Self portrait in pigtails, 16x12", oil

Self portrait in pigtails, 16x12", Oil on canvas

I met a very quirky 76 year-old woman artist who has made her home, her car and her self into a wonderful, crazy work of art. I’ll share more about her next time, but today wanted to post this self-portrat she inspired.

I’d been feeling discouraged about oil painting after doing a terrible plein air painting on Saturday but meeting that woman on my walk today, I was inspired to braid my hair and decorate myself with make up and do a self portrait in oils.

I started by setting up a mirror but found it awkward to paint while having to keep looking in a mirror to my right and making the same face.  So I took photos, shooting into the mirror, and then displayed the best one on my computer monitor and worked from that. Here’s the photo I used:

Reference photo of me

Reference photo of me

I started by drawing with white pastel pencil on an already toned canvas (actually a reused canvas: the first painting I did when I picked up oils a year or so ago — a portrait of my sister that was so terrible that I scraped it and covered it in a warm brown oil paint to be used again). I like sketching with a pastel pencil because it rubs off easily from a primed canvas and disappears into the oil paint without streaking or smearing.

Pastel drawing on toned canvas

Pastel drawing on toned canvas

Then I photographed the drawing bove and pasted the image as another layer in Photoshop on top of the reference photo, adjusting the new layer to 60% opacity. That allowed me to see where my drawing was off and make the adjustments on my canvas. You can see in the overlay below that I’d missed in many places, despite my attempt at accuracy.

Drawing overlapping photo

Drawing overlapping photo

I’ve learned the hard way that an incorrect drawing just leads to a bad painting.  I could have just enlarged the photo and traced it right onto my canvas, but I love drawing and wanted the challenge of drawing myself somewhat accurately. I think the final painting does look a bit like me and it was definitely fun to do.

I’m going to wear my hair like this to work tomorrow. And I’m not going to give up oils.

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Category:
Drawing, Faces, Oil Painting, Other Art Blogs I Read, Painting, People, Portrait
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Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. This is so COOL Jana – I learned so much from your approach to the self-portrait and I loved getting to meet you up close and personal! Maybe your oil painting is taking a new direction. I’m going to contact you and Martha about my early Dec visit to SF – hoping we can meet.

    Thanks Shirley. I’m looking forward to it but can’t believe that December is getting close!
    ~Jana

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  2. good job for sticking with it, Jana. I really like the self portrait. To me you’re “looking into the future”…to your future self getting even more proficient at oils.

    Wow! Thanks for that bit of inspiration and interpretation. I love it!
    ~Jana

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  3. Thanks for sharing your process – and for admitting that oils can be a struggle at time. I just started my adventure in oils (a few months) and as exhilarating as they are they are also hard to adjust to – but I won’t give them up either. Thanks!

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  4. What a great portrait! What great pigtails! And what great attitude…of course you’re not going to give up oils! You inspire me to start doing decent painting again. I’m repeating myself, cause I said this to you before!
    And thanks for the “how to”, I find that inspiring too.
    Hope you had fun at work today?
    Ronell

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  5. You of all people should not give up oils. Your colors are always striking there. What nice eyes, and especially, what a lovely mouth, relaxed and focused at once. I see you have deepset eyes. I spent about a week trying to get deepset eyes on a very blonde subject, without using shadows that looked like black eyes. I finally just put in a touch or two of shadow to suggest–but it wasn’t very successful. What do you do?

    Also, Jana, I use an old program called “Picture It”, no longer available. If you happen to have used it, how would you compare it with Photoshop?

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  6. That’s a great idea to make yourself into a work of art, and then paint it – and the adjustment of your drawing on screen too. I like the rather challenging expression in your portrait – kind of “I can wear pigtails if I want to” expression. You inspire me too!

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  7. I love the method/process you used. There are so many ways to learn, this is one I never thought of. I love the painting too. It light and playful. Very nice

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  8. Ok, I was about to give up oils today after only one day! I came to your blog for inspiration. Thank you. I am very frustrated because I’ve missed so much of oil painting class that I’m frantically trying to catch up. I have a zillion questions and really need my instructor’s help at this point in my first painting (which I really hate). I must be doing something wrong…….but I won’t give up at least for today.
    I think this self portrait is amazing! I like your photoshop tip too! I wanna come play with you!

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  9. Thanks a lot to show the process how you made the portrait. This article can be used as training material. I really learned a lot from you.

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  10. I do rather like this self-portrait – I have to say you look terribly familiar in it, though when I scrolled down and saw the photograph, I realised I definitely didn’t know you! And yet the painting is so definitely of the same person in the photograph, it just seems to capture you.

    I particularly like the way the eyes are set into the picture, and the discreet asymmetry of the whole face, especially in the turn of the neck.

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  11. What a clever idea–using a Photoshop layer of your initial drawing over the original photo to figure out adjustments. The painting turned out great. I can’t tell you how many portraits I’ve given up on because of incorrect drawing. I’ll have to see if I can use this technique to salvage some of my canvases (I’m not a great Photoshopper, though.) Thanks.

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  12. This is my favourite piece of yours on the blog – really like it. I think attempting a self portrait is always going to bring out something intimate that gives a painting a special interest. I do self portraits using photography and like the idea of staging but in a way to bring out something of yourself that may normally be less obvious to others.

    Chantal
    http://www.chantalpowell.wordpress.com

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  13. I wasted my money attending Art classes :the teacher just left you alone.Thank you for your generous teaching.You will never grow old !

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