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  • Writer's pictureLynne Kornecki

Wes Douglas Explains How Anyone Can Be a WORD PORTRAIT ARTIST Using Words that Describe the Person, Place or Thing You Want to Capture

Updated: Apr 29

From Step 1 -- a photograph -- to Step 5 (below) the WORD PORTRAIT.

Step 5 -- completed. Look closely and you'll see all the words that describe this individual!

Q & A with Wes Douglas -- graphic designer, artist, teacher

How did I get started making Word Portraits?

This started as a challenge posed to me by a work colleague. We had something called Birthday Buddies where everyone in the company was assigned one other employee to celebrate their birthday in a customized way. I was asked to help a colleague who wanted to create something unique with many words he collected to describe the person having a birthday. I had recently clipped an illustration portrait (I found in the newspaper) of Paul McCartney completely made from words. The words were lyrics of McCartney’s songs.

Created by Dennis Odom for the Chicago Tribune.

I decided that once the words were collected, this is how I was going to create a birthday present for this person (who happened to be the CEO of the company and my business partner).


Are you normally a portrait artist?

Actually, I don’t think I am very good at portraits. I have done them before and I sketch people all the time but when I do a portrait, it comes with a lot of subjectivity from those who know the person best. When I started to create these Word Portraits, I found that if I was close to nailing the portrait, it was the memories and moments captured in the words that really sold the portrait.


What is your art background?

I am the classic “I have been drawing since I could walk” type artist and I was self-taught up until high school. When I was young, my older sister was sent to art classes and I would watch over her shoulder when she was working on her homework projects. This inspired me to do the same. I practiced whenever possible in a makeshift treehouse in our backyard (basically a palette platform tied up in the tree). In high school, I made sure I took at least one art class every semester just so I could make it through Economics, Math, and Social Studies.


In college, I discovered something called “graphic design” and focused my studies on becoming a designer while always keeping illustration in the back of my head. After graduation, I became a designer and worked illustration onto as many projects as I could. In the early days before there were Apple computers, I would render all of my designs by hand including tracing a variety of typefaces to form headlines and logos.


I am also an urban sketcher and visual notetaker. Urban Sketching “keeps my chops” as the jazz musicians like to say (which means keeps up my skills) and I belong to Urban Sketchers Chicago where I have taught several on-location drawing skills workshops and I now teach the same at the DuPage Art League.

How do you start in Word Portraits?

Practice on small objects or pets. You can make up words about them just to practice putting words into shapes that you have traced out. Practice, practice, practice. Here are the steps:

1.      For a real portrait, first find/select a large, clear headshot to work from (min. 8” x 10”).

Since most of the portraits are of the face/bust, a full body pose will be less useful unless that pose is unique to that person (i.e. Michael Jordan’s leap for Air Jordan or Michael Jackson’s moonwalk).

2.      Generate a list of descriptive words (can be adjectives or fun facts)

3.      Trace out the photo to make a line drawing

4.      Handwrite words from the list to follow the line drawing (rough draft)

5.      Now that you’ve practiced, make your final drawing portrait


Word Portrait Supplies List:

·         Select a clear 8” x 10” or 9” x 12” headshot of your chosen subject

·         One pad or several sheets of 9” x 12” tracing paper

·         Pencil and eraser

·         Assorted black fine line pens (such as Micron 1.0, Pilot Razorpoint, and Flair fine point)

·        One 11” x 14” white illustration sheet or board, cold press (smooth)

What if your students state they're terrible at lettering?

I tell them to pretend they're filling out a job application. Plus, I provide lettering exercises to help built their skills.

What part of Word Portraits takes the most time?

Most people struggle with generating a list because we tend not to consider every insignificant thing that happens in our lives as important or interesting. Think about all the details you forget about when updating your resume or your life’s story. A big-time saver, I find, is to tap into friends and family members. They can be more objective and will often think of events and memories that are easily forgotten. Sometimes I may have never met the person and do not know any of their friends or family. So, I might resort to other means such as their online personas like LinkedIn or their website for professionals.


Most of the portraits I have done were descriptor words such as adjectives, nouns, verbs or adverbs. Other times, I have looked for significant dates in their life, graduations, concerts, travels, etc. Anything that will get the word count higher.

What do you charge, and how can readers get in touch with you?

I charge about $300 for a commissioned word portrait. For inquiries about upcoming classes or custom work, I can be reached at my email:


Where to see Wes's online work:

Wheaton Public Library/DuPage Art League Artist Series:  


My sketch website: (Also linkable through

Sketchnotes/Visual Recordings

My TEDx Naperville presentation (demonstration of graphic recording):




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