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Draw or paint a self-portrait

  • Written byUAL Short Courses
  • Published date 31 July 2023
Left: portrait of Rembrandt with a Gorget by Rembrandt Van Rijn | Image: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: self-portrait by Rembrandt Van Rijn | Image: public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Learn about the art of self-portraiture with this Future Creatives activity for ages 11 to 17. Read more about Future Creatives.

What is a self-portrait?

The term ‘self-portraiture’ refers to a style of art in which an artist depicts their own self-image. Many famous artists have created self-portraits through the medium of painting, drawing, sculpture and photography.

The image above shows two self-portraits by the Dutch painter Rembrandt Van Rijn. Look closely and see if you can identify the differences between the two portraits. We can see that he is older in the second portrait, but look at what he is wearing. In the first portrait, he is wearing armour, a sign of rank, and an expensive silk collar. In the second, he is wearing his painting clothes.

Look at how his head is tilted up and then down. In the first painting this makes him look confident, and in the second it makes him look sad. Do the different brushstrokes tell us something more?

I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, and because I am the subject I know best.

— Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo's self-portraits

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was famous for her iconic self-portraits. During her career, Kahlo created 143 paintings including 55 self-portraits. The image below is one of Kahlo’s vibrant self-portraits. This is a painting full of symbolism, carefully arranged.

Frida Kahlo was very proud of her heritage. In this portrait, her dress is a traditional working garment and the symbol is the Aztec sign for change or movement. Kahlo kept monkeys as pets, and in this painting, they seem to be protecting her. Look at the tropical setting and the bird of paradise flower. This is Kahlo telling us about herself as she would like to be seen by others.

Self Portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo: 1943 | Image: Ambra75, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What you will need

To create your own self-portrait you will need the following materials:

  • Paper
  • Paint and brushes or markers, pastels and coloured paper
  • A mirror
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Pencils or charcoal and an eraser
  • Camera and printer
  • Collage material - magazines, wallpaper, cardboard or any other interesting scraps

Getting started

Think carefully about how you would like to appear or what you would like to represent. Frida Kahlo cared about nature and her environment – is this important to you?

Think about what you are wearing, the objects you surround yourself with, and how you are stood or sat.

Things to try

  • Take a photo of yourself using the self-timer, print it out and colour it in. You could cut out your picture and glue it onto a pattern or photo you like.
  • Draw yourself in the mirror and try to have only one light on for dramatic effect.
  • You could paint yourself as someone you admire or as something you would like to be.
  • Try using a different perspective – you could put your camera on something high up or low down.
  • Use two mirrors next to each other for a distorted effect when you photograph or draw yourself.

This activity was designed by Peter Hope.

Image credits: 1. Left: Portrait of Rembrandt with a Gorget by Rembrandt Van Rijn | Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: Self-portrait by Rembrandt Van Rijn | Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 2. Self Portrait with Monkeys by Frida Kahlo: 1943 | Image: Ambra75, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

We would love to see your self-portraits and share across our channels to inspire creativity. Share your work with us by tagging @ualfuturecreatives or using the hashtag #ualfuturecreatives.

Take a look at our Future Creatives Short Courses to see what’s coming up in your local area.

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