Skip to main content

Caran d’Ache Crayons: How to Draw a Self-Portrait with a Mirror

0:00  Self-Portrait as a rite of passage
0:35  Rembrandt, Caravaggio
1:05  Advantages of self-portraits
1:58  Set-Up: mirror, easel
3:20  Set-Up: Lighting
6:13  Facial Structure

9:05  Direction of gaze, angle of the face
10:34  Thumbnail Sketches: viewfinder
13:34  Cropping, composition
16:45  Line Sketch
18:40  Searching for key features
21:17  Proportions, ¾  view, hair

23:15  Blocking in Colors
25:40  Layering: reflected light
28:50  Artificial light
31:05  Transitions, Finishing
33:30  Stylistic Choices

Get new tutorial notifications


Draw a self-portrait in color from direct observation using a mirror

Core Ideas

Color, proportions, skull, layering, color saturation, light, shadow

Recommended Tutorials

Background Ideas & Tips for Portraits


Art Supplies: Caran d'Ache Neocolor I Crayons
Art Supplies: Permanent Fixative
Art Supplies: Black Mat Board
Art Supplies: White Plastic Eraser
Art Supplies: Mirror
Art Supplies: Clamp Light
Art Supplies: Drawing Board

Substitute Supplies

The supplies listed below cost less, and can be used instead of the supplies above.

Art Supplies: Chalk Pastels
Art Supplies: Hairspray
Hairspray is NOT archival!
Art Supplies: Oil Pastels
Art Supplies: Colored Pencils
Art Supplies: Crayola Crayons
Art Supplies: Black Paper


“I definitely learned to be satisfied with a color palette that isn’t totally ‘natural looking.’ Having only a 15 pack of Caran D’Ache crayons and no flesh tones made me look harder for colors I wouldn’t have seen before.

Although portraiture was something I’ve done a lot in the past, drawing an image for this course had a refreshing spin on it, because I would periodically mentally check back to Prof Lieu’s videos and apply that to my work.”

Stephanie Gibadlo

Stephanie Gibadlo
Project Assistant

“It had been a while since I have worked with crayon, so it was really exciting to be able to work with it again! It was a bit challenging getting used to the media again though, especially when trying to create something so specific like a self portrait.

When I make portraits, I tend to obsess over achieving likeness that sometimes I will mess up a piece without realizing it, so it was nice to have the lesson format to follow to help myself stay on track. This was a fun project and I’m happy with my final piece!”

Piper Matthew, Architecture Student

“For me I always find self-portraits extremely difficult because you’re constantly confronting yourself as you draw. This course helped me think of the face as a series of abstract shapes and layers. To be able to create a piece from the Khan Academy equivalent for art was really cool!

I wish I had this while I was in high school and was making my portfolio to apply for art school!”

Artist Profile

Visual artist Tony Janello is obsessed with the human face, its endless variations and its extraordinary capacity for expression.

He began his artistic practice painting portraits and eventually began creating three-dimensional sculptures and digital photographs depicting faces that appear structurally unsound as if in the early stages of implosion.

Janello has taught courses at the college level in portraiture, drawing, and color since the early 1980’s.

Partial Video Transcript
“Drawing a self-portrait from life is really a right of passage for every visual artist. The idea of doing a self-portrait I think is so much more than just drawing what you physically look like because when you spend that many hours looking at your face and investigating every single nook and cranny, it’s inevitable that you’re going to do some kind of deeper exploration of who you are and what your identity is. And I think that’s a really fascinating creative and introspective process to go through.

Artists have been creating self portraits for centuries. For example Rembrandt is the quintessential self portrait artist. He really created this extraordinary sequence of self-portraits from when he was a young man until he was an older man.

Artists have also used self-portraits to tell narratives and as metaphors. For example, if you look at Caravaggio’s painting of David and Goliath, where he’s used his own face as a severed head of Goliath.

There are so many practical reasons to draw self-portrait from life. I know that a lot of artists really want to learn how to draw portraits well and yet it’s nearly impossible to find anybody who’s willing and able to sit for you for the period of time that you really need to develop a drawing all the way.

So what happens is I think a lot of artists end up just resorting to drawing from photographs, but the problem with drawing from photographs is that you’re getting about 1% of the information that you would get if you look at a mirror and you draw from life, because the photograph is already two-dimensional.

It’s not a 3D form that you’re interacting with and so you’re losing out on this entire sensory experience that you would get if you draw your subject from life. On top of that you’re not going to find a model who is more able and willing to sit for you pretty much 24/7.”

Links on this page are Amazon affiliate links that earns from qualifying purchases.

Submit Your Art for a Free Live Critique

Purchase a critique or Skype Session

Support us!