Sunday, January 14, 2018

How I create WordPortraits™

How I create WordPortraits™
If you want to create a really special, personalized gift for someone very important to you, here is an idea that I started to do a few years ago and have perfected over time. I call them WordPortraits™ and they are portraits of people using mostly words that describe the person to make up the color tones within the sketch. Here is my step-by-step process so you can create one of your own.

Step 1: Get a good, clear photo of your subject
I like to gather a few good, candid photos that are large enough so that you can make out the details of their head. You should only be concerned with the head and shoulders so a full-length photo will not be very helpful. By having several photos from which to choose, you will be able to get a sense of their style of clothing, hair and most recognizable expression (since most people are pretty critical of their face when looking at photos of themselves).

Step 2: Generate a list of words
Generating a list of words that describe the person will probably take the longest and may require the help of someone close to this person (family members, spouse, parents, etc.) I always like to include anything that will be memorable and insightful of this person’s life. Things like favorite dates, memories, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements, nicknames, places they have visited, and names of family members to name a few. The idea is that when this person reads every inch of the portrait, they smile at the familiar and are blown away that you remembered a seemingly insignificant moment that you shared.

Step 3: Trace out the photo
Now that you have selected the best photo which looks the most like your subject, make sure it is large enough for you to trace important details such as the shape or their lips, the color of their eyes, and the flow of their hair. You do not need to trace out every strand of hair but the shape of hair sections will be useful when you go to add in type later. In the example shown, (Fig. 3) you will notice that I have sketch lines which indicate the direction that the hair is combed and that the lines are far enough apart that I can fill in words as needed.

Step 4: Create a rough sketch with words
Whenever I attempt a portrait sketch for the first time, I like to create a rough sketch to practice how some of the more challenging words will fit into certain sections. I usually create this rough with one black pen. No need to pencil in first because this whole first step is just a rough and you will be able to find out very quickly which words work well for certain challenging spaces.

People often ask me how I know which words to put where and my only response is to look at the space that needs to be filled and scan the list to find a word(s) that will fit the best. For tight spaces, I like short words like “bold,” “calm,” and “loved” which show up in lots of portraits. Since I am hand writing these words, I can condense, stretch, enlarge, fatten and even shrink words as I see fit in order for them to fit where I need them to fit. This really is a giant puzzle of words that all need to fit together like a mosaic. If the list is particularly long, I might take a colored pen and check of each word that I have used in the sketch so that I don’t miss anything. As long as you use each word once, there is nothing wrong with repeating words again elsewhere in the sketch.

Once you are satisfied with how your puzzle of words are fitting together, you can stop at any point you feel you have the hang of it, even if your rough is not completely filled in. When I do repeat words, I like to make sure they are far enough away from each other so that no one picks up on the repeat right away. Most people will not detect the repeat on the first viewing and you are lucky if they read every single word at all. They usually get to the point where they say, “This is amazing,” and they just smile.

Step 5: Make your final sketch
Now that you are ready to make your final sketch, pull out a clean sheet of heavy drawing paper. My preference has been to center your sketch on an 18” x 24” Canson 140-pound, cold press watercolor paper. Transfer your original line sketch to this paper with a light blue Saral® brand transfer paper or with the carbon transfer method*. I like to make my sketches at least 11” x 14” centered on this larger paper to offer flexibility in matting and framing a bit later.

The simplest portrait can be done as a black & white pen and ink sketch. I used to do my first portraits as only black & white until I discovered that the soft tones and shadows around the face were too heavy-handed in just black ink, so I started to incorporate grey tones with the grey Sharpie Extra Fine Point. As time went on, I had decided that I kept wanting to add more color (such as eyes and hair color) until I eventually made these portraits in full color. By having a full set of Sharpie Extra Fine Point and the broader Sharpie Fine Point color markers, I could perform most any color combination and contrasts that I needed. Again, the final sketch is very similar to the rough sketch of puzzling in words to fit the desired spaces only this time the color element has been added in. For highlights in the hair, select which two or three markers you will use so that you can switch back and forth to simulate the highlight effect.

*If you are not familiar with the carbon transfer method, you simply take your line drawing and turn it over, scribble all over the backside with a #2 soft lead pencil, then turn the line drawing over face up and completely retrace the lines with a ballpoint pen. When you are finished, gently lift one corner to ensure that a light grey pencil line drawing has been copied to your final drawing paper.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Free Demonstration at the DuPage Art League: February 19th, 7:00 pm

Demonstration by Wes Douglas of Urban Sketchers Chicago
 – Sketching People the Urban Sketchers Way –

What is “urban sketching” and who does this? Urban Sketcher and illustrator Wes Douglas will briefly explain what this global community has been doing for the last 10 years, how this art form might be for you and how you can get involved.  You won’t want to miss his stories, examples sketches and his techniques for successfully sketching people in an public (and not get yelled at). Wes will demonstrate techniques involving pen & ink and markers for on-location sketching. Learn how you can get involved with Urban Sketchers.

DuPage Art League Annex
Monday February 19, 2018 • 7:00pm to 9:00pm
225 W. Front Street, Wheaton, IL – Free Admission

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Debut of SpeakerSketches™

2017 was the year that my graphic recordings got its new name: SpeakerSketches

As a general rule, I like to take notes at presentations and speaking engagements and, if I set my mind to it, I will work in visuals along with hand-written notes. That is the essence of graphic recording and sketch noting. I had been looking for a name to call it that my company, Maddock Douglas, could own and eventually came up with SpeakerSketches. It was a name that did not come up with any matches during a quick online search so it stuck.

SpeakerSketches made its debut at The Front End of Innovation (FEI) Conference in Boston at the beginning of May 2017 and again in October at The Marketing Research Event (TMRE). My role was to sit in on all of the keynote speakers and capture the key points from their presentations and share them with attendees to guide them towards our booth.

Here are a few examples of the sketches created during FEI as well as TMRE.
Tony Fernandes (aka King Tone) spent many years as a former gang leader of the powerful Latin Kings in New York City. The driving need to be part of a community that thought like him and made him feel like family turned into constant battles with law enforcement and the New York City government. His goal was to turn the bias of a gang who was typically only associated with crime and violence into a helpful entity interested in doing good for the community enlightened him that there were useful leadership skills that could help companies and corporations to inspire and lead their teams.

Alan Gertner has had a lifelong fascination with cannabis and shared his long journey of discovery from being a wasteful habit into a legitimate business intent on changing the paradigm of how society thinks and reacts to pot. With the evolution of acceptance over other previous illegal substances coming into the public domain, Alan's platform insisted that, while pot is looked at as evil now, so did alcohol and cigarettes in the earliest days of its use. And now Alan is trying to be the pioneer of legitimizing pot as a brand, not just a noun.

The Marketing Research Event gave me access to all of the keynote speakers as well as any of the track presentations I could find time for within my schedule. Every conference has at least one speaker that is a rock star within their industry and author Malcolm Gladwell certainly fit that billing. After he presented, he stayed on stage while a facilitator sat with him for a Q&A session. What followed was a book signing with Malcolm with many attendees purchasing one of his books to sign. I took the liberty to stand in line--knowing that I already owned all of his books--and take a risk of only having the sketch I created as the object I would have him sign. The very long line in queue to meet Malcolm moved surprisingly fast. Before I knew it, I was standing face-to-face with Malcolm and mentioned to him that I had already owned and read each of his books. Alas, all I had for him to sign was this original SpeakerSketch that I had just completed a few moments ago of his presentation.

Malcolm, with all of his intelligence and analytical smarts, simply looked down at my sketchbook with wide eyes and mustered a few words: "I have never seen anything this wonderful before. Where would you like me to sign this so that I do not ruin it?" A higher compliment I have never received. His wonderfully simple monogram appears in the lower right.

If you are interested in learning more about how SpeakerSketches can make your next company event a special, memorable experience, please contact Nicole Wojcik to find out how to get started. Nicole can be reached at or 630-749-1803.