Emotional Struggles · oil painting · Step-by-step

The Annual Self Portrait

I had a great art instructor in high school. I was in one of her classes every year for all four years I attended West Springfield High School. She was an excellent instructor. Her name was Genevieve Roberts.

There were two other art instructors there: Martha Foote and Nancy Powell. I took classes with them as well, but I remember Mrs. Roberts most of all. She was the one who helped me get my portfolio together so I could apply for a special program at the National Gallery of Fine Arts and the National Portrait Gallery.

The classes at the galleries were taught by resident artists and when I took the portraiture program (one day a week for a whole term), I remember only one key element from the class (other than to draw curves with straight lines) and that was that “real artists” whether they work in portraiture or not, “always” completed at least one self portrait a year. For some reason, even though I know it is not a rule, I do think it is probably a good practice.

When I finally got back to my art after a multi-decade hiatus, I did start doing self portraits again. The first two were in graphite. The next was in pastel. This year I’m trying to do one in oils. And I’m struggling.

For one, the way my face actually looks and the way my subconscious wants my face to look are two different things. Certainly, I don’t actually have saggy neck skin and jowls… but it appears that I do. My eyes are also different sizes. Now, I’ve known about the eyes for a long time (every since my very first self portrait), but I keep wishing they settle in and shift into being symmetrical… just don’t think that is going to happen. I’m also trying to learn to work out both color temperature and flesh tones that make sense with values. I’m also trying really hard to put my brush strokes down where they belong the first time and quit messing with the paint once it’s down on the canvas.

Here is a photo of me in the mirror which is pretty close to the angle and lighting I’m using for the painting:


In the painting, I’m wearing a purple V-neck dress and my hair is in a pony tail.

I’m only working on a little bit each day that I’m in the studio so I don’t get too frustrated and quit. I keep reminding myself that many of the great artists worked on self portraits (in fact, most portraits) over many weeks and months at a time, so there is no rush. 

But here is my progress so far. Pretty awful, eh? First one is a basically a very rough block in. Second and third stages were done today.




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