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Inspiration: Creative Portrait Illustration

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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.

Portrait Illustration from Mixkit
In this post, you'll discover dozens of beautiful portrait illustrations like this one from Mixkit

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 to be inspired? 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 to excite and motivate, challenge and comfort.

Male Portrait Illustration

Male Portrait Illustration

A portrait is a collaboration between artist and subject and thus reflects something essential about both parties. 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?

Stylized Portrait Illustration of a Pregnant Woman

Stylized Portrait Illustration of a Pregnant Woman

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 in following their instinct to exclude facial details relied on other strategies to communicate the vulnerability, tenderness, protectiveness and joy of motherhood: gesture, line, colour, shape.

Holy Muerte Portrait Illustration

Holy Muerte Portrait Illustration

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. 

Young Couple Self Portrait Illustration

Young Couple Self Portrait Illustration

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 cartoon-inspired vector portrait 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. 

Red and Black Portraits

Red and Black Portraits

Abstraction in portraiture 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 commanding collection 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.

Portrait Illustration of a Woman in Hijab

Portrait Illustration of a Woman in Hijab

This portrait 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!

Hipster Pop Art Portrait Illustration

Hipster Pop Art Portrait Illustration

One of the great things about portraiture that we hope we are capturing in this article is the range of styles possible within this one genre. This piece borrows from the Pop Art style of the 1960s, while updating it with a more contemporary hipster look to create the same sense of irony. 

Family Portrait Illustration of Parents Playing With Their Kids

Family Portrait Illustration of Parents Playing With Their Kids

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.

Portrait of a Ghost Girl in the Cemetery

Portrait of a Ghost Girl in the Cemetery

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.

Young Smiling Family Portrait Illustration

Young Smiling Family Portrait Illustration

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, with the mother cradling her daughter in her arms and the child holding onto her mother's neck, makes it clear that this is a loving family.

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:

The Future Is Now

The Future Is Now

The flat style of 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 illustration is not as straightforward as you might think.

Portrait Illustration for a Hip Hop T-Shirt

Portrait Illustration for a Hip Hop T-Shirt

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. 

Portrait Illustration of an Anarchist Ninja

 Portrait Illustration of an Anarchist Ninja

How about something a bit more edgy? This is such a striking portrait, with the folded arms, crossed swords, and the face obscured by mask and reflective goggles. Even if Anarchy weren't written below the illustration, it would still communicate a certain sense of threat.

Living My Best Life

Living My Best Life portrait

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. 

Anime Stylized Portrait Illustration for a T-Shirt Design

 Anime Stylized Portrait Illustration

There's a lot going on in this Japanese-influenced design, but at the heart of it is the portrait of a young woman, again with 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 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! Here are some examples.

Woman Standing Behind Bright Leaves and Plants

Woman Standing Behind Bright Leaves and Plants

This highly stylized portrait illustration is all about being at one with nature. There is no star here. The woman and the beautiful leaves that surround her work together to create a harmonious whole.

Tired Person Sitting on an Empty Train

Tired Person Sitting on an Empty Train

While some portraits focus on a single person, others are more documentary and depict a person in the context of a whole scene. This one uses a stylised depiction of the interior of a bus at night to create a mood of isolation, fatigue, and loneliness. It's another example of communicating mood in portraiture without many facial details.

Stylized Portrait Illustration of a Person With Brightly Colored Shapes

Stylized Portrait Illustration of a Person With Brightly Colored Shapes

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 surreal scene is compounded by the troubled expression on the subject's face. In totality, a disturbing and fascinating portrait. 

Man Sitting in Front of a Fire, Reading From a Tablet

Man Sitting in Front of a Fire Reading From a Tablet

Colour is a powerful language for artists, 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.

Family Portrait Illustration of a Happy Couple and a Dog

Family Portrait Illustration of a Happy Couple and a Dog

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. 

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 portraits to share with you. Here's just a small selection.

Traditional Illustration Portrait in Art Nouveau Style

Traditional Illustration Portrait in Art Nouveau Style

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!

Set of 8 Veil and Hijab Illustrations

Set of 8 Veil and Hijab Illustrations

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.

Yoga Goddess Stylized Portrait Illustration

Yoga Goddess Stylized Portrait Illustration

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.

Chibi Lollipop and Lullaby Munchkin

Chibi Lollipop and Lullaby Munchkin

With illustration, 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?

Spring Portrait Illustration

Spring Portrait Illustration

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:

Or you could try some of these wonderful illustration courses from our archives:

Have you been working on some portrait illustrations of your own? Upload them in the comments and share them with the community!

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