If Andy Warhol had favored magic markers instead of silk screens and lived in a world where 15 seconds (not 15 minutes) of fame was the norm, he’d have a formidable rival in Donald Robertson. The cosmetics executive, whose self-appointed nickname is “Drawbertson,” has built a lucrative second career marketing his speedily drawn sketches of Kanye West, Rihanna and Warhol-esque Ritz Crackers dresses that he posts on social media.
“You don’t want to be a full-time artist — not fun,” says Robertson, 52, who lives with his wife, Kim Gieske, and five children in Larchmont, N.Y. “I’m able to paint half the time, and then I work with all these exciting brands the other half and the worlds totally overlap.”
Robertson’s adventures in fashion as the roving creative director for Estee Lauder make up a good deal of his work. But his most sought-after pieces, which earn him an average of $1,000 a minute in terms of production time, feature the celebrities that flock to his Instagram account (@donalddrawbertson), which has over 82,000 followers. The social media site functions as the best advertisement for Robertson’s work, which he posts online regularly. Pharrell Williams, Lupita Nyong’o and Kim Kardashian have regrammed Robertson’s portraits; January Jones commissioned him to paint her as her Mad Men character, Betty Draper; fashion designer Giles Deacon put Robertson’s work on his clothing; and J.Crew will market children’s T-shirts featuring, oddly enough, his drawing of burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese.
“I consider my Instagram followers the perfect party,” says Robertson, who adds that the exposure has led to robust sales of his work — each is an original — on the fashion e-commerce site Trendabl.com. His sketches sell for $1,000 to $12,000 each and, he says, “I’m sending a kid through college by selling Beyoncés.” (A drawing titled “Bey” is currently available on the site for $2,200. See above.)
Robertson has even bigger aspirations when it comes to Beyoncé, Jay-Z and their daughter, Blue Ivy: He says he’d love to be the family portraitist. “I’m just waiting until their kid is old enough.”
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard.