Lara Lee

Typography Portrait

Personal project, Lara Lee.


I attended a Creative Bootcamp at my workplace with a type challenge: “Please research and bring with you three different typefaces. We will use them to explore type in the form of art as well as general inspiration for our designs moving forward.” Create a micrography portrait of any person, famous, family role models, anyone.

I selected the modern-day scientist, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who is actively researching avian intelligence in a series of educational experiments with African gray parrots.

Being a digital designer, I created mine through Illustrator. As an additional challenge, I embedded quotes within the typography portrait. This way, I characterized my subject and provided deeper meaning. I also elected to do a double-portrait: both the Dr. and her leading subject, the “Avian Learning EXperiment” Alex.

My Role


By The Numbers

Hand-drawn Gradient Meshes
0 +
Unique Quotes

My Drawing Process

Selecting Illustrator to create my typography portrait allowed me advanced control over manipulating the text and forms to flesh out my subjects.

Warping text to fill shapes presented a technical challenge for me as well since I have little experience with gradient meshes and envelope distortions. However, I documented any problems and solutions I encountered through much trial and error.

I drew shapes that bend and mold over what the 3D form would be beneath, like the ribbed sweater collar. I also artistically reduced forms to simple shapes for both filling a high-contrast shading as well as prominently placing key quotes in large, central shapes.

Some text placements are symbolic. For example, within Dr. Pepperberg’s irises are the quotes “Alex and I” and “Alex and me.” Alex’s famous last words before his passing wrap around his face: “You be good. I love you. See you tomorrow.”

Work-in-progress screenshots while building the typography portrait.
Photo: Self-portrait of me illustrating the typography portrait from my digital design case study.

Quotes Embedded in the Typography Portrait

Dr. Pepperberg Quotes

I was uncovering cognitive abilities in Alex that no one believed were possible, and challenging science’s deepest assumptions about the origin of human cognitive abilities.

Clearly, animals know more than we think, and think a great deal more than we know.

Alex and I were colleagues. While I was doing the studies with him I always tried to treat him like a colleague…

People really had no understanding of what these birds could do.

Alex and Me [name of her book]

Alex Quotes

Calm down.

Good morning.

What color [am I]?

How many?

Green / key [responses]

I’m sorry.

Wanna grape.

I love you.

Come here.

Wanna go.

S-wool [spool].

S-none [seven].

You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you. [last words]

150+ gradient meshes used in the construction of the typography portrait micrography illustration.

For more hand-drawn typography I’ve done, check out my logo design for Smile Team!

Determining meshes was a strategic process, and I didn’t use every mesh I created. For example, the 9 meshes in the beak were flattened for a more legible parrot face.

Not all the gradient meshes I made were used, like these 9 in the beak.
The original gradient meshes in the parrot's beak were removed to make the face more legible.