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Self-Portrait Charcoal Drawing, Donna Bar Peled

Donna Bar Peled

charcoal on paper
17″ x 14″


“As I rarely attempt doing self-portraits, this drawing was a bit of a challenge. The struggle to draw what I observed was definitely influenced by the mixed feelings I was experiencing observing myself.

Working quickly helped to minimize the overthinking and nitpicking I usually fall into. Because of the set up of my work space, I found myself working against the light and decided it made sense to darken the paper first with vine charcoal, lightly sketch out the ‘geography’ of my face and then go back in with a chamois cloth and erasers to carve out the limited lighted areas. Then I used both compressed charcoal for the larger areas and a charcoal pencil to reinforce the smaller areas that needed it.

I realized that the paper I was using didn’t respond as well to the charcoal as I would have liked so for future attempts I plan to try different papers (and definitely find an eraser stick for those small hard to reach areas!)

Working quickly and not agonizing over too many details is probably the most important lesson I learned from this course.”

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3 responses on "Donna Bar Peled"

  1. It’s so funny reading about your “mixed feelings” in working on the piece, as the facial expression in this self-portrait really reflects that! It’s pretty understated, but also highly specific and thus communicates so much… So even though you found the process challenging, ultimately the portrait is quite well-observed!

    The un-fussy mark-making helps a lot, too… I really enjoy the contrast in approach between the more general, erased shapes in the hair, and the more refined (but still quick and gestural) lines used to describe the facial features. Working at this speed seems to have served you well! I can’t wait to see what you could do with an eraser stick, too. 🙂

  2. Hi Donna,

    As Deepti mentioned your sense of texture and energetic mark making is phenomenal. I can really feel the energy in the hair and the face, and it feels like the eyes are staring directly at me. I also really appreciate your understanding of the facial planes like in the cheeks and below the mouth.

    To push this further I would recommend pushing the contrast/value more in the area you want me to look. Right now my eye is actually drawn more to the side of your face and the giant white stripe on the top left of the image. You can address this by either softening the contrast in these areas or by being so bold in a particular area that there’s no other place I would rather look first. For example, most portrait paintings have really high contrast in the eyes which is one of the reasons we look there first when it comes to paintings (besides from the psychological factor that we are attracted to things that look like us as humans). You’re doing this in some ways by adding the smaller pencil marks in the face but I think once you push this a bit more then the face will EXPLODE off the page 🙂

    I also agree that the cropping/composition would be a lot stronger without the top portion of the environment above your head. It’s not bad to have a background by any means, but I get the feeling this isn’t what you want us to primarily spend our time looking at.

    Good work my fellow artist! Keep it up!

  3. I love that you allowed yourself to work quickly and improvise with your work space. It really shows in how loose and energetic your mark making is! The hair, for example is capturing light really nicely and has such a luscious texture to it, it looks so soft!! YOu’ve also done a great job setting up an interesting lighting situation. The way light is hitting your body is helping carve out and highlight the masses in your face, giving it a great sense of shape and depth.

    Moving forward, I would love to see you explore composition more. In this piece, I think the figure could be placed higher on the page, so that the eyes fall above the centerline and we see more of the torso. I think this would frame the face better, and move our eyes around the figure more. Right now, the top section where we see the background is a bit distracting, and I find myself much more interested in the figure, so I would rather see more of it! Thumbnail sketches are a great way to explore compositions before engaging with he final piece. you could do multiple in which you roughly block out the mass of the figure in various compositions to find one that works best for you!

    Great work!

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