Stylized Portrait Creation: Artist Tips & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Select the right tools
  2. How to choose a subject
  3. Sketching the basic outline
  4. How to apply the first layers of color
  5. Techniques for adding depth and texture
  6. Tips for capturing likeness
  7. How to bring life to the eyes
  8. Ways to add personal style
  9. How to finalize your portrait
  10. Artist tips for continuous improvement

Creating a stylized portrait can be an exciting artistic journey. It's a chance for you to express your unique style while capturing the essence of your subject. Whether you're just starting out or have been painting for years, this guide will walk you through the steps to create a captivating stylized portrait.

Select the right tools

Choosing the right tools can make all the difference when creating a stylized portrait. Let's talk about some of the key tools you might want to consider:

  • Quality sketching pencils: A good pencil is the artist's best friend. For sketching the basic outline of your stylized portrait, consider B or 2B pencils. They offer a good balance between hardness and softness, making them ideal for sketching.
  • Eraser: Everyone makes mistakes, and that's totally okay! An eraser is a tool you'll need for making adjustments and perfecting your stylized portrait.
  • Paints: The type of paint you choose can greatly influence the style of your portrait. Acrylics offer bright and bold colors, while watercolors can give a softer, more whimsical feel. Don't be afraid to experiment to find what works best for your vision.
  • Brushes: Different brushes can create different effects. A flat brush can be great for blocking in colors and creating sharp edges, while a round brush can help with details and creating smooth transitions.
  • Paper or canvas: Lastly, you'll need something to create your masterpiece on! Whether you prefer traditional canvas or are more comfortable with paper, ensure it's suitable for the medium you're using.

Remember, the "right" tools are the ones that work best for you. So, don't be afraid to try different things and see what feels most comfortable. After all, creating a stylized portrait is all about expressing your unique artistic vision.

How to choose a subject

Choosing a subject for your stylized portrait is a personal choice. It could be a friend, a family member, or even a celebrity. Here's something to remember: your subject doesn't need to be physically present. A photo can serve as a great reference. Let's look at some factors to consider when choosing your subject:

  • Expressive features: Look for subjects with distinct features. Maybe they have piercing eyes, a captivating smile, or an interesting hairstyle. These features can make your stylized portrait more engaging.
  • Emotion: A good stylized portrait can tell a story. Try to capture the emotion of your subject. Are they happy, thoughtful, or maybe a little melancholic? Emotion can add depth and intrigue to your piece.
  • Lighting: Lighting can dramatically change how a subject looks. Experiment with different light settings. Do you prefer the soft light of a cloudy day or the hard shadows of a sunny afternoon? Your choice can dramatically affect the mood of your stylized portrait.
  • Personal connection: Sometimes, the best subjects are those you feel a personal connection with. It could be a loved one or a pet. When you care about your subject, it shows in your work.

Remember: there's no "right" or "wrong" subject. The best subject for your stylized portrait is the one that inspires you. So go with your gut, and let your creativity flow.

Sketching the basic outline

Once you've chosen your subject, it's time to start sketching the basic outline for your stylized portrait. This first step is like building a foundation for a house—everything that comes later depends on it. So, let's break it down into simple steps:

  1. Observe your subject: Before you put pencil to paper, take a moment to really look at your subject. Notice the shape of their face, the angle of their nose, the arch of their eyebrows. Each detail is a piece of the puzzle.
  2. Start with basic shapes: Don't worry about details just yet. Start by sketching the larger shapes. Is their face more round or oval? Is their nose long or short? These basic shapes will serve as a guide for your stylized portrait.
  3. Map out the features: Once you've got the basic shapes down, start placing the features. Where are the eyes in relation to the nose? How far down is the mouth? Getting these proportions right is key.
  4. Refine your sketch: Now it's time to start adding details. Flesh out the shapes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Add in the eyebrows, the hairline, the ears. With each stroke, your stylized portrait will start to come to life.

Remember, sketching is a process of refinement. It's okay to make mistakes and adjust as you go. After all, every great stylized portrait starts with a simple sketch. So don't be too hard on yourself. Just keep refining your sketch until you're happy with it.

How to apply the first layers of color

Applying the first layers of color to your stylized portrait is like adding the first splash of color to a blank canvas—it's where your portrait truly starts to take shape. But where do you start? Let's break it down:

  1. Pick your palette: Before you start painting, decide on your color palette. What's the overall mood of your portrait? Warm and sunny? Cool and mysterious? The colors you choose can dramatically affect the mood of your stylized portrait.
  2. Start with the lightest colors: It's generally easier to start with the lightest colors and work your way towards the darker ones. This way, you can easily layer colors without them getting muddy.
  3. Block in the colors: Don't worry about details just yet. Instead, focus on blocking in the major areas of color. For example, fill in the skin tone, add color to the hair, and paint the background.
  4. Keep it loose: This stage isn't about precision but about establishing the overall color scheme. So keep your brush strokes loose and free. You can always refine them later as you work on your stylized portrait.

Applying the first layers of color can feel intimidating, but remember: it's all part of the process. So take a deep breath, pick up your brush, and dive in. You've got this!

Techniques for adding depth and texture

Once you've laid down the initial colors, it's time to bring some depth and texture to your stylized portrait. Here's how you can do it:

  1. Layering: Layering is a game-changer. By applying multiple layers of paint, you can create a sense of volume and depth. Just remember to let each layer dry before applying the next one. This technique will make your stylized portrait appear more lifelike.
  2. Highlighting and shading: This involves using light and dark colors to mimic the way light falls on the subject. Highlights will help to emphasize areas where the light hits, while shading helps to deepen the shadowed areas. This contrast gives your stylized portrait a three-dimensional look.
  3. Texture: Adding texture can make your portrait more visually appealing. You can use various techniques to create texture, such as dry brushing or impasto. Dry brushing creates a rough, uneven effect, while impasto involves applying thick layers of paint to create a raised, tactile surface.
  4. Gradients: Gradients are a great way to create a smooth transition between different colors or tones. They can add a sense of depth and dimension to your stylized portrait.

Remember, creating depth and texture is all about playing with light, color, and texture. So don’t be afraid to experiment and find what techniques work best for your style.

Tips for capturing likeness

When creating a stylized portrait, getting a good likeness of the subject is key. Here are four tips to help you capture the essence of your subject:

  1. Observe and Analyze: Spend time studying your subject. Notice the unique features that define them - is it their wide-set eyes, sharp nose, or perhaps a distinctive dimple? These are the elements that you’ll want to emphasize in your stylized portrait.
  2. Familiarize with Shapes: Try to visualize the face as a collection of shapes. This helps to simplify the complex features and makes it easier to draw. For example, an oval might represent the face, while triangles might represent the nose and mouth.
  3. Experiment with Proportions: Stylized portraits don't have to adhere strictly to real-life proportions. Feel free to play around—maybe you want to exaggerate the size of the eyes or shrink the nose. It’s all about capturing the person’s character in a way that’s unique to your style.
  4. Practice: Like any other skill, capturing likeness takes practice. Don’t get discouraged if your first few attempts don’t turn out as you hoped. Keep practicing, and over time, you’ll see improvement.

Remember, the goal of a stylized portrait isn't to create an exact replica of the subject, but to capture their essence in a way that's distinctive and expressive. It's about creating a piece that's recognizably them, but also unmistakably you.

How to bring life to the eyes

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and that's especially true in a stylized portrait. Here's how to make those peepers pop:

  1. Start with the Shape: Eyes aren't just simple ovals; they have a unique structure. Pay attention to the shape of the eyelids, the curve of the lashes, and the almond-like form of the eyes themselves.
  2. Shade It Right: Use shading to give the eyes depth. The iris has a ring around it called the limbal ring—make this part darker. Also, remember that the white part of the eye isn’t pure white. Adding some subtle shading here can make the eyes look more realistic.
  3. Highlight the Highlights: The sparkle in the eyes can bring your stylized portrait to life. This sparkle is a reflection of light. To create it, leave a small part of the iris uncolored or color it with a lighter shade.
  4. Consider the Expression: Eyes convey a lot of emotion. Think about what feeling you want to express in your stylized portrait and shape the eyes accordingly. Narrowed eyes might show determination, while wide eyes might express surprise or fear.

Bringing life to the eyes can truly elevate your stylized portrait. It's a detail that can take your artwork from great to unforgettable. So, give those eyes the attention they deserve, and watch as your portrait comes to life.

Ways to add personal style

Adding your personal touch to a stylized portrait can make it uniquely yours. It's your secret ingredient, your signature. Here are a few ways you can infuse your stylized portraits with your personality:

  1. Play with Proportions: Don't feel bound by realistic proportions. Want to create a character with big, expressive eyes? Go for it! Prefer elongated, elegant necks? Why not! This is your creation, after all.
  2. Experiment with Color: Use color to communicate mood or personality. Love cool blues and purples? Incorporate them into your work. Do you have a flair for the dramatic? Try high-contrast color palettes.
  3. Master your Medium: Whether you're working with oil paints, colored pencils, or digital tools, mastering your chosen medium can open up new possibilities for personal expression. Each medium has its own potential for texture, depth, and effect. Dive in and explore!
  4. Create your Characters: Think of your stylized portraits as characters in a story. Who are they? What's their backstory? Answering these questions can inspire unique details that scream "you".

Remember, there's no right or wrong when it comes to personal style. It's all about what resonates with you. By injecting your own flair into your stylized portraits, you're not just creating art—you're sharing a piece of yourself with the world.

How to finalize your portrait

Finalizing your stylized portrait can feel both exciting and nerve-wracking. After all, you've spent a good chunk of time crafting and perfecting it. But here's a secret—finalizing your portrait is less about making it perfect and more about knowing when to stop. Here are some steps to help you finalize your stylized portrait:

  1. Take a Break: Step away from your work for a while. This can help you return with fresh eyes and a new perspective. You might catch something you missed before or realize that your portrait is already complete.
  2. Check your Details: Look at each part of your portrait individually. Are the eyes expressive enough? Does the hair have enough texture? If something feels off, now's the time to fix it.
  3. Review the Whole: Now, look at your portrait as a whole. Does everything feel cohesive? Does your personal style shine through? If the answer is yes, you're almost there.
  4. Ask for Feedback: If you're unsure, don't hesitate to ask for opinions. Whether it's fellow artists or friends, fresh eyes can provide valuable feedback.
  5. Sign your Work: This is it! You've put in the hard work, made all the necessary tweaks. Now, it's time to sign your work. This final touch is the cherry on top, signaling that your stylized portrait is ready to share with the world.

Remember, art isn't about perfection. It's about expression. So, don't stress too much about the finalizing process. Enjoy it instead. After all, you've created something unique, something that's truly yours. And that's pretty amazing, isn't it?

Artist Tips for Continuous Improvement

Creating a stylized portrait is a journey. And like any journey, it's filled with learning and growth. So, let's talk about how you can continuously improve your portrait skills. After all, every artist, no matter how experienced, always has room to grow. So, here are some artist-approved tips:

  1. Keep Practicing: This is the most tried-and-true tip out there. Practice might not make perfect, but it certainly makes better. Aim to sketch regularly—even if it's just a quick doodle.
  2. Try New Techniques: Don't be afraid to experiment. Trying new techniques can open up a world of possibilities for your stylized portraits. Who knows? You might discover a technique that becomes your new favorite.
  3. Learn from Others: There are so many talented artists out there. Take the time to learn from them. This could be in the form of art classes, books, or even observing their work. Every artist has something to teach you.
  4. Accept Constructive Criticism: It's not always easy to hear, but constructive criticism can be incredibly valuable. It can help you see things from a different perspective and improve your work.
  5. Stay Inspired: Inspiration is a key ingredient for any artist. Keep your creative juices flowing by exploring other art forms, visiting galleries, or simply taking a walk in nature.

Remember, becoming a better artist isn't a race—it's a marathon. Each step you take brings you closer to the artist you want to be. So, keep going, keep learning, and most importantly, keep creating!

If you're inspired by our blog post on stylized portrait creation and want to learn more about capturing intimate and powerful portraits, we recommend checking out the workshop 'The Portrait: An Intimate Act' by Andreas Laszlo Konrath. This workshop will guide you through the process of creating stunning and evocative portraits that truly capture the essence of your subject.