Q&A with Denise Nestor


Denise Nestor was born in Mayo in the west of Ireland. She graduated in 2004 from Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and has been working in Dublin ever since.

What do you like to capture in the subject?

When it comes to portraiture I always aim to capture an emotion that the character may be feeling. It’s almost impossible to describe how I try to capture that, I’m not really sure myself, but it’s more about knowing it when you see it. I’ve often thrown away drawings that felt lifeless to me in some way. It’s important that there’s some depth to the subject and that you get a sense of something more than just a flat visual representation. The eyes are the most important part of a portrait to me, if they’re not working then I often just start again, that’s why I start all portraits with the eyes first.


What are your thoughts behind overlapping some of the faces and what you would like the viewer to see/feel about the subject by doing this?

The first drawing I made with overlapping portraits happened by mistake so I can’t say that there was a whole lot of thinking behind it, but it did give me the idea to explore it further. I think it’s an interesting aesthetic and it can give a drawing more depth, literally layering the meaning I suppose. It can also be a way of representing how people are connected, in an emotional sense.

What do you feel pencil captures/expresses over paint or photography?

I think I’ve been drawn to pencil because it’s a medium that feels most natural to my style and the themes in my work right now. It allows for fine detail as well as fainter, more delicate lines and this is something that suits my ideas at the moment. I’ve worked with oils and acrylic before and I plan to go back and use those again, but for now pencil is the aesthetic that seems to appeal to me the most. I wouldn’t say it captures anything over any other medium, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, it just depends on the mood or atmosphere you’re after.


Is there a danger that the more stylized a portrait becomes, the more distant the sitter may appear?

I think there is a possibility of that. Sometimes style can take over and it becomes more about capturing that than capturing the sitter or the subject. Once you’ve developed a style that becomes a natural expression to you, it can be difficult to move away from that. As an illustrator you’re expected to adapt your style to a certain degree, depending on the subject but I also find that clients contact you based on your previous work so they already have an expectation in mind. Having said that, I always approach a new piece with an open mind and give myself permission to be flexible with the treatment, but your style is like your signature, it’s always going to be the foundation of your work I think, the trick is not to let it dictate too much to the point that the subject gets lost in it.


How much are you willing to adapt a drawing for a client and still be comfortable having your name on it? Do you think it matters less for an illustration?

I think it does matter less for an illustration, not because I don’t care as much about the outcome, it’s more that an illustration is more of a collaboration between you and the client and you sometimes have to slightly compromise your own aesthetic to fit the brief. It’s something you have to accept as an illustrator, it’s part of the job and it’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot from adapting my work to different ideas that clients have, it’s an important skill to develop. I think the only time I feel unwilling to adapt my style is when I feel that it would be too far out of my comfort zone, to the point that I’d feel that I couldn’t do the idea justice. I’m open to trying different methods and styles but sometimes you just know when it’s not for you. But having said that I’ve very rarely passed up a job.

Do you enjoy drawing textures like hair and wool?

There’s something really satisfying about using the same medium to create different textures. It can add a lot of depth to a drawing, another dimension almost.


Have you every tried to capture someone with just the eyes?

I haven’t tried drawing just the eyes. The closest I’ve come to that is when I’ve loosened the detail of the rest of the drawing and used the heaviest detailing on the eyes.

Does the way you draw people say something about yourself?

People who know me have said that they can see my personality in my drawings. I find that comforting somehow. I think when you invest so much of yourself in your work it’s hard to avoid having it represent you in some way. I definitely feel a connection with the characters in my drawings. It’s a difficult thing to describe or explain but I’m sure most artists would feel similarly about their work, maybe more so when it comes to portraiture.

See more drawings by Denise Nestor