The Art of the Self Portrait

It has been said that every artist should do a self portrait at least once a year.

Vincent Van Gogh was famous for his many sketches of himself throughout his active painting years right up to his demise – the portrait of himself with his cut off and bandaged ear, the most poignant of all.

An annual self portrait not only shows the advance of time over one’s changing face and features, but it is also a glimpse into the artists state of being at a particular moment in time – a psychic snapshot of self expression.  It is a revelation of how one views oneself and views the world ~ an expression of simultaneously looking in and looking out.

A self portrait can be realistically life-like or completely fantastical and abstract.  Only you can express and portray your inner self, and the medium and method you choose is part of that expression.

Some people when trying to draw or paint their own face get too tight, too restricted.  All their nervousness and self image woes surface like the loch ness monster.  They get caught up in painting on every eyelash like they were doing their cosmetics.  They – the fussy and preciously precise artists – are especially the ones who need to let go and just let it rip.  Be unconventional, be weird, be wildly expressive and exaggerate your flaws, in fact – delight in them.

A few exercises:  Draw yourself in different artistic styles using different mediums.

  • High Realism – Pencil sketch
  • Impressionism – Oil paint using the stitch technique like Van Gogh
  • Expressionism – Liquid free flowing Acrylics poured over a sketch
  • Cartooning – Self-caricatures & Avatars
  • Abstraction – The Self represented through archetypes, colours and symbols

The possibilities an endless…  You can create a computerized self-portait by altering your image with a digital art program, or create a three dimensional portrait: a hand built sculpture or mask made with clay or papier mache.  The best part is there are no rules to the art of the self-portrait, just have fun with it and above all, be your true self.

Know thyself ~ express thyself.



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