Tag Archives: self portrait

Assignment four

For this assignment, you should complete two large figure studies (A1 size) and a portrait or self-portrait (any size) – three drawings in total, together with supporting studies, experiments, etc.

For each drawing, consult your preliminary studies and make notes on what you plan to do. Think about composition, medium and approach. Write a few notes on the artist(s) that have inspired you to work in a particular way. Be inventive in your approach and in the materials you use. You’re not restricted to working with black on white. Try reversing this to white on black, or consider monochrome, perhaps dark blue on pale blue paper, or ink and charcoal on newspaper – the list is endless, so be inventive. Allow around two hours for each drawing.

1 Figure study using line (A1) – Seated model in an upright chair


Final drawing (charcoal on A1 cartridge paper)- more stylised than previous attempts. I am not 100% certain that it is completely in proportion but as a picture I find it quite appealing. I was trying to play with angles and minimise the number of lines. Proportions are still wrong- shoulders are too wide.
Aquarelle crayons on A1 cartridge paper. Second attempt at Assignment 4- proportions are wrong and breast too dominant.
Few quick sketches trying to develop pose
charcoal sketch developing pose with the models wings! Shoulders are too wide.
Multiple drawings done on top of each other in colour pencil. Trying to give a sense of movement in the static pose. Experimenting with mark making.
Quick charcoal sketch- hard to keep foreshortening in her left leg looking natural. Shoulders are too wide again!
Pencil sketch playing with angles
Preparatory sketch for drawing of myself
Pastels on A1 cartridge paper- first attempt at assignment 4.

I started this assignment by trying to do a line drawing of myself  but failed comically badly. My top half is much too bulky compared with the rest of me and there is a lack of reality about the finished drawing.  Surprisingly I rather liked the face as time went by and the result was definitely better than the rest of the body.  I found it difficult to drawer myself and to sit at the same time.  I don’t think my eye was particularly objective either!

So I attended a life drawing class and decided to develop the model’s seated pose.  She was  wearing fairy wings and holding flowers but I decided to drop these props from my pictures after a few sketches as they were distracting and not adding anything to the finished pictures.  I found it really hard to keep the proportions accurate because of the slightly awkward position the model was sitting in.  As a result I repeatedly ended up with shoulders that were too wide and the foreshortening in the other leg was not always convincing.  In some of the preparatory sketches the hands and face were quite nicely depicted but by the time I got to the final pictures the details seemed to be naturally reduced.

I tried very hard  to be as expressive and experimental with the large drawing as I was with the preparatory studies, trying not to tighten up or lose fluidity.  This was hard, and possibly not achieved, as I was constantly grappling with the challenge of transferring the images onto the larger scale paper.  I found this really difficult.

There is an artist called Fred Hatt that I frequently go back to as I am fascinated by his approach to figure drawing:


I wish I could reproduce the effect he creates.  His influence informed my  attempt using aquarelle crayons.  Fred is very sensitive in his use of line- many of which define contours at the same time as light and shade.  I would need a LOT more practice to achieve this fantasyic effect.

2 Figure study using tone (A1) – Reclining model


Pastels on A1 cartridge paper:  For this part of the assignment I had to default to life drawing models posing on-line because there were no willing models available at home!  Firstly, after a few loosening up sketches, I tried using pastels. However, in my mind this would have ideally been on a mid-tone paper, and as the only A1 paper I have is white, I did not feel the finish was very effective.  I also made my usual error of making the head too small- either that or the legs and body are too big!!  I struggled with the head and overworked it making the effect heavy and lumberous!  In places the picture is loose and in others it looks like I tried just a bit too hard!


Charcoal on A1 cartridge paper.  I had another go at the assignment using charcoal.  I always enjoy charcoals; I like the fact that they stop me being too finicky about detail!  They also encourage me to focus on tone rather than line.  I was really pleased with this charcoal drawing.  I found it easier to do on the A1 format paper, which encouraged a more gestural approach.  This drawing mainly used tone, rather than line, to create a sense of form and atmosphere. I found I naturally looked at shapes.  I realise that I have unwittingly used a model who is not showing her hands. Also, by not over-working the hair, it’s lightness brings the head forward in the picture.  The light areas against strong shadows gives 3D form to the figure.

I have really struggled doing these drawings in a large format as they have often required scaling up from what I can see by eye so numerous errors tend to get introduced.

In all of these attempts my models are unclothed -I hope this still falls within the objectives of the assignment?

3 A portrait or self-portrait combining line and tone (any size)

Create a portrait a self-portrait where the features are believable and in proportion to the rest of the face, head, shoulders and chest. Try to find an interesting position rather than looking straight ahead. Use mirrors to view from different angles. In your sketchbook, experiment with some of the ideas you’ve uncovered during your research into other contemporary artists’ work.

Work with variations of tone and expressive line to create an interesting and atmospheric image. For your main light source, you might try using a candle, small lamp or torch in a semi-darkened room to exaggerate the contrasting lights and darks, for example. You might also work very close up with the features filling the sheet. Be experimental and ambitious in this drawing.


Self portrait- Pastel on A3 pastel paper.  For this part of the assignment I did a drawing of myself in front of my dressing table mirror.  There’s something symbolic about that location since it is somewhere I often study myself.  I found this so interesting- the end result definitely has my features but I can’t decide if it has a likeness?  How much of that is due to the disconnect between what I think I look like and how others see me?

I struggled to get the light right- mainly because, looking at my reflection, the light and shadow was subtle because I could not work out how to create strong contrasts.  However, the resulting picture definitely has a sense of light coming from one side with deeper shadow on the opposite side.  I was surprised by how the image seemed to emerge by its own accord, as the layers of pastel were applied.  The hair is a bit fluffy and should probably hang straighter down the sides of the face.  Another place I struggled was to get the profile around my face correct- in the picture my cheek bones are a bit more rounded than in reality.
However, overall I definitely think this is a believable face in which the features are in proportion to the rest of the face, head, shoulders.  I ended up with a straight on pose by default- even though that was not my initial intention, but I rather like its intensity!
I did not do a lot of preparatory sketching before doing this picture.  I started it with the intention that it should be a sketch, but it took on a life of its own and emerged as a full complete drawing of its own volition!



Research point- self portraits

Research artists’ self-portraits. Begin by looking at historic examples, such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and then use the reading list and other resources at your disposal to look at some self-portrait styles that have emerged in contemporary art. How do contemporary artists approach tone, medium, pose, story, etc., in self-portraiture. Make notes in your learning log.

Albrecht Dürer, was the first great career self-portraitist and painted himself (c 1500) with flowing crinkly locks in an unforgettable image that is generally considered ‘Christ like’.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Portrait_(Dürer,_Munich) 

I found this very interesting link to an article about self portraits on the Tate website; http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/self-portrait  William Hogarth’s self portrait is featured in the article, which is a statement of the artist’s professional ambition. The picture contains a number of coded messages-

The oval canvas containing Hogarth’s portrait appears propped up on volumes of Shakespeare, Swift and Milton, authors who inspired Hogarth’s commitment to drama, satire and epic poetry. On his palette is the ‘Line of Beauty and Grace’, which underpinned Hogarth’s theories on art. Hogarth’s pug dog, Trump, serves as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character

The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00112
The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00112

In the nineteenth century one of the most famous and most prolific of self portraitists was Vincent van Gogh, who between 1886 and 1889 drew and painted himself over 40 times.  His technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. https://youtu.be/WHtHQGr3LUQ 

Unlike van Gogh’s paintings of his sitters, in his self-portraits he seldom directs his gaze at the viewer, and when he does its glaring and fixed. His self-portraits vary in intensity and colour, perhaps a reflection of his state of mind.  Van Gogh’s inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

I was interested to look at three self portraits by the artist Stanley Spencer.   The first in ink and chalk on paper (1913) has distinctive Old Master qualities in its network of cross hatching, a characteristic reminiscent in particular of the drawings of Michelangelo (1475–1564), in whose technique Spencer was interested. He was a student at the Slade school of art where students were encouraged to study techniques by the old masters.

Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11974
Self-Portrait 1913 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2005 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T11974

Spencer’s first self-portrait in oils, was painted in 1914. In its dark and rich colour harmonies and its strongly modelled form, the painting attempts to emulate the style of an Old Master painting.

Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06188
Self-Portrait 1914 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06188

The last was painted in 1958 just before his death.  It struck me how much the style and feel of the portrait had changed since his early life.  The work is remarkable for the unflinching scrutiny of the artist’s gaze, and its use of extreme close-up to convey a sense of physical and psychological intensity.

Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03335
Self-Portrait 1959 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03335

I adore works by Lucien Freud. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian_Freud  I visited an exhibition of his in my twenties and was blown away by both the emotional content, and the stark honesty of his work.  His brush-work is full of energy and imagination while his use of colour conveys the slightest change in tonal values to create tension with rhythmic relationships.

Reflection (Self-Portrait) Lucian Freud (1985)
self-portrait-1985.l freud
Freud did not begin to employ thick sculptural brushstrokes until later in his career when he adopted a radical change in approach and technique, a decision which lost him some important supporters in the art world at the time.  His works are noted for their psychological penetration and their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.
Freud’s early paintings, which are mostly very small, are often associated with German Expressionism.  From the 1950s, he began to work in portraiture, often nudes (though his first full length nude was not painted until 1966), to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, and by the middle of the decade developed a much more free style using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto.

As suggested I looked at Tracey Emin’s self-portraits. She often uses monoprints and draws fast and ‘blind’ to produce expressive, frantic marks.  https://artofericwayne.com/2014/02/13/tracey-emins-new-series-of-forgot-drawings-are-brutally-honest/   Her previous conceptual style freed her from the constraints of conventional drawing and believes that accuracy and representation are crutches in drawing This is why Tracey states, “Some of my favourite drawings I have done with my eyes closed – or so drunk I do not remember making them.”  Her drawings are eruptions of emotion swathed in memory. The need to express the feeling is released spontaneously through the pen or pencil without premeditation.


“Self Portrait in Mirror” by Tracey Emin. The artist said of this piece, “When I looked at it, it was like when you see yourself in a mirror you didn’t know was there.”

I get the impression from looking at different self portraits that contemporary artists have a much greater licence to approach the use of tone, medium, pose, and narrative much more flexibly than the traditional old masters had.  There seems to be as much importance placed on emotional narrative, context and sense of place as in capturing resemblance.

Part 4, Project 6, Exercise 2: Your own face

Create two interesting images of your own face. You’ll need to think about the pose, measuring, tonal variation and lines and marks. Don’t worry about producing an attractive or accurate likeness; the aim is to create a believable face with the features in more or less the right place.

Look at yourself in a mirror and quickly draw several five-minute studies of your face, neck and shoulders. Slightly adjust the angle of your head to avoid a disconcerting straight-ahead stare.  Keep moving your pencil around the drawing and don’t be tempted to concentrate on just one area at a time; this will inevitably cause an unnatural and tight image. Study the whole of the face and keep working in shadows and lines until the features begin to emerge within the three-dimensional form of the face and head. Remember that there are bones and muscles beneath the skin and that you’re positioned within a spatial and physical environment – a room or some other place. Add a few marks and lines to suggest this, but don’t go into too much detail. The focus should be on the face.

As already mentioned, avoid drawing a closed outline of the head. This often serves to trap the features inside its oval form and any mistakes in measuring will be hard to rectify. Instead keep your marks and lines loose and fragmented; this will allow you to make changes as you work. Try to create several small studies that improve your ability to capture realistic features. Remember the earlier mention of ‘waves’ and think how repeated lines can add vitality and movement to a still image. The face may be still but there is always a hint of movement beneath the surface.

Before you start, consider the angles or movement of your head. Think about whether to look straight ahead, down, up or slightly to one side. The imaginary vertical line that travels through your nose will indicate movement if it appears to be off centre.  Start to build in the loose shape of the features. Keep it simple – don’t get caught up in small details. Don’t worry about a likeness at this stage. If you get the shapes and angles more or less right the personality will evolve.  Consider the hair as it surrounds and drops into the facial plane. Work in the positive and negative shapes and don’t get involved with drawing individual hairs.


Once you’ve completed a full self-portrait, take a break before revisiting the image and consider how it might have been better. Do the proportions, angles, tones, etc., work? Note down your thoughts to help you when you begin work on your second self-portrait. Look at it in the mirror and see if there are measuring issues. Look at it upside down and from a distance. This helps you see with different eyes.

For the second image position yourself differently, and try using a different medium and approach. If the previous version was in pen and ink, try charcoal or conté.


I did this exercise at the hairdressers- a great use of a couple of hours stranded in front of a mirror!


Graphite on A3 cartridge paper  I used graphite pencil for the first portrait.  Starting with a very rough light outline for the eyes- getting proportions right, -it was then fairly logical to progress around the face marking in the main points.  I found I naturally progressed across the page, without getting too caught up in detail.  As the areas of shadow were added, the features emerged naturally and a sense of 3D form was created. Looking back at the instructions for this task after it was completed:  “Describing the shadows on the facial plane do give the head a sense of solidity and the darkest shadow is in the eye sockets either side of the nose. The shadow under the nose is lighter. I avoided rigid outlining to avoid a cartoon effect.”

This picture does look like me (not in the most flattering light) and I was surprised how easily the likeness emerged as I worked.  I tried not to overwork it- instead to focus on the main facial features to draw the viewers eye into the face rather than surrounding details.  The position does have a rather disconcerting straight-on stare- but it was appropriate to the venue!!


Water soluble ink and fountain pen.  For this portrait I tried to move my head slightly so that I was not quite so straight-on to the mirror.  It is hard not to actually look into the mirror though as I had to look at my reflection to draw myself!  So my eyes are still looking out of the page!  In contrast to the graphite portrait above, this time I used pen and ink.  This led to a completely different finish, especially as I was using water soluble ink, so I used a water pen to produce a wash to hint at shadow and create more of a sense of form.  It seemed logical to focus mainly on the face and to only hint at the background and hair framing it.  Not least since I was in foils by this stage so my hair wasn’t falling very naturally!  I think the effect is rather medieval- it looks like I am wearing a wimple/headdress!

I don’t think this portrait looks at all like me (see the  picture below), but it is a believable face! My daughter says the eyes have a likeness but there is no likeness in the nose or the pinched mouth!  I found it very hard to control the intensity of the wash so there are bits where the shadow is darker than I intended; however, the unpredictable nature of the medium made it quite exciting to use.


  • The graphite picture is the most successful in this exercise as the shading was more subtle, creating a more realistic and more subtly shaded finish.
  • I did not struggle to move on from sketches of individual features to a full portrait.  In fact I found this interesting as I have never attempted a portrait before and was sure that I would not achieve a good finished picture.  But I surprised myself- finding the likeness emerged completely naturally as I worked, without having to force it.  Even the pen and ink picture is completely believable as a representation of a face, despite not achieving a likeness or having the realism of the more refined pencil drawing.
  • For some reason I missed out drawing the quick 5 minute sketches before I did this task.  I set out to do a quick sketch on both occasions, but each time the pictures took on a life of their own and ended up as finished pictures!  I will try to do this at a later date.