centre of the portrait and is the right way up, becomes the focal point. Pets should always be included in family illustrations!
Portrait Illustration Inspiration From Envato Tuts+
After more than a decade of teaching portrait illustration here on Envato Tuts+, we've got plenty of wonderful illustrations for some inspiration. Here's just a small selection.
When you're creating an illustration, it's a great chance to mix and match different styles and shed new light on familiar subjects. In this one, Glinda from The Wizard of Oz is given a fabulous Art Nouveau makeover. The Good Witch of the North has never looked so good!
You can also use a single portrait illustration to create multiple variations. If you look closely, you'll see that all eight of these portraits are based on the same basic illustration, but the end results are all quite different. This tip will save you some time when illustrating.
Portraiture can also help you explore other cultures and traditions, as artist Asher Benson did in this striking yoga goddess portrait. Again we have an interesting pose at the heart of this portrait, but it's the wealth of fascinating details that really make it come alive.
This is a creative illustration where the only limit is your imagination. This fantasy scene is a long way from a traditional illustration portrait. It takes us to an invented world of lollipops, rainbows, and so much more. What kind of world do you want to invent?
Let's finish up with something fun. This sweet illustration communicates the essence of spring through the flowers and birds in the woman's hair, and her expression also conveys the optimism that the season often inspires.
Learn More About Portrait Illustration!
I hope this article has given you plenty of inspiration and ideas to help you get started as an illustrator. If you want to learn more, we have plenty of tutorials to help you. Here are some great places to start:
- How to Create a Stylish Neon Portrait in ProcreateMaria Dimova30 Mar 2021
- How to Create a Portrait With One Colour in Adobe IllustratorSharon Archer-Thomas27 Feb 2018
- 101 Awesome Adobe Illustrator TutorialsAndrei Stefan12 Feb 2020
- How to Create a Punk-Rock Portrait in ProcreateMaria Dimova10 Jun 2021
- How to Vector Hair With Brushes in Adobe IllustratorSharon Archer-Thomas30 Sep 2020
- How to Create a Vector Portrait With Curly Hair in Adobe IllustratorSharon Archer-Thomas20 Feb 2017
You can also find some creative inspiration in this insightful interview with digital artist Emilio Rios. Or you could try some of these wonderful illustration courses from our archives:
- Vector Portraits for BeginnersSharon Archer-Thomas04 Feb 2014
- Mastering Male Vector PortraitsSharon Archer-Thomas12 Aug 2014
- An Introduction to Vector Line ArtSharon Archer-Thomas15 Oct 2015
- Advanced Vector PortraitsSharon Archer-Thomas12 Jun 2014
- Advanced Vector Portraits: Spooky EditionSharon Archer-Thomas29 Oct 2014
- So You Want to Be a Freelance Illustrator?Mary Winkler02 Sep 2022
Have you been working on some portrait illustrations of your own? Upload them in the forum and share them with the community!