Celebrate MLK Day with a Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.

Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.

I am inherently drawn to faces. I love looking into people’s faces. I love to draw, doodle and sketch faces. I love to paint them and my house is filled with paintings of people that I don’t know. Many creators and even painters are intimidated by creating portraits because it can be hard to capture a likeness or liveliness of someone, leaving an artist feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with their efforts. Luckily, the technique of using a blotted-line monoprint removes the pressure of having to draw or paint faces exactly. Instead, you can trace a face and still wind up with a portrait that is uniquely your own, which makes creating a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. in celebration of his legacy a project almost anyone can accomplish.

It helps to be already familiar with this technique before you begin your portrait, so you feel comfortable with the tools and process. I recommend watching my class and printing a handful of images first.

To create your portrait, find an image of MLK you want to trace. I used a copyright-free image of Martin Luther King Jr. sourced from here. Using the monoprint technique from my class, I traced the image on transparency film using a nib pen and permanent acrylic ink and then transferred it onto Strathmore drawing paper.

To give the portrait more life, I painted a light wash of watercolor over the face and added darker shadows around the features and in the lips and hair. You can use any media you like. Watercolor just happens to be my go-to!

To finish the portrait and create a bold image, I created a color-blocked suit, tie, and title in paper collage. To get a basic shape for the neck area, I used the transparency to find and draw a pencil line roughly the shape of the bottom of the face on the navy construction paper.

I roughly cut square shoulders and a deep “V” for the front of his suit. I cut and added a few shapes in newsprint tissue to create the tie, then glued the pieces into place on the portrait paper. Trim away any collage paper overhang. This was my method, but you can draw a body, omit a torso, collage your own style of body… do anything you like.

To complete the portrait, I free-hand cut blocky type to spell out MLK Jr, and glued the pieces in place.

I love that in using this technique, I can create a stylized portrait without the pressure of perfectly rendering a painting of the subject. By adding simple collage, the final piece is a strong and graphic tribute portrait anyone can create.