Portrait TRACK: Lesson 6, Obituary Portrait

  • Choose an obituary from a newspaper.
  • Create a portrait that shows who the person in the obituary is, beyond a description of their physical appearance.
Ora Washington Obituary
The New York Times, Overlooked No More: Ora Washington


Raven Kushner, JenK, Johanna

Newspaper obituaries


This prompt challenges you to create a portrait that is much more than a visual description of their physical appearance. People are more than just what their faces look like!

Gesture Drawing: Portrait Premium Workshop


  • Imagine that you didn’t know anything about this person and saw an artwork of them. How would you show visually who this person was, what they did during their lifetime?
  • “Test” your artwork on a friend, can they figure out from only looking at your artwork, what this person is known for?
  • The portrait does not have to be a realistic depiction of the person in the obituary, it can be as surreal as you want!
  • Distort, exaggerate, and transform the portrait.
  • Be aggressive with your brainstorming, don’t stop prematurely and settle for less!
Oil Pastel Portrait Drawing, banner


Brad Holland, Gary Kelley, Anita Kunz, Ralph Steadman

Reference Photos

This prompt will require a combination of finding reference photos of the person you choose, as well as perhaps shooting some of your own reference photos to fill in any visual gaps.

Portrait Track: Obituary Portrait, Mood Boards
Jen Noelle, mood board of Shirley Hughes
Reference Photo Collection gif

Thumbnail Sketches

  • Thumbnails will be especially helpful to plan out the various aspects of this person’s life you want to represent.
  • Try to get past the most literal, cliché version of your person.
  • Put that cliché down on paper, then eliminate it!

Johanna Lee

Patreon group gif

Brainstorming Demo for Artists: Obituary Portraits

This video is a demo which shows approaches to brainstorming as an artist. How do you start with an idea and develop it into a viable piece of artwork?

Using a prompt to illustrate an newspaper obituary, several brainstorming exercises are shown, including drawing mind maps, how to research topics, search for reference photos, drawing thumbnail sketches, and more.

A New York Times obituary for Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar is used for this prompt. Demo led by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

70 min. video

Mood Boards

Creating mood boards is a fun, exciting way to gather visual inspiration for your projects. This video explores Jordan’s mood boards, created for the character designs in the series Shadow Boxers.

Jordan explains his process: using Pinterest to organize the images, developing the stories behind the characters, and ultimately to the final character design.

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Jordan McCracken-Foster.

3 min. video


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