Project 2 – Exercise 1: Self-Portrait

Since the beginning of this part ‘Portrait and Figure‘ I started with my personal project of one self-portrait a day (available on this blog at:

Exploring  various media, viewpoints, angles and proportions of surrounding space. Experimenting with different painting approaches and expressions. Most of them are painted within one hour.

Selection of first three weeks of daily self-portraits:

in watercolor, ink, oil, acrylic, or pastel


… the journey continues.

Self portrait in oil:

For this exercise I decided to explore three aspects:

  • Broken colors for flesh – mainly with white
  • Applying color pads side by side without blending (at least minimal)
  • Avoiding pure black an pure white (see my notes on John Ruskin – click here)


Broken Color:

see Gwen John and Euan Uglow for their use of broken colors with white

Color application:

For the latter one I find great inspiration in the figurative and self portrait paintings by Jenny Saville. Especially her works ‘Reflective Flesh‘, 2002-3 (click here) and ‘Stare‘, 2004-5 (New York: Gagosian Gallery, see Mullins, 2006) Both work are incredibly large scale (240 x 191 cm and 305 x 250 cm). I would love to test those scales at one time but for this exercise decided to go for a more pragmatic format of around 50 to 70cm or translating the ratio into smaller scale: 60 x 50 cm. I am fascinated by the way how color pads are adding towards a realistic perception of form and figure.

Final painting: Oil and acrylic on linen (60 x 50 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1

Work in progress

Working sequence:

  1. Outline figure on support
  2. Blocking in main shapes with acrylic paint
  3. Applying main color pads with pre mixed tonal value, hue and saturation
  4. Working in oil on minor shapes
  5. Layering
  6. Details
Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - work in progess

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – work in progess

At stage #4 I am satisfied with accuracy of shapes and form.

Preparatory sketchbook work (selection):

Looking for poses, mouth expression, adding color to charcoal drawing

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - sketchbook

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – sketchbook

Looking for color combination (orange-ochre flesh and blue, violet as complementary color). Defining my color palette.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - sketchbook 2

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – sketchbook 2


I am adding here two studies that I did as part of my daily self-portrait project. Exploring different painting approaches (acrylic and oil).

Study in #1 acrylic:

This painting me looking directly in a mirror.

Final painting (41 x 30 cm) Acrylic on Fabriano® “Tela” paper

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - Study 1

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – Study 1

Work in progress

  1. I am starting with preparing my paper with a acrylic paint mix and wide brush. At this stage already looking at the position for the figure indicating the shoulder line.
  2. With the paint still wet I am scratching with a knife the contours of the face into the paint. This reminds me of scratch boards from school time.
  3. Letting the paint dry and layering with transparent washes of acrylic paint to push forward the form of the head and shoulder.
Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - Study 1 -progess

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – Study 1 -progess

Study #2 in oil:

This painting me with a sideview. In order to get my sideview life I worked with a setup that I already used successfully in during my first Drawing 1 course: Videocamera connected to a projector with the life image on a wall. With that I can adjust the camera position at any position so that I can look at the wall with in this case a side view. I am working with one or two daylight lamps.

I decided to make this study inspired by Michael Borremans for his use of limited palette and use of the void as a compositional element. (Example: ‘The Sleeper‘, 2007-8
Oil on canvas  Available at:  – accessed 12 Aug 2016)

Final image: Oil on linen paper (48 x 36 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - Study 2

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – Study 2

Work in progress:

  1. Starting with flat areas of paint, indicating lightly the edge torso-background. At this stage not very clear how far I should go with accuracy and color.
  2. I found the background too saturated and continued with additional light washes to desaturate more. My intention was to modulate the face more and keep the background rather flat.
  3. Placing color blots onto the face and continued with blending them together. In reference to Borremans my first intention was to render them smoothly but liked rather the thicker texture of the paint with clearly visible brush strokes.
  4. Using a wide dry brush for the hair.
  5. Eventually the face developed into a certain likeliness and the desaturated and broken colors add a mood of serenity.
Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 1 - Study 2 -progess

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 1 – Study 2 -progess

=> I am always astonished that the intermediate steps of the painting does not show a likeness but with further back and force strokes I eventually turned the image into a self portrait with high likeness.

Responses of my wife to my two studies:
Study #1 in acrylic:
– high likeness
– appealing colors
– triggers positive emotions in her

Study #2 in oil:
– good likeness
– proportions seemed to be not right
– terrible colors
– looks like a ghost
– frightens her
– terrible  – she doesn’t like it all


  • My personal project with making a daily self portrait helped tremendously in scrutinising my own face and finding the key elements: chin, eyes, and cheek.
  • I do not find one part more difficult than another (as I already did intense drawing works of the human body during Drawing 1 course – click here)
  • Somehow I am struggling with smoothly rendering of the human flesh. Perhaps this  is a lack of technical knowledge or rather my preference of bolder and textured material.
  • Most technical issues I was facing with oil paint is the applying correct tonal values in color with an impasto technique. Pre mixing all tonal values in different hues and saturation and applying them in separate color blots on the support helps to overcome this issue.

Next time:

  • More practice and include more colors


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