I was thinking about portraits the other day, partly because of the “Making Faces” show currently going on at the Society of Illustrators, partly because I had just received a copy of Brian Movies that features Iain McCaig’s portrait of Harlan Ellison on the cover, partly because I noted the sale at auction recently of what, to me, was a not-terribly-good painting of Robert Silverberg by the late Ed Emshwiller.
What makes a successful portrait, particularly when the subject is a writer? The answer that immediately comes to mind is: personality. If the artist is able to capture something of who the writer is, not merely what they look like, and elicit responses from viewers and which prompts conversation... then there’s a good chance of creating art, not just a painted version of Glamour Shots.
Now, I’ve never really heard of any controversy surrounding a genre writer’s portrait; certainly nothing like the brew-ha surrounding John Singer Sargent’s painting of Madame Gautreau aka “Madam X.” The flip-side is that I’ve heard very few people say anything positive about some of the clever SFF writer portraits that have been done... so I think I’ll point out a few.
Michael Whelan’s portrait of Isaac Asimov. Since Asimov devised the Three Laws of Robotics, Isaac’s AI companion is appropriate.
Edgar Allan Poe
Above, a pair of scratchboard pieces by Mark Summers: Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe respectively. Below, Michael Deas’s portrait of Edgar Allan Poe for the U.S. Postal Service won a Spectrum silver medal.
Rowena Morrill’s painting of Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon joked at the time that she had made him look too puny.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Robert A. Heinlein
George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin as painted by Anita Kunz.
Neil Gaiman, painted by life-long collaborator Dave Mckean.
Frank Herbert, author of Dune, by Greg Manchess.
Ursula K. Le Guin
David Levin created hundreds of drawings for the New York Times Book Review like the ones seen above.
Anita Kunz’s painting of Anne Rice.
Expanded from the original article on Muddy Colors.
Arnie Fenner is the co-founder and editor of Spectrum: Fantastic Art.