Watercolour Self-Portrait

What’s your favourite subject? 

It’s yourself, of  course! Mine too! 

So. How to begin? First I took an iPhone selfie, and pushed the Saturation and Contrast to imitate the solarisation process that produced many iconic 1960’s posters. It looks so easy to paint – almost ‘colour by numbers’, and a guaranteed dramatic strength. As with all projects, we should savour this happy moment; ‘the optimistic vision’ moment. 

Then the problems begin. First of all, scaling up. I print my image on an A4 sheet, and start drawing a copy (same size) on watercolour paper a bit bigger (14″ x 10″)

This I’m doing without any grid. But with a lot of corrections that morph my face through various thinner, fatter, faces; skewed into unexpected and unattractive alternative topographies. As in your autobiography, there’s enough trouble selecting stuff that was there, without introducing stuff that wasn’t. 

Eleven o’clock:


I’m going to take a lot of time on that. The proportions must bear likeness before I attempt to replace (or augment) the sketch with watercolour. How do I know all this? I don’t! I’m making it up! Lessons are expensive. 

Twelve o’clock:

It’s still not right. After an hour of drawing. What’s the technique for fixing this? Apart from patience and determination? There are dimensions to check. Bottom of eye sockets are exactly half way between top and bottom. Tips and bottoms of ears and nose will align and divide head into three from top to bottom. And so on. 

One o’clock:

Here it is after yet more ‘critical looking’ and ‘definitive adjustments’. At this point I’m thinking of giving up and getting the paint out. But I think I’ll focus now on the size & weight & direction of the eyes. The one thing (two things?!) that Must Be Right. 

Two o’clock:


Adjustments are becoming smaller. The temptation is to make too small changes. 

By making one ear smaller and the other larger, the head appears rotated, helping me to capture the main aspect of the original which is, to me, the head turned with a direct and serious gaze. Are we there yet? Clearly not! But I’m wondering how long it will take. 

Here’s the big fear: by continually fiddling details about, the sketch will lose all power of the whole? But, remember, I’ll be removing the pencil after the paint goes on. Probably. So maybe it’s just a case of precise proportion, and nothing else. Apart from getting the colouring equally correct, but without the benefit of an eraser!

Three o’clock 

First, start with highlights. Planning to go for a wash later, and then try to make it work by adding more highlights and  shadows. We’ll see. So far, well, not looking brilliant:


Four o’clock:


I can see this becoming what I want it to be! However,.. I’m quite unsure as to how i should complete the picture. In particular whether the effects I want should be done before or after it gets dry. Help!

Half past four o’clock 

As above. Keeping on…

Five o’clock !

OK. There comes a time when more paint means less impact. So. This is it. I’m not sure it does anything but hey, it’s my first watercolour portrait &/or selfie. 

OK. I said stop. But I kept seeing some missing shadow that would bring realism and couldn’t resist. So I added a bit more. And. Did it work? I think not. Definitely pushed it into the area of fiddly nonsense. Often a simple bold (“wrong”) stroke of the pen or brush is ten times better than a collection of fiddly indecisive (“correct”) strokes. Here it is:

Cropped & Framed:


Funny how the frame – especially the mount (or mat) – presents the image differently. How does that work?

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