Presidential Portraits Q&A

By: kellyoarts | 28 Jan 2015

They’re finally up! When I originally posted my Presidential Portraits, I included an entry that had some of the questions I had received along the way and after I was finished with the project. It was my most viewed entry by far and people really seemed to enjoy it, so I’m going to repost it, with some new questions that I’ve gotten in the years since. Have a question you don’t see here? Ask in the comments or go to my contact page and ask away! I’ll add it to this page.

Q. How long does each portrait take to make?

A. There is no set amount of time. Sometimes a portrait takes me 3 days, especially if it’s a man with a beard or wild hair (see: Rutherford B. Hayes). Sometimes it only takes me a day if it’s an easy one (see: Barack Obama or Dwight D. Eisenhower). Modern presidents took significantly less time because there are color photos of them that I can use.

Q. What program did you use to make these?

A. I used Adobe Illustrator for about 95% of the entire project. A few of the backgrounds were made in Adobe Photoshop and then placed in the individual Illustrator file.

Q. How did you choose the speech to put behind each one?

A. I actually read through every available speech of each president and chose the one I felt best represented his presidency. This wasn’t always easy because of either a shortened presidency or the fact that many speeches of early presidents weren’t transcribed. For example, when I started the project, Barack Obama hadn’t been president very long and thus there weren’t many speeches to choose from.

Q. Do you have a favorite portrait?

A. Probably George Washington, though I seem to be drawn to Andrew Jackson’s hair.

Q. Do you have a least favorite portrait?

A. John Adams. The first presidents were much more difficult to capture because there weren’t photographs of them. I had to rely on paintings and statues. I struggled to find enough information on his appearance and so, to me, it’s the weakest of the pieces.

Q. Did you spend more time on the presidents you like and less on the ones you don’t?

A. My goal was to stay neutral while doing this project. Like everyone, I have opinions on who was a “good” president and who wasn’t, but I cleared my head of those opinions before I started a portrait. This project wasn’t about politics for me, it was about history and, of course, the art of human faces.

Q. I can totally tell you like ____________ and hate _____________! 

A. No, you can’t.

Q. Why did you put American flags behind some of the presidents but not others?

A. I initially wanted to do a different background for each president, but there are really only so many colors and gradients you can use. George W. Bush was the first president to have a flag in the background and that was because his official White House portrait had it and I liked it. After I completed that portrait, I decided to use it in a few others here and there (randomly), but then figured it would be nice to include it in all of the Founding Fathers’ portraits.

Q. Is it just me or does Abe Lincoln look different from the rest?

A. Yes, he does! So, this whole project started because I made a portrait of him. A client asked me to create it for her classroom (she was doing a project with her class about him) and I added the text behind him on my own. She loved it, and I was pretty pleased with it myself, but didn’t have the time to really do anything further. It wasn’t until 2 months later that I actually started the full project. By then, my style had already evolved a little!

Q. Did James Garfield really have that color eyes?

A. Your guess is as good as mine. I was working off of black and white photos, so I couldn’t know for sure what exact shade of blue his eyes were. You could tell from the photos they were light. I did a ton of research and found a few sources that spoke of his beautiful, almost aqua eyes. They most likely weren’t that aqua, but oh well. Also, when I save a piece and post it, the colors do change slightly. So, it’s a little more intense in the saved .jpg than it is when the project is open.

Q. Why does Grover Cleveland get two portraits when there were other presidents who served more than one term?

A. Because he didn’t serve *consecutive* terms.

Q. Will you create a new portrait when we elect a new president?

A. I’m not sure. I was asked this before Barack Obama was re-elected and I said “probably” at the time. Now that it’s been over 2 years since I finished the project, I’m not sure I want to disturb it. My style has also changed since then (and will likely change again by the time we get a new president), so that’s another thing to consider. I may do a portrait of the new president and see if I think it fits.

Q. Can I get a print of __________?

A. Yes, definitely. At the moment, I don’t have a nice, easy way to do so, but I will directly ship any print you might like. Please use the ‘contact’ page to inquire about the portrait of your choice. We can discuss price, shipping, time, etc.

Q. I don’t believe you did those. I saw them on another site.

A. Well, that’s because they were stolen from me. Only I have the original AI files, so I’m pretty confident I could argue my case. As a side note, please let me know wherever you may find my work. If it doesn’t link back here, I haven’t authorized the use of my work on that site and I’d like to know. Thanks!

Q. I wish I could make digital art, but I can’t afford the expensive tablet.

A. You don’t need an expensive tablet! I meet people all the time who swear that you can only make high-quality stuff on super expensive tablets, but I made this entire project using a $49 tablet. That’s not cheap for many people, but it’s certainly not $200 (or worse, $1000!) and it’s well-worth it. Aside from the Adobe Creative Suite, which is obnoxiously expensive, I never use super expensive materials. I don’t think it’s necessary.