A Portrait in Vinyl: The Art of Lori Herbst

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design
A Portrait in Vinyl: The Art of Lori Herbst

Lori Herbst is a textile artist from Northern California who makes portraits and bags out of glittery vinyl upholstery fabric. Her designs layer vinyl on top of vinyl to create dimensional recreations of pop culture iconography and photorealistic black and white portraits.

Although she’d known how to sew since she was young, she didn’t work with vinyl fabric until she and her husband Chris Shary (a well known artist in the punk rock music scene) were trying to raise funds for a summer theater program. As part of the fundraising efforts Shary designed a t-shirt with blocky-lettering. Herbst knew that the design would look great in vinyl, so she made six vinyl tote bags to auction off. “It was a lot of fun to make them, so I just kept going,” said Herbst.


The vinyl itself has been a pretty happy medium for her to work in. Although she’s gone through thousands of exacto blades in the course of her work, the vinyl is fairly easy to manipulate and each bolt of silver, black, and white are slightly different colors, which makes it possible to give her photos a sense of photorealism. Another benefit is that vinyl upholstery fabric is quite durable. Herbst explains, “I love it when people tell me, ‘I really want to touch that picture,’ and I can tell them ‘Go right ahead!’ I’m a very tactile person and I love that this is such a hardy medium. It suits me.”



Each of her vinyl designs are backed with canvas to keep the vinyl from curling. Pieces of vinyl are cut out, layered, and sewn together. “It took me a while to figure out how to layer the vinyl to create shadows and not look puffy and bulky. Less is definitely better.” Herbst says of her technique. While she’s designing, she also takes into account how her work will be used. For example, she uses fewer sharp corners on her bags since those tend to catch on clothing and get bent out of shape, but that’s not an issue for her pieces meant to hang on the wall.

For those looking to do some vinyl artwork of their own, Herbst offers this sage advice: “Don’t be stingy with your blades — a dull blade will drag and pull on the fabric and make you crazy.”

Front and back details of hypnotoad.

Herbst is inspired by her husband, horror movies, music, and black and white pictures (all of which she loves). “As I was teenager in the 1980’s, much of what influenced my art comes from that era. I really like the idea of putting the things that shaped my view of the world into portraits that still have a classic feel to them.” Her other influences also include Shag, Paul Frank, and Banksy. You can see more of Lori Herbst’s work on her Instagram and on Big Cartel.

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A typical day for Lisa includes: getting up to see the sunrise, bicycling, interning at Make:, reading and writing short stories, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts for hours while working on projects or chores.

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