Self-Portrait in a Dotted Dress
Drawing a portrait with pencil and a bit of mystery
Since I created my personal formula for drawing a portrait or a self-portrait with pencil, it seems that I just haven’t been able to stop drawing new portraits. I focus on self-portraits not because I have a narcissistic personality, but because I am the cheapest and most easily available model!
This time I took the pose in a dotted dress. You should know by now how I love to draw patterns in black and white, and how much fun I have in suggesting depth, light and details using just the pattern. This dress has a nice dotted pattern, with mesh fabric on the arms: a lovely exercise, I think!
For this drawing, you don’t need a lot, just:
a pencil (I use 2B)
white paper (I draw on 250 gsm/90lb grained A4 paper).
Once again, I wanted to draw a self-portrait from a photo. Let’s say that I am a bit too shy to ask anyone to model for me, so it is easier to be my own model . But getting a reference picture of myself definitely requires some more organization. You may already have a photo you want to draw from, or you may know a nice person who is willing to take that photo for you.
That is the simple way. Which is not mine, of course! I did not want to take a selfie, so I switched, once again, my camera to video mode, put it on a table, focused and went to the other side of the table. I struck different poses, then went back to the camera to stop the video. Back at my computer, I chose my favourite pose and extracted a picture from the video. It’s a bit like taking a thousand pictures to be sure there is one you like!
Step 1 – A geometric approach, as usual, to the first sketch of my portrait
As a first step, I did not innovate but employed my usual method of analysing my reference picture as an arrangement of abstract shapes. It is very much a trial and error process, in three steps:
I look intently at a small part of the reference photo, as if it were some abstract shape.
I try to reproduce it on paper, looking back and forth a lot between the photo and the drawing. Do the shapes look the same? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.
Then I look at my drawing again, not as geometrical shapes but as a portrait. Does it look like the person in my reference picture? Yes: keep it. No: erase and repeat.
Step 2 – Drawing the face and hair with pencil, but keeping the eyes for last
I then proceeded to draw the face using my usual method, with very light strokes and a lot of erasing.
This time I decided to avoid drawing the eyes for as long as I could – for a reason. I have noticed that, once I have drawn the eyes, there is little I can do to not focus on or be distracted by them – they grab my attention and prevent me from working properly on the rest of the face. So I took my time to draw everything else on the face, and kept the eyes for last. I notice that I always begin with the left eye (on our right). And I always find it more difficult to draw the other eye, because it has to match the first one (not to mention that it also has to resemble the original!). Oh well, I erased, drew, erased, drew … a lot. Sometimes I just want to get past this point, and tell myself that no one will notice that it is a bit off – I am tired of this eye! It is usually at this moment that I summon up the courage to erase a big part of it and to redraw it differently, and the result is much more to my liking!
Step 3 – Drawing a dotted dress with mesh fabric? Yes please!
The last step was the dotted dress.
I must admit that I liked the result with the white dress a lot, and almost stopped there. But the challenge of this dotted dress, with mesh fabric on the sleeves only, no less, was too alluring. It took some time to delineate the two types of dots: the ones from the mesh fabric and the smaller ones from the printed pattern. The former looked grey, while the latter were white, except when some shadow or wrinkle made them look grey too. They were not all round or distributed evenly either: depending on the perspective, they could be more or less oval, hidden by a wrinkle, or close to one another. I had a lot of fun observing and trying to copy them. And, in the end, you will see that there is nothing else better to suggest the depth, the wrinkles, the light, where the arm is and how different the material on the sleeves is.
It took a few hours again. It looks like I cannot go any faster now. In the first few portraits I drew I became quicker with each new portrait, but it looks like I am plateauing a little on that front. Anyway, this portrait pops in a home décor because of the darker pattern of the dress. And I like the pose – it lends a little bit of mystery to the piece.
Your turn: what is the favourite piece of clothing you want to portray yourself in? Let your imagination take off.
If you want a step-by-step guide to how I draw a self-portrait, with even more detail, check out this course, a simple guide to creating an elegant portrait or self-portrait, which will be ready to frame or gift in only 7 days.