If you’re an artist and you like to draw people, the best way to practise your technique is to do a portrait of yourself! Lots of famous artists have done self-portraits, and you can see how their skills improved as they got older and more experienced.
Albrecht Durer was a German artist who lived from 1471 to 1528. His first self-portrait was a silverpoint drawing he did when he was only thirteen years old! (Silverpoint, a sharp metal instrument scraped across a painted white surface, was used before pencils were invented.)
As Durer got older he started using oil paints. In the painting above he is twenty-two years old and has painted himself holding a thistle. This painting may have been intended for his fiancée Agnes Frey (though a thistle is a rather prickly flower to give your girlfriend!)
This third self-portrait shows how Durer is getting older and more skilful in his technique (here he is twenty-six). He has grown a beard and his long, golden hair is very curly. You can see that he favours this pose and always paints his face with a serious expression. In the days before photographs, to paint a self-portrait the artist had to use a mirror as he or she worked. I do hope Durer didn’t get any paint on that fancy black-and-white outfit!
As you can see, Albrecht Durer was very talented from an early age. He became a successful painter of commissioned portraits, altarpieces and religious paintings, but he also loved to do nature studies such as this famous watercolour of a hare:
That painting he would have been able to do from life, just like Beatrix Potter did with her pet rabbits many years later. But he didn’t always draw animals he could see. One of his most famous woodcuts is one of an Indian rhinoceros that was given as a gift to the King of Portugal in 1515. In those days a rhinoceros was a very exotic and strange animal that no one in Europe had ever seen!
Durer never saw the animal himself, but did this picture from a written description and a little sketch someone else gave him. For this reason, it looks as if it is wearing a suit of armour! If you want to know more about Durer’s rhinoceros, click HERE.
Another artist whose many self-portraits help us to see how his painting style changed over the years is Pablo Picasso. When he was very young he painted in a realistic way.
This self-portrait he did at the age of fifteen shows how talented he was. Picasso was born in Spain in 1881, and he studied art in Paris and became the most famous artist in the world! Part of the reason he was so celebrated was because he invented entirely new ways of painting that were shocking and surprising.
This next self-portrait was done when Picasso was twenty-six, and you can see how his style has changed. Instead of painting a realistic picture, he has made it very stylised with bold, angular lines and simple outlines of the eyes, nose and ear. His later work was even more abstract, with parts of a face put together in a striking and sometimes disturbing arrangement.
This portrait of a woman was done in 1960 when Picasso was seventy-nine years old. You can see two views of the woman at the same time: one from the side and one face-on. The blue and green colours and the woman’s expression give the painting a feeling of great sadness.
Anyone can do a self-portrait. When my daughter was five, her whole class did paintings of themselves to put up on the classroom wall. This is what hers looked like:
When you see what she looked like at five, you can see the resemblance!
It’s fun to paint a picture of yourself, and you can try all different styles and materials. Make it bold and colourful with oil pastels, or subtly shaded in pencil or coloured pencil. Make it crazy and abstract like a Picasso portrait, or as realistic as a photograph. How do YOU see yourself?
My friend Marg asked if I had any self-portraits I could show you. I love drawing and painting people, but I haven’t done a picture of myself for years! What I can show you are a few portraits I have done of other people over the years.
This picture of Anne Frank was done from a well known photograph when I was in Art College. I used gouache paint which is very tricky to work with. I got a B for this effort!
This portrait of a sad looking little boy I did a few years later when I was working as a children’s book illustrator. It is done in watercolours, my favourite medium for many years.
The last one I have to show you is done in pencil and coloured pencil. My husband was in India and he took this picture of a girl carrying a bowl on her head. I thought she was very sweet looking! We now have this drawing framed in our kitchen. I hope all this art will help to inspire your own creative ideas. Time to get drawing!