klein10-29-3s.jpg Richard Diebenkorn

Lets define what a portrait is. Portraits are pictures of things. Those things can be people, places or objects. It is the focal point of the picture.
A self-portrait is a picture the artists does of them self. Frieda Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz are two examples. One of the earliest women painters was Judith Leyster. Van Gogh was known for his self-portraits, but the women artists often used themselves as subject matter. Their portraits were then more than just a pretty Picture of themselves. They became statements about themselves, about the world they live in and how they relate to that world.

Check the gallery under artists self Portraits.

The question may be, why? What is the point?

A portrait does not just present a representation or a picture of someone. They never did. Once they were on the wall and viewers started viewing the talk started. What was he thinking? Is that when he cut his ear? Was she always so tormented?
So, good portraits dont just depict, they are not exercises in good proportions and they should never be mechanical. they should tell a story. They should capture an essence. They will make a statement. They should tell us about the person, but even more about the time. Even a family snap shot or portrait from Sears does this. They should tell what he or she is thinking or feeling. This can be done with more than just the face. There is body language. There is the addition of objects and the persons things. They should give a history through that face. They should define character, what is what it looks like and what was this person character? Above anything else they should talk to the viewer, begin a conversation so that the deeper meaning may evolve.
They should do this without words or text although, many contemporary artists use them within the context of the portrait almost as back ground, repeating the words until they themselves become an image or an addition to the portrait. Some portraiture such as the Dutch artists of the 14th to 17th centuries would use symbols in their work to tell something of their sitter. Look at Van Eyck and Vermeer. Kathe Kollwitz would portray people that expressed emotions she wanted you to experience that she herself felt. They were metaphors and statements against war.
Freda Kahlo used her image almost exclusively as object, metaphor, as statement in realistic representations or surreal settings. Being Spanish her work has transcended country and nation becoming Universal.
So what is a portrait Matisse used line to produce the curves of his sitters. Diebenkorn also used line to grab space and to define where the sitter was. Using color, he ventured into the word of phycology and maybe a type of surrealism.
Milton Avery erased the face. His models were mostly his family but he relied upon shape and color to capture the style of the time. As well I feel his pictures of family started to speak about tenderness and togetherness. At the same time period Hopper used his wife to express loneliness or solitude. The exact depiction of her face or anyone’s face was not important. The were just un-named characters in his one act plays. The window, a rectangle took on meaning also. Shape and space, the color of the space, the relationship of the person in that space, scale became a way to read the picture.
Giacometti through line grabbed and at times fought to grab the image of the sitter. At times the negative space declared where the image was or where the viewer should look. He might have said this is the focal point and this is the space I have put her in. How does the person relate to the space? The portraits were just straight ahead gazes, Eyes wide opened, looking straight at you. These were never blank though. Because of his method of marking, of drawing just evolved from masses of lines as did the shapes and backgrounds. They were worked on in a fast frantic manner but often they would be wiped off and re-begun several times. Only Giacomettiknew what he was looking for and once it was found, that was it, Painting done.
Where some of these artists used pattern such as Matisse others such as Van Gogh and even Diebenkorn used paint and brush marks to excite the backgrounds or trap the sitter within the picture plane.
What ever a portrait is, the artist or the viewer is the last word on what it says about anything pertaining to the sitter. If a portrait were just an exercise then that would show. If the painter such as many Dutch painters that made their livings through portraiture then their best foot had to be forward even capturing the look of the day.
Cameras did not end this act of making portraits. Instead it extended what was available to the artist in order that the statement is made

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c2c9a6fe8b759f910b5e2260ea7fd7aa.jpg Now this one is a bit harder. features are distorted

78b341cf921f631df4f04be9957254ba.jpg A collaged portrait

Portraits in Line

Concept: learn about self-portraits & portraits through line.

Objective: Student’s will:
*create a portrait of a classmate using line.
*study symmetry of face, structure, value changes and how these things make character
*learn how simple line drawings can teach us about the a person, place or thing

Artists: Paul Klee, Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse, larry Rivers and Kathe Kollwitz, Richard Diebenkorn

Materials: 8x11 white paper pencil, pen & ink or Sharpie

Words: line, line quality, line characteristic, symmetry, portrait and self portrait

a) intro and demo
b) Using a pencil first, simply "look" at your subject and draw using line only, basically a modified contour dwg.
c) After a workable drawing has been accomplished repeat process in pen & ink and then sharpie.

CONTINOUS LINE : for a continuous line drawing student will pick a starting point and looking at the subject start to draw without picking up his pencil or pen. Line should end where it began there by creating a whole. (Klee)
CONTOUR DRAWING: students should only draw the outside, or the edge of the subject. No detail should be added. The exception would be to use contour lines to describe the shape of the face or body like an eye, a nose, mouth or an arm lying over a belly or crossed legs. There should be no shading.

  • Refer to objectives
  • Consider use of line and definition of features.
  • Does drawing fill space or just occupy space.
  • What is line doing?
  • Considering the act of drawing what part of the persons character has been defined?
  • How can just a simple line drawing define character.

Continuous line demands that a student focus?
Can there be an exercise for producing line quality and or characteristics?
Portraits - Gesture and Value

Concept : gesture and value to portray personal features.

Objective : students will:
*create portraits based in value and one in a gestural style.
* observe how simple value drawings can define a person’s movement, character, shape and form.

Artists: Edward Hopper, Rembrant, Kathe Kollwitz


Materials: same as above

  • intro and demo
  • draw a classmate or work from photos
  • First pencil
  • Pen & ink or sharpie, probably both.

VALUE: the measure of light and dark. Can set a mood through tone.
Gesture Drawing or Line: A line that can describe movement. A gesture line is a kin to the shading technique of scribbling. They are done quickly. They capture general areas, shapes or forms not details.

  • refer to objective
  • consider use of line and definition of features.
  • Consider value range and tone.
  • Does drawing fill space or just occupy space.
  • What is line doing?
  • Considering the act of drawing what part of the persons character has been defined?
  • How can just a simple line drawing define character.



a1192757b.jpg Alberto Giacometti

Both Leonardo and Durer did detailed drawings of human proportions.
kopfzeichnen0083.jpg Study the muscle's relationship with the skull.kopfzeichnen0084.jpg

kopfzeichnen0050.jpg kopfzeichnen0037.jpgscan0055.jpg Notice how the artist uses line to build the drawing and describe value, shape and form.

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Caenr Griffiths
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Dave Bartlow