Three Tips for Tackling Your Self-portrait

Throughout life we define ourselves by what we do for a living (teacher, lawyer, computer programmer) and whom we’re related to (Lucy’s mom, Jack’s son, Scott’s wife) rather than who we truly are. Without these labels, do you know who you are? This isn’t a question with easy answers, but there are many ways you can start to work them out. Journaling, meditating, or talking with friends can help you begin this process. And for artists, creating a self-portrait can start a journey of self-discovery. Here are a few tips to get started, no matter your artistic level.

Be honest. “One of the things that artists should at least be attempting when they’re doing their self-portraits is to be honest,” says Carla O’Connor. “The self-portrait by a thoughtful artist isn’t trying to gloss things over. That would defeat the purpose. You’re trying to be very, very honest: ‘This is who I am right now. This is how I feel. This is who I am on the inside.’”

Limit your time at first. “When I have my workshop students do self-portraits, I give them only about 15 minutes,” O’Connor says. “They’re so busy hurrying that they don’t have time to fuss with it much. I get the most honest responses, because they just naturally reach for the blue or for the red.”

Have fun. “One thing I’ve noticed that I put in many of my self-portraits are big, brown eyes,” says Ursula Roma. “I like to watch the world. Also, I tend to make my nose longer and straighter than it actually is—how I believe it would look if I hadn’t broken it almost 20 years ago. I’d recommend to anyone doing a self-portrait to feel free to exaggerate the qualities and features that best describe you.”

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