Self-Portrait with a Mug
Drawing a portrait with pencil has become a creative routine
In my first post about drawing a self-portrait, I told you how I could see myself improving with each new portrait I was drawing. Well, something else has also happened: drawing a self-portrait has now become a creative routine for me, something that I am comfortable doing and that brings me regular joy. I am not saying that I find it easy or that I can draw one in 5 seconds! There is still always a moment, while I draw, when I think that there is no way I can finish the portrait. But I now know that all I have to do is be patient and keep on drawing. And this, in itself, is a huge improvement for my practice.
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 – Drawing the first sketch as an arrangement of abstract shapes
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 with more emphasis than usual on the shadows
When I drew this face, I kept the eyes for last, as I did the last time I drew a self-portrait. I also wanted to work with the shadows a little more than usual. Since my first self-portrait (inspired by Ingres), I have kept the face with almost no shadows whatsoever. Only the white paper would show. This time, I tried to work with the shadows, so I drew the face in various shades of grey with pencil, and just kept the white of the paper where the light was hitting the face directly: on the upper cheekbones and nose, and in a few places around the mouth.
Step 3 – Let’s draw another checked shirt with pencil!
This is the part I truly love. I am even thinking of making a series just about drawing checked shirts (no kidding). This process was very much like it was in this self-portrait, except that the squares are bigger. I drew all the lines first, while paying extra attention to where the fabric is stretched, wrinkled or torn. Then it was like colouring in, using two tones of grey, one darker and one lighter.
I also decided to leave the hand and mug totally blank, because it is a beautiful counterpoint to the detail in the rest of the portrait. I think I will work more on that idea later.
And voilà! This portrait took me a few hours, and I can now frame it or give it to someone. I like the series I have made on self-portraits and, as I explain in the course, I find that drawing self-portraits has changed the way I look at myself in the mirror.
Your turn: take a selfie, and create a picture documenting the way you look today – today’s you, in short. Could the you of each day be a new source of inspiration to yourself? Nothing narcissistic about it, but it may be an interesting practice.
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.
If you liked this post, you will almost certainly like some of these other self-portraits. Enjoy!