Framed photos of loved ones are among those gifts that never fail. But before the advent of photography in the late 1830s, we relied on artists to depict people (and historical events) through various mediums, including sculpture, painting, and pen and ink. Yet even in the age of digital photography, consider what an event it was when the official portraits of former President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and former First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald, both paintings, were unveiled.
There's something so special about an artist's interpretation of a person, which makes a custom portrait a thoughtful gift to give this holiday season or any special occasion — even to gift yourself! (It's been quite a year, you deserve it.) These artists reflect a range of artistic styles and mediums, but what they all have in common is work that is memorable and at times poignant. Take a look.
Note: Artist rates do not include cost of shipping, and the production time does not include shipping time. Dimensions are given inches.
The work of Abigail Alabano-Payton has ranged from large-scale paintings of BIPOC experiences to intimate multimedia representations of individuals who have had similar life experiences as she has. Currently a student at the Laguna College of Art and Design, she aims to create art that provides comfort, as well as raise questions about class, race, culture, and identity.
- Portfolio: abigailalbano_
- Rates: For oil painting, ranges from $50 to $250 and up for 9x12 upwards to 24x36; watercolor, $45 for 9x12 and $60 for 12x16; charcoal, from $25 to 45, for 5x5, 9x12, and 11x14.
- Production time: Minimum two weeks for watercolor or charcoal; minimum three weeks for oil painting.
- Contact: Via Instagram
2. Angel Trazo
Angel Trazo is a visual artist and Cultural Studies PhD student at UC Davis who has illustrated for TV station PBS SoCal, the universities UCLA and UC Davis, and other organizations across the country. Her debut book, We Are Inspiring: The Stories of 32 Inspirational Asian American Women, was released in 2019, and she continues to create art that tells diverse stories.
Utah-based artist Allyssa Zemke creates digital silhouettes from a submitted photo. The digital silhouettes are sent back to you via a file, allowing you to print it out on your own. Optional embellishments include adding a name, a wreath, or a specific color of your choice. Zemke also offers helpful photo taking and printing tips. It's a perfect holiday gift for grandparents, a new mom, or a pet parent (she does silhouettes of animals, too).
4. Martin Hsu
Since 2006, Martin Hsu's original artwork has been shown all around the world, including Young Art Taipei in Taiwan, Asia Contemporary in Hong Kong, Hello Kitty Anniversary Exhibition at L.A.'s Japanese American National Museum, Disney's WonderGround Gallery, and on the Google campus. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation from California State University, Fullerton, and worked professionally as a character designer for Nickelodeon and Disney TV Animation.
5. I-Ching Lao
I-Ching Lao specializes in watercolor portraits of pets and people. She graduated cum laude from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Fashion Design. Her artwork has been published in multiple calendars and publications, and appeared in exhibits in Los Angeles, Oklahoma, and New York.
A graduate of Parsons School of Design in Fashion Design, Erin K. Robinson started her creative journey making costumes for film and TV, then designed for children's clothing brands, before segueing into the digital art. Her work can be found in many well-known newspapers and magazines, and her first fully illustrated book Brave. Black. First. 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World was released by Crown Books in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Attention pet parents, this one is for you: Hand-drawn custom pet portraits using pencil ink, colored pencils, and paper. You send an image of your beloved animal, and the artist, Tharwat, will either mail or email back to you a hand-drawn portrait of your photo.
Author and book editor Teena Apeles is a collector of vintage pieces and untold stories. She writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. One of her favorite projects was the anthology Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles, a unique exploration of the lives and homes of Angelenos, for Narrated Objects.