Lamont K. Bland, 54, a Washington area artist who specialized in portraits of children and the elderly, died of prostate cancer Dec. 26 at his home in Upper Marlboro.

Mr. Bland worked in charcoal, watercolors and acrylics, and his paintings were known for an extraordinary degree of realism. "People can't believe they're drawings, not photographs," he said of a 2001 exhibition of his work at the Prince George's Publick Playhouse in Cheverly.

Since doctors diagnosed his cancer six years ago, Mr. Bland had been painting and drawing full time, and his work has been exhibited at East Coast colleges, art shows and the National Urban League conference in 1997.

He was born in Washington and graduated from Fairmont Heights High School and in 1970 from Morgan State University, where he studied art. In college, he won several art prizes, including one for an oversize painting of rock-and-roll singer and guitarist Jimi Hendrix, which was so admired, Mr. Bland said, that "someone relieved the art department of it before I could take it home."

After college, he took a job teaching art at the D.C. correctional facility at Lorton, where, it turned out, he got his first lessons in working in charcoal. "There were two inmates assisting me. They were self-taught and doing a lot of work with charcoal. I had been mostly a painter in college, but when I saw these, they were terrific, outstanding. I asked them how they were producing this photographic technique," Mr. Bland recalled in a 2001 interview with The Washington Post.

Later in his career, Mr. Bland was a graphic artist with several companies, including General Electric, then held a series of sales and marketing jobs. He was an Amway salesman, sold burial insurance through Pope Funeral Home and sold life insurance with Prime America, which later became Conseco Life Insurance.

But art had always been his passion, and his inspiration was the human face. "It's the expressions of people's faces. . . . If I see a photograph, and a kid is just smiling in a certain way -- whether they're happy or a little sad, I like conveying that." When he was a child, Mr. Bland liked to copy portraits of jazz musicians from record albums. In high school, he created images of popular heros, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As a portrait artist, Mr. Bland often did commission work from photographs, sometimes combining charcoal with watercolors, achieving a result that in some ways resembled a photo collage.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Virginia Bland of Upper Marlboro; three children, Lamar Bland of Temple Hills, Lakeya Bland of Upper Marlboro and Larenzo Bland of Upper Marlboro; his mother, Anna Rose Bland of Laurel; a sister, Sharon Gund of Washington; and a brother, Gailliard Bland III of Washington.