Today WIRED unveiled more than 100 new illustrations of our staff. Created by New York–based artist Simone Noronha, the black-and-white profile portraits capture each person who works here. Browse all of them on WIRED’s redesigned staff page, and expect them to crop up in other places, too, such as on WIRED reporters’ social media accounts. (Sharp-eyed readers may have already noticed that WIRED’s editor in chief, Nicholas Thompson, has been using Noronha’s portrait of him on Twitter. The writers for our Ideas vertical also got their drawings early.)
WIRED design director Ivylise Simones and I worked closely with Noronha to refine the portraits, and WIRED photographer Beth Holzer shot reference photos of nearly every staff member.
I spoke to Noronha about how the WIRED design team discovered her work and how she creates lively digital portraits.
WIRED: At what point in your career did you start developing the illustration style that you have now?
Simone Noronha: I’m an illustrator and designer based in New York. Originally though I’m from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, always drawing.
I’m not sure I can pinpoint when I developed the style I have now. It’s an ever-evolving thing as I try to improve my work. That said, I like to think of illustrative style as just our natural flaws shining through and doing the best with it.
WIRED: What tools do you use?
SN: I work primarily digitally. I’ll fuss over details, constant erasing, refining and redrawing, so working digitally complements my workflow. As far as software goes, for illustrations it’s Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and for animations it’s a mix between Adobe After Effects, Animate (Flash), and Photoshop. And for the past year I’ve been working on a Cintiq, and that’s helped speed up my work tremendously.
WIRED: Can you tell me about your experience with portraiture and how it plays into the rest of your work as an illustrator? When we reached out to you, we had just seen a few examples on your website: a side profile illustration of your friends for their wedding invitation and a portrait you made of Mike McQuade, an illustrator WIRED has worked with.
SN: I’ve always loved drawing portraits and getting lost in people’s faces. My earliest memory of truly impressing my mum was with a drawing I did of Luciano Pavarotti’s face at age 4. So that really started everything for me. I was hooked after that, drawing my friends and doing my own angsty teen self-portraits.
At art school I ended up majoring in graphic design, which was when all my work took on a graphic bent. And then my career started in branding design. It was good, but after a while I began to miss illustration and decided to make a switch. Serendipitously, one of the last projects I worked on as a graphic designer was rebranding Redscout, where I drew 128 graphic portraits of their staff for custom business cards. That was quite a project, so when this came about I understood what I’d be dealing with and had the confidence to take it on.
Because I have been drawing people a lot over the years, I’m aware that the way we see ourselves is slightly heightened compared to what real life or photos convey. I keep that in mind and try to strike a balance between being accurate and being complimentary.
WIRED: During the two months that we were working together, I noticed that your style evolved slightly.
SN: Yeah, good eye! It began to evolve as I worked on this series, but never straying far from the original vision. Over the course of drawing your diverse team, the initial rules I established began to modify, in a good way! Some of the things I was doing with one portrait wouldn’t work on another, so I had to adapt and then make sure it was consistent across the board.
WIRED: We wanted these portraits to capture the essence of each individual, but in an impressionistic way. How did you go about deciding the range of different tones, shades, and textures to apply to the portraits?
SN: As far as all the decisions in terms of tone, shade, and texture, those were defined in the early examples of work you were drawn to. As you mentioned earlier, Mike McQuade’s and my friends’ save the date portraits were pieces you liked. I had gone through rounds of development to make those for Mike and my friends, so all that thinking easily translated over when you asked me to replicate that on a larger scale.
I treated each of the portraits as an icon that had to “read” well at large and small scales. When you have that thinking in mind, tiny details don’t matter as much as getting across gestures.
Also, my work is generally heavily textured. That’s part habit, part my calling card at this point, and part a very convenient way to deal with hair, both facial and otherwise.