Drawing Basics TRACK: Lesson 5, Chiaroscuro Self-Portrait


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

Chiaroscuro is not just a visual effect in a portrait, you can create a very dramatic mood that has a theatrical look.

By emphasizing the lighting, the form in the portrait can become more palpable and volumetric.

Chiaroscuro Self-Portrait Drawing, Cynthia Mar


Cynthia, Triplegem, Johanna, Sarah McGill, Lisa H, Crissie

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.

Self-Portrait tutorial, Clara Lieu
Self-Portrait Drawing in Crayon

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.


Sarah McGill, Cynthia

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.

As challenging as this is to do, try not to worry about likeness in the portrait.

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 drawing 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.

I found it challenging to have a consistent pace in drawing. But the self-paced nature of the lessons and the support from the discord made doing the track very enjoyable.

Overall, the track helped to gain back my confidence, encouraged me to try new things, and taught me to move past my doubts when creating.”

Samuel Madriaga


Georges de la Tour, Caravaggio, Jusepe de Ribera, Artemisia Gentileschi, Peter Paul Rubens, Mikio Watanabe, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Giovanni Baglione,  Hans Holbein the Younger, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Gerrit van HonthorstJoseph Wright of Derby, Adam Elsheimer

We want to share your progress!

Water Mixable Oils Still Life Painting, banner
  • Did you do this lesson?
  • Submit to have your work to be posted here on this page or mentioned in a live stream.

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

This video explain show lighting can be used in paintings to show form in a portrait. You’ll see how to break down the specifics of light and shadow: direct light, reflected light, shadow core, types of shadows, how light effects color. 

Lighting can establish a mood or narrative for a painting, and more. Lecture by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Show us what you make!

Mixed Media Acrylic Painting, Lauryn, banner