These eyes are Electra Sinclair's, from a vector self-portrait.

The Vector Confections of Electra Sinclair

By Jessie Young

Illustrator and graphic designer Electra Sinclair’s style is unmistakable: bright pops of color, luminescent hair, and shapes layered so delicately that at first glance they look like gradients. She creates candy-colored portraits in her studio in Auckland, New Zealand. I sat down with the 23-year-old artist to discuss her process, sources of inspiration, and why drawing beards is so frustrating.

TRAINED IN ARCHITECTURE, SELF-TAUGHT IN ILLUSTRATOR

Electra’s childhood home was an arts incubator. Both of her parents trained as architects, and her father is Oscar- and BAFTA-winning art director Kim Sinclair. Being surrounded by filmmakers, designers, and musicians gave Electra a love for the arts of all kinds and a drive to learn new tools and techniques for making beautiful things.

Electra’s vector portraits started as a passion project. Self-taught in both Photoshop and Illustrator, she turned to drawing as a hobby while studying architecture at the University of Auckland. Drawing portraits let her shift gears whenever she needed a break from her coursework. Her initial photorealistic style grew into something entirely her own: soft shapes peeking out of a haze of color, revealing the faces of friends, celebrities, pop-culture icons, and, as you see here, herself.

SEE-THROUGH-NESS

Her process is labor-intensive. She starts with a photo reference and bulks out the major areas of the face and the hair. Next, she layers hundreds of shapes to define the facial features. 

She rarely uses 100 percent opacity. “Everything is built out of varying levels of ‘see-through-ness’ to create something that looks softer,” she says. This is especially true for hair, with which she has a love-hate relationship. Electra does each stroke by hand, which can get quite tedious. “I also really hate beards. Tiny little hairs all over!” she explains.

Flexibility is a key aspect of her process. Working with vectors allows her colors and shapes to remain in flux while she draws. “Things start out one way and end up quite different by the time I get to the endpoint…something might want to be more pink or more blue.” Electra allows her materials to pull her in new directions.

MAKING, SHARING, AND STAYING MOTIVATED

Electra is very prolific and usually posts new work to Instagram every week or so. That’s no easy feat given the time each portrait takes, but her commitment to sharing on social media is an effective way to get new portrait commissions and commercial jobs. “The more people who see it, the more it happens in the newsfeed. The more I post, the more work I tend to get.”

It’s hard for her to choose stand-out pieces from among her recent work because for Electra, it's more about how each piece affects the process going forward. For instance, her approach to color in her portrait of Ryan Gosling from Blade Runner 2049 changed the way she looked at color in the pieces immediately following it. “It’s like I’ve hit on something new that I want to keep looking at.” 

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF

At twenty-three, Electra is still early in her career. However, her style has evolved considerably since she graduated from university, and she credits that to the incremental changes that only come from making a lot of work over time. “No one else probably notices,” she says, “but I always feel that every piece I do is slightly better than the last one, or feels slightly easier, or I understand something better.”

She has the following advice for young creatives: “It’s important to find something that you really enjoy doing. Hone your skill and try and turn that into something that you can do. Also, don’t limit yourself. There are lots of opportunities out there, and your skills are flexible. Look at opportunities that aren’t necessarily what you thought you might do, but you know you can.”

You can follow Electra Sinclair on Instagram, and see more of her work on her portfolio site and her Behance profile.