Drawing Basics TRACK: Week 5


Create a chiaroscuro self-portrait. Chiaroscuro is a lighting effefct which uses bold shadows and highlights that allows subjects to emerge from a dark background.

Setting up the mirror and light

Begin by setting up a mirror and light to create dramatic lighting on your face. Watch this segment on how to set up your mirror and lighting in a practical manner. Make sure your set up is comfortable so you don’t have to sit or draw in an uncomfortable position, it is possible to do! Don’t be surprised if the set up takes a while.

thumbnail sketches

Draw a minimum six thumbnail sketches to figure out your composition. Aim for a variety of different layouts, avoid the default portrait composition of sticking the face in the center. Tweak and re-crop the thumbnails until you’re satisfied. Choose one thumbnail sketch to use for the final drawing.

Final drawing

Create the drawing in any black and white medium. Emphasize the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting by identifying the difference between cast shadows, form shadows, and reflected light. Don’t worry about likeness, this assignment is an exercise in lighting and you can think of this as a drawing loosely based on yourself.

Recommended media

Charcoal Supplies: compressed charcoal, vine charcoal, charcoal pencil, white plastic eraser, kneaded eraser, eraser stick

other media

Caran d’Ache Neocolor I Crayon, graphite powder + graphite sticks.


Charcoal paper has a tooth and texture that allows the paper to “grip” the dust of the charcoal better, but any drawing paper will do.

Artists for inspiration

Georges de la Tour, Caravaggio, Jusepe de Ribera, Artemisia Gentileschi

Self-Portrait Drawing in Crayon

Art Prof Clara Lieu demonstrates how to draw a self-portrait using a mirror and a color layering technique using Caran d’Ache Neocolor I crayons. You’ll see how to set up your easel, drawing, clamp light, and mirror in order to have a smooth drawing experience.

Prof Lieu walks you through the thumbnail sketching process and then how to transition from the thumbnail sketch to the final crayon drawing. Blocking out a foundation of colors is showed and then more complex layers of colors using the Caran d’Ache Neocolor I crayons is shown through to the final drawing. 

Light & Shadow in Portraits

Art Prof Clara Lieu explains how lighting can be a powerful visual tool for showing form and space in paintings. Using movie stills and examples from paintings in art history, Prof Lieu breaks down how lighting functions in art

The components of lighting are explaind: direct light, reflected light, shadow core, cast shadows, form shadows, how light effects color, how light can establish a mood or narrative for a painting, and more.

Share Your Progress

Post your ongoing progress in the #bfa-track channel in our Discord, you’ll get support and feedback from out staff and the community!