Portraits are images of the head, sometimes including the bust (neck and shoulders), of an iconic figure in one’s life. Either a loved one or beloved figure is generally chosen, often a close family member who has greatly influenced the life of the individual. A portrait is an homage to a specific person, or animals in some cases, or the concept of the person. A pet or favorite animal or creature from myth or fable may be chosen to show the significance of that person to the individual receiving the tattoo. The portrait can be rendered in any way, but is most often done realistically to properly portray someone who is meant to be honored.
Portraits can be an incredibly challenging tattoo for an artist because of the necessary detail and precision to create a realistic rendering of a cherished figure. Realistic portraits are often complex enough to stand on their own but other designs, like cartoon or illustrations, sometimes include other line work or details. Portraits are almost exclusively done realistically in order to properly portray the image of the person being depicted with respect and dignity.
Celebrities and celebrated figures are often used for portraits to convey an admiration for that person and the values they stand for or work that they have created. Favorite artists and musicians are often chosen to act as a salute to their body of work. Marilyn Monroe is one of the most commonly seen because of her influence in film and personal style. Intellectuals like Albert Einstein and other infamous scientists are frequently chosen because of their influence in the field and are designed realistically as a sign of respect. Portraits of artists can be designed in a way that mimics their particular artistic style to tribute their works of art.
For a devoted follower, portraits of religious figures like Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother, Buddha, or Hindu goddesses like Kali and Durga are chosen. These images serve as a reminder of the principles of those religious beliefs, serving as the ultimate tribute to one’s cultural tradition.
These tattoos often include iconography that correlates to the beliefs like crucifixes, lotus flowers, or mandalas. Passages from religious books can be added as well to create a larger and more complicated piece.
Religious tattoos, especially Christian themed designs, are often used as memorial or tribute pieces dedicated to deceased loved ones. Heavenly images like sun beams, clouds, angels and angel wings signify the individual’s respect and admiration for the deceased family member. A portrait of the loved one generally includes the dates of birth or passing. Because a portrait is such a significant and permanent tribute that literally identifies the subject, it is a tattoo of honor and dedication to the memory of the deceased.
Children are often chosen to be rendered on their parent’s bodies along with names and dates of birth. Phrases are often added to the portrait as well that speak of the connection between the parent and child. Infant footprints and handprints are frequently included to serve as a memorial to that child’s birth. Children that have passed on are usually the subject of portrait tattoos to serve as a memorial to their life and designed with heavenly imagery to emphasize the infant’s purity.
Portraits of pets, cats and dogs, are sometimes used to serve as a tribute to a deceased family pet. The dedication of a portrait tattoo of a pet reveals the significance of that animal within the family. Dates of death are sometimes added but the animal’s name is more typically included.
While portrait tattoos are usually realistic, there are many other ways to render an idol’s face, either like an illustration or cartoon. Simply the contour lines of the face can be used as the design, creating a representation of the person without adding a lot of detail. This style of portrait is often used with “water color” style designs added, creating the appearance of blots and smears of paint over the face to add more dimension as well as vivid color. The painterly style is artistic and lively, adding a sense of movement to the portrait.
These simple lines can be made to be reminiscent of graphic design or can be rendered like a comic book character. Portraits may also be done in a traditional or “Old School” style that uses a one-dimensional, flat design. The color palette is limited to mostly primary colors as well as a dark blue-black. This style often captures the portrait in an oval or circular space that may be defined with a border of flowers or an ornate frame. These designs have a retro theme that reveals an old soul.
The Art Nouveau style is a type of realistic animation used with soft pastel colors and geometric shapes to help frame the design. Made famous by Alphonse Mucha in the late 19th century, Art Nouveau creates a romantic version of the chosen subject that softens the face and incorporates floral patterns and motifs along with a stained glass-like appearance. This is most often used with images of women because of the romantic style and is frequently used to showcase the entire figure but is easily adapted into a portrait design.
Characters, rather than specific people, can be chosen for portrait designs as well to represent part of the individual’s personality. Beloved characters are a revelation to their identity and their identification with the attributes of the fictional figure. Comic book characters like super heroes or villains are a colorful design that portrays a strength or weakness in the individual’s character. Villains like Batman’s Joker can highlight a person’s unpredictability while a hero can represent courage and altruism. A combination of faces, usually two opposing characters, can be combined in one piece to showcase a multifaceted personality, like a villain and hero split into one. A creation like Frankenstein’s monster is used as a symbol of the outcast and downtrodden and is often rendered as a dark and ominous tattoo.