Four Tips for Drawing Self-Portraits

Self portraits are both fun and frustrating, at least for me. Since I have been doing self portraits for both my art and drawing class, I have to admit that, sad to say, I’m getting a little sick of looking at my face…  :P However, in doing so many self portraits (I’ve done over 30 in the past week and still have over 10 more left to do) I can see an improvement from the first one I did, which was for my university entrance portfolio. I guess my professors are right in saying that the only way to get better at drawing, etc. is to just do a lot of it!

Some tips that I have discovered in my trial by fire of self portraits are:


Do continuous line blind contour drawings first. Blind contours will let you loosen up, laugh at yourself, and slowly immerse you in drawing your face. Doing a continuous blind contour is fairly simply. Put your pencil on your paper, look at yourself in a mirror and WITHOUT looking at your paper, slowly trace the contours of your face and your features. DO NOT TAKE YOUR PENCIL OFF OF THE PAGE.


Your drawing will come out with random features everywhere or you might not even be able to recognize your drawing as a face at all. That’s ok, what matters is that you are studying your face intently, becoming familiar with the contours without the interruption of having to look at the paper.

Next represent the weight of the face. The next exercise that my art professor had us do that I found helpful (and fun!) was just blocking in the weight of the face, not worrying about capturing detail, just the mass of the face. As I learned from my drawing prof, this is actually a type of gesture drawing. Use the broad side of your drawing tool (I used a compressed charcoal stick) to do this drawing.

Now you are ready to focus more on proportions. For me, getting proportions right is one of the hardest things. Like most things, practice and doing lots of drawings definitely  helps you master proportions. While there are general rules for proportions in faces (ie. there is usu. one eye width in between the eyes; the face is usu. divided up into thirds from the forehead to the bridge of the nose, from the bridge of the nose to the bottom of the nose and from the bottom of the nose to the chin; the bottom of the ears often end up close to the bottom of the nose, etc.) it is important to study your own face and see which rules apply to you. For example, my nose is smaller than both my forehead and from the bottom of my nose to my chin. I would recommend doing some life-sized self portraits in pencil first, concentrating on proportions so that you can easily erase.

Another trick that my private instructor taught me before I got into the university is how to mark out generally the distance between your features. You start with your pencil on the page and, looking only in the mirror and not at your paper, draw a line from the top of your forehead to the bridge of your nose, making a little horizontal tick when you get to the bridge of your nose then continue drawing a line down to the bottom of your nose and make a tick there. Continue this down to the bottom of your chin then double check your measurements by comparing them with your face. While this trick is not always perfectly accurate, it is a useful tool to get you started on the sometimes daunting task of drawing your face.

Observe, observe, observe. The bottom line is, drawing is all about observation whether you are drawing a still life, a live model or your own face. If you aren’t sure how to draw your eye, spend some time examining it. It might even help to do a study of your eye focusing only on the outline of your eye. The blind contour will also help you a lot with observation.

So those are four tips that I have discovered in the past couple weeks. I hope they are of some help to you! If you have any questions, comments, etc. feel free to connect with me through Twitter or my contact page! :)

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