My husband is learning to draw and wants to start to sketch people. When I suggested he could do worse than have a try at a self portrait, he commented that he thought it felt a bit vain to do so. That surprised me; I hadn’t looked at it that way. I countered that I think our own faces are the ones we are know best, and that at least we’re always available to model for ourselves. Anyway, in my limited experience, self portraits are rarely flattering, given the fixed stare, frown, clenched jaw and compressed lips which result from the intensity of effort involved.

It was a series of self portraits in pastel which prompted me to kick off this blog just over a year ago. It was a good adventure, and one which taught me a lot.  I’ve done a couple in watercolour since, but today was the time for a proper selfie in acrylic.

I got the mirror rigged up, paints out, and off I went – starting is often the scariest bit. The board (30x40cms) was prepped by a light sanding and then propped on my tabletop easel. Having sketched the basic features in pencil, I worked from the background forwards. For once I did have a plan for the background, inspired by the black glass of the oven behind me (I like to paint in the kitchen).

Self portrait acrylic apr 16

The skin tones really gave me food for thought, how to mix the right colours; it took quite a bit of trial and error, and I’ve still come out somewhat more tanned than I am in reality. The shadows on the face were especially challenging. What colour is that? The chin is definitely a bit odd (I might revisit that). The bit I like most, and tellingly which took least effort, was the ear. If the rest of the painting was as loose and yet still as convincing as that I’d be really chuffed. I found that the acrylics actually dried a little too fast for me to achieve the smoothness of skin tones I was hoping for. I can see how oils would be a bonus here. Yet the acrylics do offer a sort of coarseness which is appealing.

I’d hoped that using my 3/4 in flat brush throughout would help me to paint more loosely, but in fact it created some problems where detail was necessary, particularly round the eyes and nose. Rightly or wrongly, I persisted. I’d be interested to know what brushes other people use for portraits, all advice gratefully accepted!

As has been the case with every selfie I’ve done, this sort of looks like me, but doesn’t really. Having looked at my previous attempts I think that I am getting better at this business, although my stern expression seems to confirm my opinion that self-portraiture is a very serious business indeed.


26 thoughts on “Seriously

  1. I love self portraits and it definitely can not be categorized as vain. It is our most available source for a portrait and, done over and over again, can be very revealing for the artist. They never, individually, look exactly like I see myself but the grouping of them says it all over the years.
    Great portrait and words!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Leslie, lovely to hear your thoughts; I’m beginning to see how cumulative experience on this kind of portrait could be very valuable. Your comments are very reassuring – thank you! 🙂


    • Yes, mirrors aren’t always our best friends I think. I’m very glad you think I caught the intensity of gaze – I certainly was looking pretty hard. Thank you, Charlie! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an intense stare! Definitely looks like your other selfies; well done! I so admire realistic acrylic painters. And anyone who will post a selfie, lol! Mine never turn out. Terrific job and good luck to your husband! I still remember the watercolor portrait you did of him – it was amazing, I thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you Laura – I’m glad you can still tell it’s me! 😉 I think it’s quite hard for the person who does the self-portrait to know whether it ‘looks’ like them or not – at least that’s the case for me. I’m sure I’ll be back to the watercolours before too long… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha I’ve never thought about self portraits as being vain. My face is a free model, available any time, who won’t get upset if the result is dreadful (well not upset for the same reason anyway)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another one who never considered self-portraits to be vain I just consider it as working with what’s available! Great job Rebecca, I enjoy reading about your thought process too.

    Liked by 1 person

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