Portrait Revolution

Inspiration from Around the World For Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles

About the Book

Based on the popular international collaborative art project, Julia Kay's Portrait Party, this book features hundreds of portraits in multiple mediums and styles teamed with tips and insights on the artistic process.

The human face is one of the most important subjects for artists, no matter their chosen medium. Pulling from 50,000 works of portraiture created by the artists of the international online collaborative project Julia Kay’s Portrait Party, Portrait Revolution presents a new look at this topic—one that doesn’t limit itself to one medium, one style, one technique, or one artist. By presenting portraits in pencil, pen, charcoal, oils, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, mixed media, digital media, collage, and more, Julia Kay and co. demonstrate the limitless possibilities available to aspiring artists or even to professional artists who are looking to expand creatively.

Along with works in almost every conceivable medium, Portrait Revolution shines a spotlight on different portrait-making techniques and styles (featuring everything from realism to abstraction). With tips, insights, and recommendations from accomplished portrait artists from around the globe, this all-in-one inspiration resource provides everything you’ll need to kick-start your own portrait-making adventure.
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Praise for Portrait Revolution

"Artist Kay's book vibrantly showcases the work practices of an ever-expanding international community of artists. She launched a "portrait party," via social media, where artists take turns sitting for each other's portraits. Readers will not find any step-by-step exercises here. Instead, the book is comprised almost entirely of hundreds of examples from the portrait party group's vigorous creativity over five years. Examples are accompanied by artists' comments about their choices and are grouped in chapters by media, style, or theme, with additional sections on featured artists and general insights about portraiture. VERDICT Unconventional in its approach and organization, this volume will capture the imagination of readers of all skill levels."
--Library Journal, Starred Review
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Portrait Revolution

ABOUT Julia kay’s portrait party

Julia Kay’s Portrait Party (JKPP) is an international collaborative project in which artists all over the world make portraits of each other. After seven years of exchanging portraits, tips, and techniques with each other, we’re now sharing our art, our words and our inspiration with everyone who is interested in or would like to get started with portraiture.

JKPP began in 2010 as a way to celebrate the successful completion of my three-year project to make a self-portrait every day. During that project I experimented with multiple media and conceptions of “self-portrait.” I drew while looking in the mirror, from photographs, from memory and from imagination. I painted in my studio and drew with my finger on my iPod Touch. In all this experimentation, the thing that emerged as the most important to me was my commitment to a daily art-making practice. I had never had that in my life before, and it was terrific. After three years, I was ready to stop putting myself in every picture, but I wasn’t ready to stop drawing every day.

As a transition between staring at my own face for three years and opening up to other genres entirely, I thought it would be fun to throw a portrait party and look at some other faces. I’d first heard of portrait parties from Rama Hughes’s blog, where he described a portrait party as a get-together where artists draw each other. Originally I thought I would have a traditional live portrait party. 

Unfortunately, as the three years of my self-portraits were winding up, I found myself in the middle of a family emergency and in no position to throw a live party. I’d begun posting my work and following other artists on flickr.com so I decided to try starting a group there. I sent invites to some of the other self-portrait and figurative artists I’d been interacting with, crossed my fingers, and hoped a couple of people would post photos by the time I was ready to start, a week later.

Apparently I wasn’t the only self-portrait artist in the world hungry for another face to stare at. In that first week, before I even began drawing anyone myself, 60 artists jumped on board and drew more than 200 portraits of each other. After six weeks, we had 150 members from around the world who had posted more than 1,300 portraits of each other. By the time of this book’s publication, we had more than 1,000 members from more than 55 countries, and the group had produced more than 50,000 portraits of each other.

As the portrait count was growing, the group was also growing closer as a community. Group members were using the Flickr interface to comment extensively on each other’s work, have conversations about different art processes, tell jokes. There was an inadvertently funny moment early on, when one of the digital artists asked a watercolorist “What app did you use for that?” Usually the digital artists posted to digital groups and the watercolorists posted to watercolor groups, so they weren’t used to seeing each other’s work. But here artists in all media were mixing it up and being inspired by each other. A wide range of styles also emerged—from realistic likenesses to wild semi-abstracts that are perhaps only conceptually portraits. Of course you’ll see this range of styles and media throughout the book, but to whet your appetite, here you can see two portraits in very different styles from the same photo of Lena, Norway.

In addition to a growing body of work and a growing community, the group has had growing recognition. Many individual artists exhibit, publish and sell their JKPP portraits. We’ve been invited to participate in portrait-themed exhibits and portrait events. Several JKPP group exhibits have been held, in locations from the USA to the UK, including a month-long exhibit in San Francisco culminating in a three-day international meetup to celebrate our 5th Anniversary.

The digital revolution was instrumental in bringing the artists of JKPP together. The advent of the internet enabled us to connect visually with each other over great distances. It has allowed artists from places as disparate as the USA and Iraq, the UK and South Korea, to exchange photos of ourselves for portraiture and to share our work, our ideas, and our advice.

Another part of the digital revolution also impacted JKPP. Art made on phones and tablets, known as mobile digital art, was gaining momentum as the party was starting. I was very interested in this medium from its inception, and was involved with the online community of artists exploring it. Within a month of JKPP starting, the first Apple iPad was released and mobile digital artists were freed from the tiny screens of their phones. The artists who came together at the inception of JKPP used media ranging from painting with brushes to painting with the Brushes app. Everyone was interested in all the different processes, and many artists were influenced by each other. Traditional artists started playing with iPads, and digital artists pulled dusty watercolor sets out of their closets.

I’ve wondered if it’s revolutionary to make a portrait—thousands of portraits—without having to worry about flattering or bestowing prestige on the subject, as artists commissioned to make portraits generally have to do. At JKPP, the members offer up their photos of themselves to be used by other artists to explore their own artistic interests. Although there are guidelines for being respectful, there’s no requirement for a resemblance, or a flattering depiction.

On the other side of the equation, historically, you had to be the queen, the pope, the prime minister, or at least a sports star to have so many portraits made of you. But at JKPP, hundreds of people without exceptional fame have had the experience of not just one, two, or three portraits of themselves, but dozens, even hundreds.
In this book, you will find hundreds of portraits by and of artists from all over the world. Our portraits are in a wide range of media, including digital and traditional—and some that fall in neither category. Styles range from colorful to monochrome, realistic to abstract. Themes such as artists at work and play show that a portrait can be more than head and shoulders. The range of interpretations is illustrated with different artists’ portraits of the same subject, often from the same photo. Conversely, the development of distinct styles is seen in the Featured Artist pages. I hope you enjoy what you see here, and get inspired to make some portraits yourself. And I hope it leaves you wanting to see more, at http://studiojuliakay.com/jkpp.


About the Author

Julia L. Kay
JULIA L. KAY, author of Portrait Revolution, is a painter, printmaker, photographer, muralist, and digital artist born and raised in New York City. She holds a BA in photography from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and did graduate work at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Kay now lives in San Francisco, where she’s had the opportunity to complete commissions and to exhibit both locally and internationally. She began Julia Kay’s Portrait Party in 2010 and it has since grown to over one thousand members in more than fifty-five countries. Visit the group’s website at studiojuliakay.com/jkpp. More by Julia L. Kay
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