Self Portrait Mirror help needed

edited June 2017 in Painting
Hey everyone,  I kind of go all in when I am trying new things and I shouldn't post my dreadful work yesterday (it is now a nice gray mixture on my palette to be used later today)

So, yesterday, I decided to try a self portrait from life. A photo would be much easier for me but I need to learn and am willing to go all in.  When I draw or sketch a painting, I often turn it upside down, sideways, look at it in a mirror etc....   Since I cannot exactly stand on my head for my self portrait, I relied heavily on my proportional divider.

So, when looking in the mirror, any tiny shift in angle threw everything off - I ended up taking my paint brush and drawing a dash on the mirror for the top of my head, bottom of nose, under lip, chin and ear - that way, when I looked in the mirror, I was lined up as exact as possible.   What a disastrous painting but invaluable for my learning.  I'm like a sponge, am not afraid and really want to give it a go again but I need help - how do you keep your subject matter correct in the mirror - shifting posture even slightly makes a big difference.  I have north light in my studio so chose to use that from the window but the mirror also reflected that back so the shade, light got mixed, especially as the day progressed.   Minus doing a painting in 30 minutes, I think I need to get my initial values and keep them as in plein air. 

The other thing I did was I painted on aluminum which was stupid for a self portrait - my next go this afternoon will be on linen and I'll just throw it away if I need to. 

So, what I learned - my eyes are much, much smaller and painting the irises is minutia - my lips are much wider and fatter than I imagined -   chasing shadows and lights on my nose throughout the day was not fun.

does anyone have any ideas for proportional divider, marking a mirror for proper angle each glance?  I had to shut one eye and squint  and then would put the proportional divider on the mirror - I then painted same size.

I also painted way too thick - I got dressed with a scarf and chandelier earrings and was made up from a lunch date - so, I had a "costume".   

Like I said, this aluminum panel is now back to it's original luster and I have a lovely gray heap of paint on my palette to use later.
and then this, later in the day when I realized how dreadfully huge my eyes were and that my mouth wasn't wide enough - I wiped them out and it aged me considerably :)


  • BOB73BOB73 -
    edited June 2017
    For a first effort working from a mirror this tremendous. The eyes need a little work but the rest is pretty good. I can't and won't look at myself in the mirror for longer than it takes to shave so I can't imagine what you're dealing with. Putting reference marks on the mirror to maintain position sounds logical. I can't offer any ideas but what you have looks proportional so maybe that part of the struggle is over. Good Luck.
  • oh you should have never let go of the first one.  My only advice is to try to stabilize the light, stabilize the subject, and then slow down the painting process.  But the first one really is genius.
  • edited June 2017
    Are you able to mark up your mirror with a black marker? If so, I recommend a grid on the mirror begin with the rectangle that frames your face in the center of mirror, extend the lines used to make the initial frame for your face through the rest of the mirror to complete your grid. every time you see yourself in the mirror you can use the grid to line up your face in and help hold your position for extended periods. You can mark up your mirror as much as you need to work with such as drawing key points for the eyes, the mouth, the nose, the chin, including angles and perspective lines and so on. I also use a compass and a ruler to help with measurements and angles. If you cannot mark up your mirror with marker, may want to consider using thread or string taped up on the mirror to form your grid. And as MikeDerby suggests, slow down the painting process. Hope this helps. Also found Mark's videos helpful; "The Secret To Drawing Well & More" - Ep. 13", "Drawing Key Points & More" - Ep. 14
  • PaulBPaulB mod
    I really like the first one, and I'm glad you photographed and uploaded it. I think I can see the concern in your expression.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited June 2017
    @Julianna I think that your painting show a lot of talent and enthusiasm.  Working from dark to light will eliminate some of the muddying up of colors when you need to overlap hues.  Using complementary/opposite colors to mix new values will also help.  I think that our eyes love complexity.  Knowing about warm and cool colors and when to use them to create certain effects really helps.  I had to create painting exercises for myself to really understand this concept better.  I like that you know what overall intensity you want for the whole painting and that you know how to maintain it-- the chroma.  Your eye is in.  These are wonderful tools that we have to control the painting process.  I can see that you are a happy passionate painter.  I like!   :)   Summer
  • @julianna Sometime its happens to me same as yours; don't bother to do that, thanks for your trying at this matter.Everytime it didn't go well but you have to be your own way. Don’t be upset.

  • @BOB73  you are always so helpful and kind - thank you for your insight and suggestions.  @MikeDerby that is so ironic that you mentioned that about the first photograph of my process because my husband said the same thing - he loved the mood and intensity - I'm sure that I've wiped away a plethora of stages of my paintings and now, this is in a grey heap of paint somewhere in my creative juices - thank you for your kind words.  @Forgiveness I am immensely grateful for your input and suggestions - it made me remember VanGogh's frame contraption that he used and how difficult it is for the eye to still be stabilized when viewing - I have my mirror grafted out with lines but I do not like to paint graph squares so that will be another challenge - I used to be itty-bitty space square painter and the picture ended up being photographic but I lost myself as an artist so I am going to have the grid for positioning and still focus on the big picture.  Thank you ever so much, truly.  @PaulB I can't wait for your self-portrait and know we are both apprehensive so appreciate your comment - I watched Richard Schmid's video again today when he painted Michelle Dunaway and he mentioned how big the eyes and pupils get when focusing and how we must relax our eyes and pupils and paint the values and shapes.  Thank you and I cannot wait to see your Uncle and hope he is with you in spirit as you paint him!  @Summer I am confused.  I always paint dark to light; what is muddy?  I am known for being too vibrant with my colors and for you to see muddy is surprising?  I know about warm and cool and thus the purple hue against my blonde (fake) highlighted hair. You mentioned once that I am  learning quickly but I have been oil painting since the 3rd grade so I would hardly consider my experimentation or "progress" here as learning quickly.  I look forward to more of your paintings for review.
  • Have you done any self portraits via charcoal drawing? If not I would recommend doing at least a few charcoal drawings first.  Make sure you get some paper with some tooth (don't use newsprint). This will help you learn proportion (which I think is what you talking about mostly) and value.  Once you do a few of those then try doing a very limited pallet:  Burnt umber, blue and white.  That's a typical progression which allows you to learn the important things without the distraction of color.  As far as proportional divider goes I think the biggest thing is to make sure you are in the same position every time regardless if you are using a proportional divider, stick, pencil or whatever the measuring aid. Any change of angle or distance can cause weird distortions.  Also to help with this, workout the big concepts (shapes) and then move to the small (details).  The bigger the concept the more important it is.  Details a lot of time will happen on their own as you go along.  One final thing, don't seek to fall in love with these pieces.  What I mean by that, look at them as learning exercises.  Don't think of them as pieces you would sign, hang on the wall or even show anyone (except for critique).
  • edited June 2017
    You've got the right idea @Julianna ,if you can slow down your painting enough, your mind will try to project the memory of your grid for you onto your canvas, this is natural. It will appear subtle, but if slow enough you will catch it and make it work for you. I'm assuming you will be glancing at the mirror a lot as you paint along.
  • edited June 2017
    I like the fist one best, Julianna. But both are fun,  and so zany! If you're aiming for a higher level of realism then  @JeffAllen's suggestions above and  those by @Forgiveness and @summer should be helpful. Drawing and values are the key skills to practice and improvement in these areas will be helpful even if you want to perfect your colourful, zany, fun style which I also see in your recent fruit paintings. Keep at it. ☺
  • edited July 2017
    @JeffAllen yes, I have done charcoal many years ago -  my problem is as you said is each millimeter off with a proportional divider and eyeballs moving, a proportional divider is not to be relied upon (as you can see from measurement adjustments of just millimeters off) I'm not sure a proportional divider is smart. - not as exact as it is for still life etc. 
    DMP is new to me and a limited palette and I love the Geneva oil paints - I am not into figure painting so the self-portrait in oils is completely out of my comfort zone but I love the challenge. 
  • Beautiful painting, congrats on your win! yes you have talent. I enjoyed a wonderful visit in both places 1984. I was recently told that you can delete unwanted photos and replace, but I don't know.
  • I cannot believe the timing of this video - Stefan Bauman just uploaded this video today about self portraits in mirrors .

    I wish this was uploaded a couple of days ago and then I wouldn't have asked about the positioning in the mirror because he addresses that is one of the most difficult things in self portrait painting in a mirror.  No wonder I was struggling so much with the slight positions.

    For anyone else interested, here is the link:  It takes a lot of courage to paint your own self portrait in a mirror and present it to others - I hope others are inspired and take up the portrait challenge!  This is fun. 
    "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" could not be more prophetic for me right now.  How weird it is that he posted this today. 

  • edited June 2017
Sign In or Register to comment.