7 Top Illustrators in Washington, DC

For wordpreneurs in the Nation’s Capital region who prefer to work with locally accessible illustrators, the great news is that not only is the available pool of skilled and highly-experienced Washington, DC illustrators robust and very active, as we can see in this post’s selections, they are also exceedingly talented! Your choices won’t even be limited stylistically, with each of these artists showcasing different styles, tastes, and creative approaches. Whatever your need or vision, there’s a really good chance you’ll find the exact “talent” you need among them. Have fun checking them out!

A multidisciplinary artist, Justine Swindell loves to tell stories with her creations. There’s a raw street edgy feel to her work. If her illustrations remind you of street murals—surprise!—she does them too. Given a stack of photographs of her work, we would, in fact, be hard-pressed to separate her murals from her publication illustrations. With a tangible retro vibe, her use of solid, bold, and vibrant colors; minimal detail; and simple patterns, all come together to deliver powerful, compelling images that you can’t really help but notice and pay attention to.

Hand-drawn calligraphy and doodles. That’s the succinct way to describe Wasu Thompson’s illustrations, but it doesn’t quite do justice to communicate how remarkably good they are. Working with pens and markers, and watercolors when she wants more colorful visuals, Thompson’s illustrations range from simple, well, doodles to more intricate and detailed little works of art. With the city an international magnet, like many other Washington, DC illustrators, Thompson is an immigrant, originally from Thailand. We don’t detect any of that history in her style, however, her work solidly influenced by her adopted land.

Riley Sheehey’s whimsical watercolor illustrations draw you in and charm you with their copious detail. She says she draws inspiration from a number of sources—nature, vintage patterns, antique botanical prints, and clearly, children’s literature—but whatever sparks her imagination, the result will likely bring a smile to your face. Fun and playful, you can’t help but feel the innocence and delight emanating from her work. A former elementary school art teacher and the mother of a young daughter, we can see Sheehey is fully immersed in a child’s magical world of wonder and curiosity, a world she thankfully shares with us through her art.

A very busy artistic dabbler, Rose Jaffe enjoys working in a variety of mediums, including etching, print making, and even ceramics. What dominates much of her work, however, are illustrations and portraits. Her very brightly colored abstracts are particularly eye-catching, often thought-provoking, and sometimes seamlessly mixed with traditional line illustrations to produce some really compelling, impactful visuals. Proudly a DC native, Jaffe is very active with social causes, and a lot of her work revolves around these themes, helping her gain the local and national media attention she and her creativity deserve.

Known for her illustrated cookbooks and watercolor paintings of food, Marcella Kriebel is very much a foodie, so projects that have any relation to the culinary arts will be right up her alley and a perfect fit with her experience and expertise. Like many Washington. DC illustrators, however, Kriebel also shares her talents with social justice and cultural initiatives. Her degree in Studio Art is not unusual, but the one for Cultural Anthropology is an eyebrow raiser. She does point out that the combination helped springboard her “travelling, journaling and cooking in numerous Latin American countries.” It’s always fascinating to see how things come together like that.

Browsing through a portfolio, one often gets a quick idea of an illustrator’s general style and abilities. Not so with Ellen Byrne’s! Demonstrating incredible skill and versatility with her digital illustrations, Byrne draws from a variety of retro-esque artistic influences and adapts her work accordingly, seemingly from project-to-project. When you think you’ve got her figured out—BAM!—a whole new little series of images appears revealing something new and different. Want something fun and whimsical with an old school travel brochure look? Not a problem. Or how about something a bit more realistic, like classic paintings, but with a more contemporary feel? She’ll do that too. How about something more abstract… ah, we can keep at this forever. Just check out her work already!

Among Washington, DC illustrators, Jonathan Bruns has a definite and consistent specialty. If a striking hand-drawn portrait rendered in a distinctive realistic style is something you’re looking for, this is exactly what Bruns creates. His work—done both traditionally (india ink) and digitally (ProCreate on an iPad Pro)—is a must-see. Even if you aren’t currently in the market for an illustrator, browsing through his portfolio can be a lot of fun; it’s packed with his brilliantly executed portraits of notable figures in sports, music, and entertainment. He mixes in some action scenes as well. Stop by his Instagram account and check out the timelapse videos of some of his works-in-progress, and watch them transform and evolve from blank sheets into incredible works of art.