Artist to help people imagine what someone looks like?
August 3, 2018 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Working on a project where, based on a phone interview, someone (the 'describer') imagines what someone (the 'subject') looks like, then describes them to someone (the 'artist') who makes a picture of that person. What kind(s) of artist would be best for this and potentially willing to participate?

The project basically involves imagining how people look based on voice interviews. Then that imaginary image would need to be translated to some kind of visual image. There's more structure involved, but that's the gist.

I've considered forensic artists, and have found a few (I'm in Chicago), but they seem rare, expensive, and not focused on any kind of emotional expression from their images. On the other hand, I've considered comic artists or caricature artists (reigned in a bit), or maybe portraiture artists, but I think I want something a little real-er than most comics, plus non-forensic artists may not have the tools to communicate with another person and get the image from that second person onto a page.

I'm leaning toward just contacting some of the forensic artists I've found, but I'm hoping someone here has some insight to offer on:

- Is there a better "kind" of artist to try?

- Specific artists? In the area or further afield (in Chicago would be great, but it's technically possible to work with someone in another city/state -- I'd just need the describer to be there too)

- Other thoughts?

Thanks. I know it's probably going to be involved and possibly expensive. This is an exploratory phase, but I've been thinking about this for a while.
posted by amtho to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sure, forensic artists are the most specialized in terms of what you're looking for, and that professional experience costs.

You would have to have a lot more details - amount of compensation, dates and times, number of sessions, type of artwork usage (are you buying the originals or licensing reproductions and so on), etc. - but you could with additional details reach out to local college art programs and ask them to pass the message on to any appropriate students and/or alumni. In terms of "kind" of artist, probably those who are focused on figurative representation.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:28 PM on August 3, 2018

I've been working on a similar project, in which I'm commissioning a number of artists to produce portraits from a brief. I think we have a very similar challenge - finding artists who are happy to work to the brief, in a style that is appropriate, and hitting a target price point. I'd say, keep an open mind about who might be interested, capable, and relevant - I've collaborated with various types of artist, and I've found that with a friendly approach and reasonable budget you can engage all sorts of people to work with you.

Some strategies that worked for me are:

- Fandom artists. There are some really talented people on Tumblr / DeviantArt / etc, that primarily work at illustrating people's fursonas or so on, but who are really open to other briefs and can work in other styles. The rate for this stuff is super low, so these guys tend to really underprice themselves - I always offer at least double their quote and it's still far less than a professional illustrator would charge.

- Webcomic artists. Don't write off comic artists just because they primarily work in a more simple comic style - as with a lot of artists and illustrators, they might have trained in a variety of techniques and surprise you with something more realistic.

- Fine artists. Have a hunt around for local gallery shows, or just google for any shows that might seem like they're appropriate. I'm personally into pop surrealism / lowbrow, so I've added myself to the mailing list for loads of galleries in the style and watch those shows. Obviously super successful artists aren't likely to be interested or will cost too much, but up-and-coming artists are surprisingly up for discussing projects like this.

- Commercial illustrators. There are lots to choose from here. I'd think about fashion illustration or children's book illustration - these fields can have some really talented artists who could work in portraiture. The issue with professional illustrators is that they tend to get booked up on high profile client work, and even if your budget isn't too low, your project might not be worth it for their portfolio.

- Recent graduate illustrators / fine artists. This is something I've been investigating recently with some success. In short, you can view various illustration courses degree shows online and get in touch with anyone whose work you like. The advantage here is that you can engage someone at the very start of their career - the quality is as high as an experienced professional, but they're open to working on your brief because they're still building up portfolio and contacts.

I've found that in terms of getting people on board with my project, it's a numbers game really - contact X artists, expect Y to reply (either to decline or investigate the brief), of which Z will actually get involved. The most success I've had is around 30% with graduate illustrators, the least success is about 5% with fine artists. So compile a big list of potential candidates first. Feel free to mail me if you'd like the list of artists I've worked with so far and more detail on what you can expect to pay for each artist type.
posted by iivix at 5:02 PM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Artworks based on this idea have been made by John Baldessari (Police Drawing, 1971) and Maurizio Cattelan (Super Us, 1992).
They both had portraits of themselves drawn by police sketch artists using descriptions supplied by friends, students, and family members.
posted by mdrew at 8:38 PM on August 3, 2018

I recall a hilarious project from the 1990s where the artist had various people describe what they thought Satan would look like, created a composite portrait from the descriptions, and then went out and found a guy who resembled the composite, and made some videos with him. I think they used police style computer collage software to make the composite. Forget the artist's name, sorry.
posted by ovvl at 11:33 PM on August 3, 2018

Would it make more sense to train a project member to assist people with some kind of facial composite software like Identi-Kit? I think you could count on some stylistic continuity that way. The IdentiKit website won’t divulge the price but says an annual subscription is equal to the cost of a couple drawings by an artist.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:31 AM on August 4, 2018

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