Project 7 Self Portrait: Resurch point

Where to start? More importantly where to finish. There are so many fascinating self portraits out there. Hard to narrow it down but I will try.


Christ, detail from ‘The Last Judgement’, in the Sistine Chapel, 16th century with self-portrait of Michelangelo as Saint Bartholomew holding flayed skin (fresco) Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)


Presumed self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519),

Self portraits are as old as art itself. Above are two self-portraits from two perhaps the most well know artist ever to live. It is only suspected the Leonardo de Vichi drawing in red chalk is a self portrait. It looks to me like one as the eyes are very large. I have found from drawing myself the eyes become the focus. The drawing relies on line a lot. there looks to be some fill marks around the hollows of the eyes, under the nose, under the cheek bone and around the mouth.

The self portrait of Michael Angelo is in contrast to that of the focused study of the face we see in Leonard’s drawing. He has include a mock likeness to the flayed skin held by Saint Bartholomew. Perhaps this is how he felt during the gigantic task with the Medici breathing down his neck. In classical art a likeness is often snuck in some where. I think this interpretation shows Michael Angelo had a sense of humour. Include it here to remind myself a self portrait can go beyond a head and shoulders staring at yourself in the mirror representation.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 69):

7236 B002_Rembrandt


Rembrandt also shows his humours side in these etchings which look decidedly tongue in check to me. I have chosen to use the etching as there very close to drawing with a pencil or pen. A wide range of energetic strokes are used. Similar to his painting style with built up dashes/globs of paint creating a fleshy appearance. With the etching tool the movement made is clear. Rembrandt is well know for creating many self portraits through out his life. Leaving a lasting documentation of his changing appearance through the years.


Lucian Freud (1922-2011):


Self Portrait, 1974, water colour on paper, Lucian Freud


Self Portrait, 1981, charcoal on paper, Lucian Freud


‘Reflection’ 1996, etching, 60×44 cm Lucian Freud



Lucian Freud’s paints and drawings are  maxamilist. He seems to look deeper than reality crating his trade mark hyper real flesh. He worked exclusively from life. Mostly from his studio in his home in north London.

I noticed looking through his catalogue of work on Bridgeman’s art that he does not paint in the conventional way of blocking the tonal masses in first. Instead he seems to work form the features of the face outwards. Working on the high detailing in expanding sections.

Francis Bacon (1902-92):


Francis Bacon, ‘Three Studies for a Portrait Including Self-Portrait’, 1967 Oil on canvas 3 panels: 14 x 12″



Francis Bacon, ‘Three studies for a self portrait’, 1975 (oil on canvas)

Francis Bacon produced an interesting range of self portrait. I find them brave in there autobiographical nature where the artist dose not shy away from sharing his deep insecurities with the view. As with all his work the images are dark and unsettling. Limited pallets make distorted forms reminiscent of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ with a dash of the horrors of Goya thrown into the mix.

Bacon often worked in trilogy. Hi triptychs are no doubt a nod to the Catholic faith which spurned his homosexuality. They also act as a vehicle to show the same motif in a series of tortured positions like stills from a camera roll. It is documented that Bacon was interested in the photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). Muybridge is famed for his sequential photos of athletes jumping, horses running and all sorts. I won’t go to deep with this subject here as its something I want to look at in far more detail for part 5. The point I am making here is how his stills influenced Bacons work.

‘Bacon was less struck by their sequential nature than the mesmeric power of just one, plucked and scrutinised. But where Eakins saw in Muybridge a path towards idealisation, accuracy and knowledge, Bacon found the opposite: debasement, distortion and chaos. Both were right.’ Quote – David Campany, full article

This Quote from David Campany describes Bacons interest in the photo sequences. I’m surmising from this Bacon was interested in how a distortion of face or figure captured on celluloid, frozen in time, can provoke a powerful emotion response to the seeming distress of the form. Especially when one image is plucked from the sequence removing it from its context.

Bacon worked in mixed media. Often mixing pastels and oil paint of the canvas. He favoured using the untreated back of the canvas as the surface is ruff and thirsty for paint. his gives a dryness to the finished pieces where paint is stretched thinly, scumbled in places leaving some canvas apparent. These inventive processes all add to the feel of discomfort he strove for.



Jo Beer (current):


Jo Beer – 2012 self portrait (in mirror) Pencil on paper 59.4cm x 42cm

This is such a loverly self portrait in coloured pencils demonstrating there qualities for working detail. Jo Beer usually uses oil paints (her paintings are well worth a look to). she has used the pencils to block areas of mass a single hue or tone making the pencil appear in the nature of paint. the hair has been approached in a really nice way. Blocking in strands and leaving some Wight in well thought selection. The artist has keep this drawing quite light. saying that the darkest areas are strongly contrasted helping the lighter areas appear to move forward depicting form.

I would like to have a go at a selfie in coloured pencil barring this portrait in mind. Perhaps I will get the chance over the assignment.

It’s a shame this is the only female artist I have represented her as I am one myself.


Tyler D Graffam (current):



‘Marley Holding Me’ Charcoal, shellac, gesso on paper, 50×55” tyler d graffam



Searching for self portraits here there and everywhere on line I stumbled across Tyler D Graffam. still a student himself in the third year of a BFA at The New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester (United States) this artist uses a broad range of medium to produce his inventive portraits. He also works on an on going series of self portraits.

This artist is particularly relevant to where I’m at in my own joinery, or rather where I’d like to be. He’s really pushed the boundaries with mediums, techniques and imaginative way to approach self portraits. Like Bacon this artist finds ways of showing his venerability. This honesty allows the view to connect, in my opinion.

His use of media ranges from paints and pastels to shellac and wax. He uses his portraits both self and of others to explore the capabilities of the medium.




A little bit more research around portraiture prompted by the self portraits exercise:

I found a great article in May Issue artist and Illustrator 2014, page 68. Its a portrait workshop from BP portrait award finalist Louis Smith. In it he talks about his charcoal portrait studies that take him usually 2 hours to complete. The article concludes with some exercises including one outlining a grate way to divide the face in to 5 sections. The tree large ones forehead – eyebrow, eyebrow – nose base, nose base – chin bottom. These measurements are equidistant to each other. Then with in these dividing the space in two again gives a line between brow and nose base that indicates the correct bottom eyelids level. Interestingly the inner conner of eye sits on this line and the bottom lid line is often near to straight. In the bottom section of the face the two lines from base of nose to chin bottom have the bottom line of the lower lip on the half way line. these proportions very slightly from face to face giving our individual features. By plotting these lines in fist with any portrait its a great guide to help get every thing in the right place and keep the proportions accurate. If the nose is longer than normal or chin shorter they can be easily be measured as such against the guide line. The eyes are usually one eyes distance apart when face on.

In this time laps video Louis Smith draws a portrait using different types of charcoal. Of particular interest to me at this stage is the early stages. you can see her put in a frame work of the proportion guides I talk about above. Then see adds the scaffolding of the face such as nose,brow ridge. Interestingly she puts in the vertical centre face line in as if the face was front facing. Then draws the features in a three quarter pose. She uses the central guide line to start the base of the side of the nose. Using the vertical line

Diagrams showing how Louis smith puts in a cross hair for a face on portrait then uses the guides to place features on a three quarter position. She uses the vertical line to plot the base of nose, building it up and away from this line to keep it straight. The horizon line keeps the eyes level.



Louis smith has a great website with lots of his beautiful paintings and drawings. These include some truly gob smackingly impressive large scale  figurative paintings in a classical style. You can see in these the importance of perspective in figurative work. a subject I touched on earlier in the figure drawing section and intend to get back to soon. His website also includes video demonstrations and valid explanation of techniques and styles he favours. Well worth a visit.


‘Ian’ (2014) 61 x71 cm Hero Johnson.

I like to make a quick note of another article in the same magazine, pages 44-47 may issue 2014. The article concerns portrait painting this time. Although it is not really relevant to the drawing of portraits as I want to continue into painting I wanted to make a record of the findings to refer back to at a later date.  Fellow portrait artist Hero Johnson and Ian Rowlands where set the challenge to sit for each other and paint each others likeness. This moths issue sees Hero Jon-son paint and Ian Rowlands pose.

It was very interesting to read about the pallet both artist favour. They substitute a blue oil based pigment  for Ivory black. Which when used in conjunction with yellow ochre and Indian red to create tints with white appears a blue grey. Also when it is mixed with yellow it produces muted greens.

The other surprise is the white they favour. Cremnitz white was used by the old masters. It is a lead based paint so must be used with extreme care. According to the article it is getting harder to source due to it’s toxicity. Its constancy is very thick so can be tricky to apply. The advantages to this paint is that it is a warm white, ideal for skin tone. also because of its thickness it holds every brush stroke working well for impasto work. Apparently Lucian Freud used this white as it has an ability to describe flesh in a physical sense for the above mentioned reasons. Johnson’s portrait of Rowlands dose have a Freud like quality to it in the way the paint is handled and the palette. She is certainly a very talented artist who’s painting style I love.

Picture 7

The Golden Face mask – Apparently the closer you resemble the proportions of this marks the more beautiful you are. The measurements some how come about from the ratios found in nature and often imitated in art to aid please composition.

Include this mask as it shows some facial plain (weather it intends to or not). A useful reference for creating a generic face. With this structure features can be unaltered to depict individual person. This mask as my front on one dose has a lot of distance from outer eye conner to temple. I know on myself this is significantly reduced as I have a narrow face. I think this would be wide on a lot of Angelo type people. I corrected my measurement to half an eye distance from outer eye conner to temple, which I think is about correct.





Book and Magazine:

Artist and Illustrator magazine, may 2014 issue, pg: 68-71 and pg: 44-47.


About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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