Exercise: Self Portrait


Exercise: Self Portrait

Make a self-portrait of just your head and shoulders. You can choose to work in natural or artificial light… Make sure that your face is lit from one side with the other in shadow… Choose light, dark or mid-toned background…

A dark background was chosen to throw the portrait forward. Instead of making preliminary sketches, I decided to work directly on to the board and see what happened.  I chose to use acrylic again for its quicker drying time and the ease of over painting and adjustment. This, it transpired, was a good decision as the lower half of the face in particular, but not exclusively, was repainted 4 or 5 times. Again, I chastise myself for not taking “in progress” photographs, however, I became so engrossed it didn’t even cross my mind.

I find self portraiture the most difficult and arduous subject. It is not a comfortable process as it should be as I see myself and I really don’t think about it that much. Other than applying make-up which is now so routine, unless for a special occasion, it’s a quick check for smudges of charcoal and no cabbage between teeth!

Previously, in the Drawing 1 similar exercise, I had a surreal experience of morphing into different family members during the process, this time this wasn’t so prevalent. Initially, I was just trying to map out bone structure, level of shoulders, head shape etc and was feeling fairly confident. That was until I had to answer the phone and stepped away from the painting – just as well because the distortion I was introducing was unbelievable! Repaint number one! On the second day, my xxnd birthday, it was pouring with rain, dark and miserable and I was on my own until evening. I didn’t realise how low my mood was dipping until I used some overly dilute paint on my eye and it began to drip like a tear – I then felt even lower and the whole expression and aura of the painting became depressive. Over painting the lower half another couple of times, the rain eventually stopped and the sun started to come out, a small smile began to appear. However, I left the eyes as they were because they said something of that moment. Over the next few days, I added and subtracted here and there after sneaking up on the image and seeing it afresh each time. I have a very tricky nose, and I learnt the lesson of keeping the mouth subtle last time. My last touch was to fill in the dark background that was my initial choice as I am quite pale. Sorry for the lengthy explanation, but there is always a hint of therapy when I do a self-portrait – luckily not that often – I empathise with Vincent Van Gogh even more now!

Self portrait Acrylic on board 14x18"

Self portrait
Acrylic on board 14×18″

  • Is your self-portrait a good likeness? How do you know?

I think the features are pretty close, however I’m not sure of their placement. This is the most difficult part of the process, painting then looking back at yourself and adjusting/readjusting, even a few millimetres difference can throw the likeness. I think my eyes are spot on for shape and expression (see above outpouring), however, they should be a little closer together on reflection.  I bravely asked friends what they thought and other than being supportively positive, my best comment came from a guy who said that my eyes were too sad. This was exactly what I wanted to hear, capturing that moment.

  • Which aspects of the face were hardest to tackle?

Positioning of features in relation to each other.

  • What technical and practical problems did you experience and how did you overcome them?

As above. Getting the mirror and then my seat the right height, not only to see myself but also to be comfortable enough to paint. I probably should have stood up too, as it was so tempting to plough on without standing back and I normally stand in my portrait class where it’s more natural to keep assessing at a distance. I began to see better when I was satisfied with the general shapes and structure and I could dip in and out to make adjustments.