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0:05   Inspiration from Cartoons
0:12   Cartoonists Mike Allred, Jack Kirby
0:35   Mirrors, work space challenges
0:51   Vine Charcoal, observation
1:00   Thumbnail Sketches
1:28   Compositions, loosening up

2:08   Final composition, cropping
2:18   Stylization, mark making
2:40   First Layer, block out larger shapes
2:55   Exaggerating facial features
3:18   Compressed charcoal, graphic look
3:46   Shadow shapes

3:58   Highlights, smaller details
4:33   Anatomy
4:46   Facial features
4:59   Reflected light
5:43   Vanity in self portraits
6:01   Self-expression


Draw a self-portrait in charcoal by looking at yourself in a mirror.

Core Ideas

Lighting, contrast, tone, thumbnail sketches.

Recommended course
Self-Portrait from Life



Alexia Towle

Alexia Towle
2017 Intern

While I have a little experience with charcoal, every time I use it I discover something new about the medium. For this project I pressed my face into saran wrap, and this made me experiment with trying to convey a different texture to my skin. I really wanted to focus on making the piece dynamic, because often my work can look very stiff, which is something I want to work to avoid.

There were steps to this process, and like in the tutorial video I created a bunch of thumbnails to establish the composition of the piece before moving on to the big sheet of, paper. I used vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, and lots of erasing!

Anna Campbell, Illustrator

Anna Campbell
2017 Intern

Ruth Llee

Ruth Lee
2017 Intern

Although I’ve done some limited self-portraits in charcoal in the past, charcoal still isn’t a medium I’m very used to nor good at. While making this piece, I encountered a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction as I was in the process of developing it. My natural tendency as an artist is to get really hung up on details, and lose sight of the larger overall dynamics of the picture by moving in too quickly.

However, that made this project all the more a fantastic and much-needed learning experience for me to break out of my comfort zone and develop artistic areas where I need the most improvement. Although I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome, just as my facial expression in the portrait shows, that wasn’t really the point: what mattered most is that I had deliberately forced myself to reach past my bad habits, and grow in an area I have yet to fully explore.

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Partial Video Transcript

“I think a lot of cartoonists, because we are always drawing from memory and imagination, we tend to get accused of drawing ourselves over and over again, especially cartoonists like Mike Allred or Jack Kirby.

You know, if you look at their faces, especially Jack Kirby’s Hulk, anything that looks particularly monstrous looks just like him.

I’ve drawn myself so many times that I definitely have a version of myself that’s in my head, you know, like a sort of cartoony stylized version that I can do thoughtlessly.

In my studio I have a bar mirror next to my computer and my desk and so I look in that sometimes which honestly isn’t helpful because there’s like a big a lot of text on the bar mirror so I don’t know I don’t get one of these.

For this portrait because I’m working from observation I really want to try and break that down a little bit. This time I want to go for something that will express maybe a different side of myself.”


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