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PHOTOS: Forget Selfies, One Artist's Sketched Portraits Have Taken Over Twitter in the Balkans

A collection of artist Radoje Rakočević's Twitter avatar portraits. Image by Radivoje Rakočević, used with permission.

A collection of artist Radoje Rakočević's Twitter avatar portraits. Image by Radivoje Rakočević, used with permission.

In early February 2014, the Twitter feeds of users in several Balkan countries saw a drastic visual change. Over the next several weeks, instead of the headshots or selfies people tend to use as their avatars on Twitter, ink and pencil drawings of their previous avatars took over the popular social network.

The man behind the wave of avatar portraits is young artist and medical doctor Radoje Rakočević from Montenegro, better known to a wider audience on Twitter as @sirivoje. Currently a student of the School of Visual Arts of the University of Podgorica in Montenegro, Rakočević opened his Twitter profile after his professors suggested he use the network to follow other artists and promote his own work.

One of the dozens of avatar portraits by Radoje Rakočević. Image courtesy of the artists, used with permission.

One of the dozens of avatar portraits by Radoje Rakočević. Image courtesy of the artists. Used with permission.

Always ready and willing to chat (or draw) online, Rakočević answered a few questions for Global Voices regarding his work and use of social media:

Profesori su smatrali da su moji radovi zreli i da zavrijeđuju da budu predstavljeni široj javnosti, a da mi društvene mreže pružaju mogućnost da skrenem pažnju na svoje umijeće . U početku sam crtao karikature koje su naišle na pozitivne reakcije, ali sam poslije nekog vremena dobio želju za promjenom u kreativnom smislu. Tačnije, uželio sam se klasičnog crteža olovkom i tušem koji sam potpuno zapostavio. Smatrao sam da je idealan način da se vratim u formu upravo to – da crtam portrete korisnika tvitera.

The professors considered my work mature and worthy of being presented to a wider audience, while social media would allow me to draw attention to my abilities. At first I drew caricatures, which were met with positive reactions, but after some time I wanted change, in a creative sense. Specifically, I missed doing classic pencil and ink drawings that I had neglected completely [for some time]. I thought this would be the ideal way to get that [technique] back in shape – to draw portraits of Twitter users.

Another example of how the artist manages to capture the personalities of people he has never met face-to-face. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević, used with permission.

Another example of how the artist manages to capture the personalities of people he has never met face-to-face. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević. Used with permission.

The result certainly got the artist attention from Twitter users from several countries in the region, and quickly. Soon enough, people were asking for their portraits, many offering to pay for the original drawing and wondering what else the artists could do. Rakočević's talent clearly shines through in the simple, black-and-white, yet lively and true-to-life portraits of people he has never seen and knows only through their 140-character tweets and avatars on the network.

The talented Rakočević, however, says that there are no particular rules to how he picks his “models” on Twitter and that the most important deciding factor is being “intrigued by a person's facial features”. In his chat with GV, he explained how it all works:

Ljudi se zahvaljuju na različite načine kada im pošaljem portret, nude mi i profesionalnu saradnju. Član jednog alternativnog muzičkog sastava iz Beograda mi je ponudio da za njegov bend izdizajniram omot albuma. Takođe, dobio sam ponudu da ilustrujem knjigu poezije, što mi je oduvijek bila velika želja. Ali, ono što mene najviše raduje jesu tri ozbiljna prijedloga koja se tiču organizovanja izložbi mojih radova.

Redovno poklanjam crteže ljudima koji me aktivno prate na tviteru, jer je logično da želim da nagradim one koji me podržavaju i pomažu da se za moj rad čuje.

People thank me in different ways when I send them their portrait [on Twitter], sometimes offering professional collaboration. A member of an alternative music band from Belgrade hired me to do their album cover. Also, I got an offer to design the cover for a poetry book, which is something I always wanted to do. But what made me happiest are three offers regarding organizing exhibitions of my work.

I regularly send portraits as gifts to people who actively follow me on Twitter because it makes sense that I would want to reward those who support me and help my work to be heard of.

An exceptional professional profile photo turned into a more exceptional hand-drawn portrait of a Serbian Twitter user. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević, used with permission.

An exceptional professional profile photo turned into a more exceptional hand-drawn portrait of a Serbian Twitter user. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević. Used with permission.

Rakočević, as mentioned, also holds a medical degree and works full-time as a graphic and web designer in a creative agency in Podgorica. Aside from creating portraits of regional Twitters daily, his portfolio is chock full of other, often more colorful work. Thanks to Twitter's new look, a gallery of the avatar portraits is also available on his profile there.

The only question we didn't manage to get an answer to from the artists is – when and how does he ever find the time for all that he does?

The artist tends to ignore the background and brings out the character of the person he is capturing instead. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević, used with permission.

The artist tends to ignore the background and brings out the character of the person he is capturing instead. Image courtesy of Radoje Rakočević. Used with permission.

Radoje Rakočević claims that he chooses his virtual models when he is “intrigued by a person's facial features”. Image courtesy of the artist, used with permission.

Radoje Rakočević claims that he chooses his virtual models when he is “intrigued by a person's facial features”. Image courtesy of the artist, used with permission.

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