Richly Layered Ballpoint Pen & Marker Portraits

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Although these striking portraits by Toyin Odutola appear to be digital, they are actually illustrations using markers and many layers of ballpoint pen. Through her work, the Nigerian-American artist shows the many layers and constant evolving of an individual, often using herself or her brothers as the subjects. To achieve the darkness in the hair, she uses up to five layers of pen, but the main focus of her work is meant to be the skin. Just as the ink of a ballpoint pen is not really black, her images redefine blackness. She has published an abridged version of her masters thesis from California College of the Arts in a book called Alphabet: A Selected Index of Anecdotes & Drawings where she explains how her life experiences have shaped her art.


In a statement about her methodology, the immensely talented Toyin Odutola said:

“Where some may see flat, static narratives, I see a spectrum of tonal gradations and realities. What I am creating is literally black portraiture with ballpoint pen ink. I’m looking for that in-between state in an individual where the overarching definition is lost. Skin as geography is the terrain I expand by emphasizing the specificity of blackness, where an individual’s subjectivity, various realities and experiences can be drawn onto the diverse topography of the epidermis. From there, the possibilities of portraying a fully-fledged person are endless.”

See more of Odutola’s work on her website, Tumblr, and Instagram and check out her fascinating interview with Africa is a Country here. You can follow her on Twitter to get the latest updates.

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A quick interview of Toyin Odutola:

Toyin Odutola working on a piece of her art:

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