Self-Portrait – Pastel on Canson

Where you lucky enough to take art classes in middle or high school?  Do remember drawing a self-portrait?

I remember drawing a self-portrait on two occasions; once in elementary school and once in middle school. I remember that the drawings all had almond-shaped eyes, round heads and a front view.

As a kid, I don’t remember giving much thought to how the self-portrait looked in elementary school.  We knew our features.  I had brown hair, blue eyes, red lips and whatever color shirt I had on.  Done!

In middle school, I dreaded that assignment. The extent of our instruction was various face shapes: round, oval, heart, and square. There was no consideration to bone structure, muscles, turning form or the effects of light.  (Of course, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have paid much attention anyway.)  At the time, I felt foolish looking into a mirror and analyzing my face and features in front of other students.  As if middle school wasn’t challenging enough, now we had to parade our insecurities in front of the class!  I still had brown hair and blue eyes, but how do I make it look like me?  Needless to say, that drawing didn’t make it to the refrigerator.

Fast forward a couple of decades and dial-up the notch of desire to learn.  Suddenly, a little instruction, a few years of practice and deeper knowledge made a difference in the outcome.

As many of you know, I’ve been taking figure drawing at the community college this semester.  Our assignment this past week was to complete a self-portrait in pastel.  Oh, the students moaned and groaned.  I could feel the anxiety as our instructor shared the assignment.  I simply smiled to myself and thought, “This is going to be fun”.

This time, drawing a self-portrait was more fun and insightful than the second attempt (or third, fourth or fifth time for that matter).  No longer did I critique the shape of my nose, the asymmetry of my eyes, or the countless sunspots.  Instead, I found myself seeing shape, form, the way light travels across the forehead, through the eyes, and around the nose.  I saw how the light bounced off the cheekbone and curved over the chin. I saw the softness of the cheek, the fullness of the lip, the angle of the ear, the way the head connects to the neck.

Oh sure, I see where I can improve the drawing.  This or that could line up better.  That could angle more, this could soften here.  Thankfully, as artists, we know there is always room for improvement.  Learning to see what we want is the first step to creating.


Rembrandt pastels (black and white), grey Canson Mi-Tientes paper (smooth side), fixative (this will darken everything), tortillion and Faber-Castell pastel pencils (black and white).


What do you think?

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