Project – Self portrait

Exercise – Drawing your face

Several five-minute sketches of my face describing different angles of my face and head:


The second sketch looks like a character from “Guess Who”! This exercise has come during Movember, so my attempts to grow a dodgy moustache gave me some added interest to capture! The last of these was the best in describing the angles as I haven’t got distracted into adding detail.

Five more quick sketches concentrating on the overall shape of the head without the neck:


I think I have quite an angular head!

The shape of my neck:


Exercise – A self portrait

First sketch using pencil:


I drew my face straight on here. The chin isn’t right and should be more angular and the nose and lips are too far apart, despite putting them closer together than was recommended in the course notes!

Second sketch using charcoal pencils:


This time I drew my face at the angle I was facing to complete the drawing, which made it easier to jump between looking and drawing. Despite that, I have managed to elongate my head and given myself a bit of an alien appearance!

Exercise – Portrait from memory

I chose to draw my wife’s dad for this exercise. The drawings were carried out in a bar whilst he listened to a show. He had his eyes closed a lot of the time which simplified the drawing of the eyes.


I particularly like the left hand sketch where I only managed to capture the eyes.

Unfortunately the lights were turned down when the show changed which made it very difficult to continue with these sketches. I looked through my photographs assuming I had plenty of him but could only find two shots which were group shots so didn’t have much detail when zoomed in.


The sketch looking down looks a bit like him, but the frontal view looks nothing like him.

I decided to move on to the portrait from memory using these sketches, rather aware than my source material was a little thin!

I decided to use the eye sketch mentioned earlier so going for a three-quarter view. I started out sketching in a head and adding features using the generic proportions as detailed in Betty Edwards book.

Adding in the features I came to a portrait, but not of him!


The glasses are too small, the face too full and the hair too dense. This is a very hard exercise to do without a model to measure off and without detailed enough sketches to work from.

Research point

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-69)

Rembrandt was prolific in his self-portrait drawings and etchings. It seems to be unknown why he did this, whether it was due to wanting to record himself aging, testing out expressions, building public recognition of himself, or due to market demand. However, having done a couple of self-portraits myself, it could just be that the model is always there and willing, so it is easy to get going with them.

Self Portrait, 1630 (etching)

This etching shows Rembrandt with an expression of surprise or shock. It has great use of line and hatching to depict his face in a clean style

Self Portrait, 1630 (oil on copper)

This painting shows a more pensive expression, or perhaps like mine he was concentrating on how to get the drawing right!

Self-portrait as a young man, c.1628 (pen, ink & wash on paper)

This is a more abstract image using bold brush strokes to depict the tone and hair, with sparse use of pen lines in the brighter areas.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)

van Gogh painted self-portraits due to a lack of money to pay for models and as practice studies to perfect his style. His intention being “to show that a variety of very different portraits can be made of the same person.”

Self portrait, 1886 (oil on canvas)

This is an early oil painting of himself with muted realistic colours.

Self Portrait with Felt Hat, 1887-88 (oil on canvas)

This is a later, very bold and colourful depiction of himself and I love the use of colours you would not expect to see on his face (blues and greens) but which work so well.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Freud drew and painted a number of self portraits

Self Portrait, 1981 (charcoal on paper)

This image is very bold and not exactly complimentary to himself!

Reflection (Self Portrait), 1985 (oil on canvas)

This is also a very honest depiction of himself and it is very interesting to see how he has included so much detail from using blocks of colour.

Caio Locke (1980-)

Finally a self-portrait from a contemporary artist

Self-Portrait, 2002

Possibly deep in concentration? I don’t think I have seen an artist self portrait of themselves smiling – maybe it is too difficult to keep the smile up for any length of time?


Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work:

Bridgeman Education:

Van Gogh Museum:


Check and log

Which drawing materials produced the best results? Why?

  • I think both pencils and charcoal pencils worked well with the portraits, the pencils allowing more subtle tones and the charcoal pencils allowing a greater tonal range (which I used too much in the depiction of my thinning hair!).

Does your self portrait look like you? Show it to a couple of friends or family members and note down their comments.

  • Ish! My family’s comments where that my first self-portrait looked the most like me, but I have a squarer jaw. On my second portrait, my ears need to be bigger, I have less hair and my head is too pointed.

Did you find it easy to convert your sketches into a portrait?

  • Not really, but then I didn’t really have enough sketches to start with. If I work from sketches again, I need to have a lot more of them and I would supplement them with plenty of photographs.

Were your preliminary drawings adequate?

  • No, but due to lack of opportunity to capture them. If I had known how little time I had I might have approached the sketches differently.
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