Expressive Self-Portrait

Start with Your Self

A self-portrait can be as varied and limitless as our imaginations. It is more than a mere mirror reflection. A self-portrait can be an exact likeness or an abstract whirl of thoughts and feelings. It has the potential to create a myth, tell a story, suggest sadness or joy. For this page I have used some of the materials provided by the National Portrait Gallery in London [1] and I am very grateful that they make these excellent resources available to teachers throughout the world.

A self-portrait is a person's version of themselves.

  • A self-portrait is an exploration of your face, body and personality.
  • A self-portrait is an historical record of the person that made it, left behind for posterity.
  • A self-portrait can be a visual journal documenting something that is happening or has happened in your life.
  • A self-portrait is a demonstration of style and skill 
  • A self-portrait can be a way to experiment with pose and technique using a readily available model.

Observational drawing exercise

If you do not already have experience with drawing faces, getting the features in the right place, the proportions, the expression, in order to create a real likeness, you might want to go through this process first. There are many good resources for learning to draw faces, a clear and instructive method for drawing faces is outlined in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

"In order for me to produce this sense of record a likeness must be there - my features have to be in the right place - and this usually involves some kind of measuring. With a mirror image, this can be relatively easily done by using the mirror itself as a measuring tool. To make and use measurements directly off a mirror you will need, aside from the mirror itself, a straight edge, a fine tipped black marker pen (optionally a red one), a stick of soft pastel and tracing paper"- Ron Bowen

Expressive Self Portrait

After having done the observational self portrait drawing exercise as described above, you can begin to think about an expressive self portrait. I like to assign this as a year 1 project for building skills and encouraging self exploration.[1]

Step 1 Research

Choose two artists whose self portraits appeal to you, but one realistic and one more expressive or abstract.  Compare and discuss the chosen artists styles in the journal and be sure to include reproductions or sketches. This could be a way for HL students to address  Connections (F)  in the Comparative Study.

Step 2 Practice

Create your own self-portrait in dialogue with the two portraits by your chosen artists. You can borrow stylistic or technical devices but the portrait is of YOU and is distinctly your own version of your own self. Keep in mind that this is a highly personal exploration of yourself, both of your visual appearance and of your personality.
The choice of medium is open; it can be a drawing, a painting, mixed media, or collage.

Reflections before beginning your portrait

  • What size will your portrait be?
  • Will you include your whole figure or just your face?
  • Will you include a background?
  • What will you wear?
  • Will you include props?
  • What position will you pose in?
  • What facial expression will you show?

Download Self image Self Portrait

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and coming soon....

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  1. a, b This resource is annotated from The Practice of Portraiture or the Self Portrait Commission project at The National Portrait Gallery. 
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