On Drawing My Face…

I love to draw people in coffee shops, parks, and other places where they can be counted on to sit still for 5 or 10 minutes. The more double chins, bulbous noses, lines, wrinkles and unusual hair they have, the more interesting they are to draw. Until recently challenged in a sketching course I am taking, it had not occurred to me to draw my own face nor to find it as intriguing as I found others.

Sketching people

The Instructions

So the instructions were to set up strong lighting on one side of my face and shadows on the other then to take a photo or draw from a mirror. Not the most flattering result, clearly revealing the landscape of my experienced, wise self.

Step two was to not see eyes, nose or mouth but shapes, values, and reference points and draw those.

Staring at the details of my face for an hour or more was disconcerting, to say the least. What looked extremely appealing on others, looked like I was in need of a long nap on myself.

After taking the assignment much to seriously at first, trying to draw myself perfectly, lines and all, then scrapping the results into the recycling, I decided to have fun with the assignment and picked up my brush pen and watercolors, creating a series of 5 minute sketches. I liked the loose, colorful results much better and was soon on a roll of producing eight or nine portraits, a few of which are posted below.

Self portrait selfie

 Having fun with my face

With all the great weather, we have resurrected the old ice cream maker and are enjoying late lunches of yogurt, honey, banana and whatever fruit is around, ice cream. This batch was so tasty, I snapped a picture and used the photo to draw the next portrait.

Eating ice cream sketch

Wanting to have more negative spaces to draw in my next portrait, I added my arms to the photo but alas, my attempts to look more attractive yielded slightly alarming, wide open eyes.  Drawing the shapes of the green spaces around me helped get the proportions correct, although it does look like most of the ice cream has been settling into my left arm.


Self portrait with eyes wide open


In the next attempt, I was having way too much fun and felt completely free of trying to do a perfect portrait. Bored with trying to replicate the color of my hair, I decided to be a redhead for a change.


Self portrait as a redhead


My final attempt, once again drawing the negative shapes first (blue here). Although my face looked blocky and rather squashed, I did like the bottom half of my right arm (your left). It hasn’t looked so good for some time.


Self portrait in cadmium orange and colbalt blue

Try it yourself

So I would encourage you to sketch your own face without pressure to produce a perfect likeness or a tight drawing. You’ll still get lots of practice in seeing like an artist, drawing negative spaces, looking for lights and darks and reference points, and creating varied lines, even if your results, like mine, resemble caricatures rather than exact replicas of your face.


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Patricia Bentham
Phone: 250.474.7162
Email: info@patriciabentham.com

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