17 tips to make artworks sexy – tastefully or cheekily

Leading illustrators reveal how to use sexuality in artworks in ways that are beautiful, fun, erotic, classy and provocative – but never vulgar.

Less is more

“What's missing from the image can be as important as what is present. Sometimes I work with a concept where different elements of the illustration interact with each other in suggestive ways, but I always convey desire with the eyes, and the mouth is the suggestive element.

“It's definitely possible to express allure with very little, making use of graphics and composition to say something very clearly.” 

Autumn Whitehurst (USA)

Be provocative, not vulgar

“Vulgarity leaves nothing to the imagination. Create an image that is interesting, alluring and engaging – not loud.”

Autumn Whitehurst (USA)

Attraction is like hunger

“Explore themes of sexual attraction, of longing and desire. Attraction is like hunger; it's a human pull, which is hard to control, beyond a normal choice; so desire can be very uncomfortable. It is a signal, not an action.

“So hovering in that state of desire rather than its action is compelling. There is a tension there.”

Jack Dylan (USA)

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Context can be as important as concept

“There is a difference between a bedroom or a storage closet or a subway car. Each setting has a deferent erotic personality.

“If you establish a context, you are establishing a narrative, which is very different from just doing a pose as in pinup art. I'm pretty sure that research demonstrates that women prefer narrative; they like anticipation; whereas men might just need a visual.”

Jack Dylan (USA)

Create tension

Stimulate the viewer’s imagination; strand them in a moment of anticipation – right before a static charge occurs; the electricity in the air right before lightning strikes.

“To me at least, that's sexy. It’s the difference between the essence of the erotic, verses the explicit. There's an expression for it: ‘the tease’, and this is what burlesque is about.

“You can't go from zero to 100 – you need to raise the temperature slowly.”

Jack Dylan (USA)

Darken the tone

“There's something very compelling and unsettling about not showing faces; it opens up a mystery.

“A faceless person or a person whose identity is hidden is an inherently more dangerous person.”

Don't be a carbon copy of everybody

“Be true to your own desires and see where your imagination takes you.”

Jack Dylan (USA)

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Ideas matter

“Drawing naked or semi-naked women is not challenging or interesting beyond our base lustful instincts. Wherever possible I have tried to have an idea or theme in my erotic imagery.

“Maybe it's poking fun, maybe it is an air of mystery, but erotica needs ideas not just representations of sexy people – otherwise it is just reduced to pornography.

“In the past I have based erotic imagery on greek mythology, subverted and sexualised Disney characters, and hinted at other dimensions of reality among many other themes and ideas.“

Jasper Goodall (UK)

A beautiful woman should be drawn beautifully

“Good drawing and image-making skills are essential; there is nothing more clumsy and less appealing than badly drawn erotica.”

Jasper Goodall (UK)

Be inspired by real life, not porn

“For me [porn] is absent of deeper emotion. Lust from love, passion and infatuation is a different thing. Narrative is reflected in how I feel like when I'm working, it just emerges while drawing.

“Maybe because it’s never truly pornographic or rude or demeaning; the women I draw are strong, mysterious and unreachable.”

Martine Johanna (NL)

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People take sex way too seriously

“Many a horrible thing can come from people having pent up and twisted sexual ideas. This makes sex a tricky subject matter. It can easily offend, or elicit bad memories.

“Taking a humorous stance to sex can allow an artist to cut through a bunch of bullshit and get directly to the point. Humour can disarm the audience, and allow them to come to the artwork with open minds.”

Michael Jeter (USA)

People know what sex looks like

“They have hours of porn logged in the back of their minds. I think the key is to use the idea of sex to convey a grander thought about humanity within your artwork.“

Michael Jeter (USA)

Sex is awesome but it's also hilarious and ugly sometimes

“And that's obviously a good source of humour. Although it's equally as fun for me to try bring a sexual side to situations that are usually pretty gross and unattractive.

“I try to put narrative and concept before style, the technique side of things is more about problem solving to get an idea across in the most efficient way possible. 

Sean Morris (AUS)

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Find sexual parallels

“Contortion and acrobatics are interesting to me, humans pushing the limits of their bodies and putting their limbs into awkward or unusual positions. It's not hard to find sexual parallels there, in that most people probably do weirder stuff with their bodies during sex than at any other time.

“If you're doing it right.”

Sean Morris (AUS)

Visual is teasing and playful

“Erotica is psychological in nature. It comes from what is counter intuitive, it's surprising and it's so much more. Draw from something personal while playing with expectations.

“To me the visual is teasing and playful, like foreplay. If you go too heavy-handed it just ends up being actual sex. Having brains is exciting.”

Cherry from Studio Killers (FI)

Hint at a characters thoughts

“When we hint at what a character is thinking or not thinking, it is what can make an image really fascinating.

“I may not draw anything explicit but I play with the tactile notion we have about sex: it’s sticky, sweet, sweaty, wet and often messy.”

Cherry from Studio Killers (FI)

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Draw your emotions

“To get sexy, you need to feel sexy. Sexy is something that comes from within. If you rely on the imagery you see around you that is ‘sexy’ without feeling it, you’re likely to miss your mark.

“When I draw, I draw my own emotions. I bleed into it. It sounds esoteric, and it is.

“But here are some concrete tips: let your lines have movement and flow that leads the eyes to what attracts ‘you’ most about the image you’ve created. Often the entire piece will rely on what the eyes of the subject is conveying, never neglect the ‘look’. Do not adhere to clichés unless it’s pastiche or homage.

Cherry from Studio Killers (FI)