Illustrating Stories Through Portraits with Nia Aguinalde

Have you ever tried recreating your face in your mind? Do you remember every detail about yourself? Painting that picture in your head is similar to creating a portrait. Portraits have been around for more than 5000 years. It has been used as a representation of a person, a way to record how people look like, and in previous generations, they symbolize power, ideals, wealth, enlightenment, and even relevance.

Aside from paintings & sketches, portraits may also be presented through sculptures, photos, and even digital drawings. Today, I want to share with you why illustrating portraits became a thing of passion for me. As a visual artist, a lot of my day to day tasks revolve around drawing and creating. When sketching a persona’s representation, I get inspired by the desire to tell their unique story. Subjects are different in the eyes of artists. Every distinct individual can be drawn through the style and expression of the artist. Creating a visual representation of a person helps in recognizing one’s features. You would be surprised how much connection the artist and the subject will have during the process of creating the work of art. Through researching and immersion, the artist can dive into the characteristics of the subject. The artist is able to notice how the subject smiles, how their eyes look when they cry, how their nose flares up when they are angered, and how their face tells their emotions. I fell in love with the idea of portraiture because I wanted to share the talent I have with the people who have made a mark in my life and the people that have influenced my liking for art.

Everything in life takes work but the process of how it’s done is always the main reason why artworks or portraits become masterpieces. How I create them is a lot of where my drive as an artist comes from. In creating a portrayal of a persona, all of the key elements in their life must be highlighted. I would always dig deeper and look at the subject’s background. Does the subject have an ultimate goal? What are they known for? Have they influenced certain people? Are they successful? I even try to find out the values that they stand for or that one thing that is most important to them. Aside from these elements, another important aspect is understanding their features. I always try to mimic all of the beauty marks that they might have not forgetting even one of them. I try to see how they do their everyday look so I can include their little quirks in the sketch. This is much like how we always know it’s David Bowie because of his iconic eye make up of the lightning and Mike Tyson because of his face tattoos, I want to find that characteristic or accessory that makes the subject identify themselves with the portrait and say “Oh yeah, that’s me!”.

I work with different tools to enhance my creativity and expression. When I sketch portraits I have the options of multiple mediums to choose from. When drawing the subject, I am comfortable with pencil on paper. In creating the assets and elements, I work with acrylic, watercolor, felt markers, or sometimes even ink. After creating the portrait in the traditional way, I make the artwork come to life by digitalization. I move on to working on it through a digital platform and application such as Adobe Photoshop. I enhance it by fixing the brightness, saturation, and post-processing. The composition of the elements is arranged so they can be brought all together in one cohesive piece.

In everything that I do, I wish to be able to tell a story. Every portrait I want to create is something that I wish would be filled with meaning especially for the subject. Giving importance to each piece in the puzzle of their life and representing it well through my art is one of the things I enjoy in this profession.


Nia Aguinalde
Nia Aguinalde

Nia Aguinalde graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, the Philippines with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts majoring in Advertising. She now works as an art director in Canva Manila. Her line of work involves creating visual artworks and portraits. Nia also has a knack for creating prints and patterns.