Part 3, project 2, exercise 4: Looking at faces – conveying character

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

17 August 2016. This exercise should be my home territory as a caricaturist, but I do not want to take the obvious route here. A normal caricature does not usually aim at conveying character by a careful choice of painting materials and techniques. Most people working in this field tend to develop a recognizable style with an unchanging set of methods, many stay with watercolours and/or ink as I have done for a while now (Lacher-Bryk, 2017) or opt for computer-aided drawing. The latter are now often preferred by the media, because they tend to look neat and clean and the reproducing of colour is more straightforward. I think that this is not my way, I feel uncomfortable with the computer between me and my developing work. But also, one of my main goals in studying with the OCA is to acquire the skills required to create large scale satirical paintings. This is a field of painting with a short history and only few artists, where William Hogarth (1697-1764, UK) is my favourite for his keen talent of observation and courage to tackle controversial subjects at his time in history (see e.g. “The Humours of an Election”, c. 1755). I have not been able to find many comparable approaches. Throughout the history of painting most works labelled satirical are not what I am planning to do, since – very likely for the good reason of the painter wanting to keep his head on his neck – the satire is usually hidden behind symbols almost impossible to interpret correctly by the everyday viewer without professional guidance. In contemporary art of Germany and Austria we have now a relatively young tradition of high quality satirical painting. My absolute favourites from Austria are Horst Haitzinger (*1939) and Gerhard Haderer (*1951, see e.g. Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016)), and Ernst Kahl (Galerie Richter, n.d.)) from Germany for their talent and wonderful intelligence. The Salzburg Museum der Moderne has just opened an exhibition on satirical drawings over the last 200 years (Salzburg Museum der Moderne, 2016). Hopefully I will find the time to go and see it.

So, what is in the task of “conveying character”? It most certainly is not about capturing some fleeting expression on a face, but about carefully studying the character of a person and pick an expression which reveals that part of a character I need to convey the message of my painting. If the painting is a portrait only without surroundings to help the viewer interpret the facial expression, it is important to be quite familiar with the personality and habits of the portrayed person. This is the reason why most portrait caricaturists pick world famous persons as their subjects and which is what I need to do here for the same reason.

18 August 2016. A few days ago I made a caricature of Donald Trump, whose campaign has been given me a constant headache (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Donald Trump

His personality and intentions are an utter mystery to me and so I decided that I would stay with the subject for this exercise. Looking at his life, the least one can say about him is that he is a colourful character, which translates into “schillernde Persönlichkeit” in German, an expression well suited to transport a marked ambivalence. “Schillernd” means “iridescent” and this connects directly with mother-of-pearl. What I would like to try out in this portrait exercise is to find a way to capture this pearly iridescence with paint and see whether this, together with creating a likeness, can be interpreted by a viewer in the intended way.

Next I had a look at hints on how to paint iridescence. What I found was, to summarize, that this goal is futile, since iridescence is a structural property (Remsen, 2013). I should have known better, since in my museum work I came across this subject more than once, but in this exercise I am not after a technique allowing me to imitate iridescence by buying pearl effect paint, mixing in mica (Art Apprentice Online, 2011) and such like. My aim is to create an impression close enough to allow viewers a correct interpretation of my intentions. My first exercise was thus one aimed at analysing the systematics behind iridescence. To this end I looked for photographs of Paua (abalone, Haliotis iris) shells and a scientific explanation for their properties (Tan et al., 2004): The nacre is made up of stacks of thin crystalline calcium carbonate platelets, on which interference and diffraction occur to produce the rainbow-like unfolding of the spectrum.

In a first attempt at copying part of the shell I noticed a regular succession of colours despite the seemingly random “waves” (Fig. 2-3):

Figure 2. Sketchbook – examining the properties of Paua iridescence
Figure 3. A first attempt at imitating colour succession

The Paua pattern is however far too strong to be used in a portrait. So I went to look up  materials such as artificial iridescent fabrics, all of which work by applying the principles of thin layer interference and diffraction (not to be confused with the sheen in silk, which is made by using two different colours in weaving) (Fig. 4 below) In all of them the spectrum of colours is identical and follows the folds in a predictable manner. I chose a one of these for comparison and then tried to apply the principles on a printout of Donald Trump’s face, using watercolour pencils (Fig. 4):

Figure 4. Sketchbook – Iridescence in fabric and the visible spectrum

The colour sequence was as follows: White in direct reflection, then with a fold bending away from the vertical first violet, followed by blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Following this principle I first identified on a printed photo the parts of Trump’s face perpendicular to my line of view and coloured them white because of the direct reflection from these areas. With increasing angle between my line of view and part of the face I changed the colours in rainbow-fashion to end up with dark red. I am not sure, whether my interpretation is correct in all places, but it gives the face the appearance I am after (Fig. 5):

Figure 5. Sketchbook – Applying the principles of iridescence to Donald Trump’s face

With the above drawing as a reference I decided to try and paint Trump’s portrait with a pearly appearance. Since the above colours are still far too bright for my intentions, I needed to find out first whether a layer of fresh acrylic painting medium would make a good surface for paint to float on.

21 August 2016. The experiments with the acrylic medium went a lot better than thought and so the finished painting is forming in my mind. I am going to paint the portrait in the shape of an actual pearl in situ, while still in its mussel. A pearl forms to coat and render harmless any noxious objects inside a mussel and so the ambiguous analogy with the Republican Party as the mussel and Trump as its pearl seems rather nice.

Here are my experiments with the acrylic medium: On a white background layer I put a rather thick layer of acrylic medium, on which I first “floated” streaks of paint (two bottom images). Since these were still too bright, I diluted them down to near transparent and in a new field mixed the streaks carefully with the painting medium laid down in circles, one with a thin film of medium (top left), one with a thick layer (top right). This way I produced an effect near enough a pearly sheen without the aid of iridescent paint. What my scanner unfortunately fails to reproduce is the shimmering surface in the top righthand image (Fig. 6):

Figure 6. Sketchbook – Using acrylic painting medium to “float” paint

With the above results in mind I prepared my canvas, an 80 x 40 cm painting carton. This I covered with a cloudy background layer mixed loosely of Paynes grey and a yellow-pink mussel flesh colour. When dry I added a layer of white off centre, where the pearl was going to sit (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Prepared background

On the white I loosely sketched Trump’s face with dilute paint, then started the experiment with floating paint on the acrylic medium (Fig. 8). Since the adding of paint to the acrylic medium is something which has to be watched closely and corrected while drying, I decided that I would work my way forward in small steps rather than painting the face in one go. At first I was far too hesitant and this is obvious on the forehead and the area around the eyes. It was far more difficult to achieve a pearly sheen that way and also I had not anticipated that the flowing effect would not be as smooth on the canvas as it had been on the paper in my sketchbook. When I had developed some more confidence, it was easier to float the paint, but then it became difficult to control the colours. I ended up with the brightness I had set out to avoid. Only with some more experience, on Trump’s hair, the effect started to show. Then however the acrylic medium began to form bubbles for no obvious reason (top righthand corner).

Figure 8. Painting Donald Trump’s face using the “floating” technique

Here is a side view of the face to give an idea of the shiny surface (Fig. 9):

Figure 9. Side view of painting in progress

23 August 2016. I left this layer to dry completely, then covered the whole drawing plus the rest of the “pearl” with a very dilute mix of acrylic medium and the set of colours used to paint the face.

24 August 2016. The covering with dilute mixes of acrylic medium and paint I repeated about five times. Then I changed the background of the painting to resemble roughly the view out of a half-open giant clam. Here is the finished painting and some details (Fig. 10-13):

Figure 10. Finished painting
Figure 11. Detail of the inside of Trump’s shell

I am quite happy about the pearl-like quality of the portrait, although the person would very likely not be recognizable as Donald Trump any more, and the contrast to the normal background painting. It was very difficult to take a photo representing the real colours on the pearl. When taking the photos of the following details I changed the exposure in order to allow the structure of the paint to show up:

Figure 12. Detail of Trump’s face (1)
Figure 13. Detail of Trump’s face (2)

I am not sure what to think of the result. On the one hand the process of developing the idea and technique was great fun and the finished painting was better than I had feared at the start. On the other hand the message I originally want to transport is intimately connected with an instant recognition of the portrayed person, a goal which became less important while painting. But then again it could apply to no one in particular, because the facial expression I was after, one of barely hidden contempt, is very much there.


Art Apprentice Online (2011) Acrylic Painting Techniques – Mixing Iridescent Acrylic Colors [online]. Art Apprentice Online. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Galerie Richter (n.d.) Ernst Kahl [online]. Galerie Richter, Lütjenburg. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Hogarth, W. (c.1755) Humours of an Election [engraving print on paper] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016) Gerhard Haderer. Think Big! [online]. Karikaturmuseum, Krems. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Political Caricatures [image gallery] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Remsen, S. (2013) Structural Colour: Why You Can’t Paint Iridescence [blog] [online]. Prospecting Patterns, Boston. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Salzburg Museum der Moderne (2016) Bildwitz und Zeitkritik [online]. Salzburg Museum der Moderne. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Tan, T.L., Wong, D. and Lee, P. (2004) Iridescence of a shell of mollusk Haliotis Glabra [online]. Optics Express, Vol. 12, Issue 20, pp. 4847-4854. Available at: [Accessed 17 August 2016]


Introducing an own Project: Edible Pancake Portraits

17 August 2016. Something that always accompanies me when making pancakes (not the fluffy kind made in Britain, but the ones you find in Austria made with a liquid dough and rolled up with jam inside):
There is always a little dough left, not enough for a proper pancake, but too much to throw away. So usually I make surprise a criss-cross of lines or a smiley and bake them for our son to eat.
Last time I had another idea: To my great joy I find that I am increasingly able to draw recognizable portraits now using just a few lines, within no time at all. So, with a little preplanning of the necessary movements this should also be possible using pancake dough.
It might be a silly idea, but I would like to give it a try.
When I find something worth reporting, I will add it to my blog.

Part 3, project 2, exercise 3 – Looking at faces – creating mood and atmosphere

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

15 August 2016. In order to see how colours interact on a canvas to create mood and atmosphere, I carried out a simple experiment. I went to look for an interesting facial expression and used two different combinations of colours to see how mood and atmosphere change. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), Alexej von Jawlensky and the resemblance to thermographic imaging sounded fascinating to me. So I used Jawlensky’s “Blue Head” as a reference, and had blue, red and yellow as well as Paynes grey and white to chose from.

The model I selected was not a sitter, but the photo of a winner of a gold medal at the London Olympic games in 2012. I had a look at several and selected a few, where facial expression was not just joy, but mixed with something else. I found one like that for 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen (Yang, 2012), whose victory was so stunning that it became a doping issue so fierce that it now appears to ruin her career although the suspicions apparently were never confirmed. Hence probably the diffuse emotions on her face (Yang, 2012). The same I found in the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, but this time due to having to fight depression (Watson, 2012).

Then I had a look at some thermographic portraits to get accustomed to the colour schemes used there (Taylor (2016), Sébire (2016), Sarfels (2013)). These were not too helpful, because the range of colours is of course entirely up to the designer, but they all roughly follow the red/hot-yellow/warm-blue/cold sequence. This I used to set up my own colour scheme, asking myself how the winner of the gold medal would probably react at the ceremony in order to identify the hot and cold areas on their face. Here I proceeded purely intuitively, since my goal was not to end up with a faithful thermographic image, but to see whether I could produce, by using very strong colours, an impression of resonance with an excited crowd (top image) or momentary introversion without emotional contact with the surroundings (bottom image). This is what I came up with, on two adjacent pages in my sketchbook (Fig. 1-2):

Figure 1. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “in contact with the environment”


Figure 2. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “separate from the environment”

I quite like both portraits and their wild colours, although I am not so sure whether the changes in colour added atmospheric quality to the paintings in the intended way. At the start I had hoped that the anxious look on the medal winner’s face, which in my opinion would be totally inappropriate to the occasion in case she had nothing on her mind to dampen her joy, might be altered by the warm and cool choice of colours as well as the similarity or disparity with the heated up surroundings. At the moment I would not be able to tell whether the experiment was successful, but I will show both paintings to some people without giving them any information about my intentions and see if they can spot the difference.


Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits [blog] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Sarfels, J. (2013) Sichtbares Mitgefühl. Soziologische Forschung mit Wärmebildkameras [online]. Inspect, Weinheim. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Sébire, A. (2016) In the Heat of the Moment [exhibition announcement] [online]. Adam Sébire, Sydney. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Taylor, L.A. (2016) Breast Thermography Now Available in the Greater Buffalo Area
[online]. Linda Ann Taylor, Williamsville. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Watson, L. (2012) Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe reveals he considered suicide and planned places to end his life during career crippled by depression [online]. Mail Online, 14 October 2012. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Yang, Y. (2012) China gives Western media a gold medal for bias [online]. Latitude News, Cambridge, USA. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]


Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

14 August 2016. This subject is unchartered territory for me and I think that, had I been asked the same question at the start of the course, I would not have understood the question in the intended way. It is not just about reproducing what I see, but about what I would call a resonance among the colours in a painting. The painting reproduced on p. 87 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011), “Head in Blue” (1912) by Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941, Russian-German expressionist painter and co-founder of the “Blauer Reiter” movement, (Arts Experts, n.d.)) pointed me to the fact. For me it was the first time ever to see the colours before the subject, a weird and unexpected experience and I will be trying to test this in my next exercise.

But first, to set the scene, what is mood and what is atmosphere? To me, mood seems to be a characteristic that is tied to objects, not just human beings, nor even animals or other living organisms, but anything present in the visible world. Mood, of course is a human concept and the interpretation of what we see or feel is invariably connected with being human and our individual experiences. Atmosphere, on the other hand, appears to be the sum of radiated moods and by reciprocal action may influence the mood of someone or something within its reach. Therefore I think, but I may be totally wrong here, that as a painter I should be unable to capture a mood without capturing an atmosphere. In order to provide a portrait with both I need to feel carefully this radiation and should eventually be able to trace it back to the mood of the portrayed person.

How does colour come in here? It will most certainly not be enough to call on colour symbolism and paint a green face to portray envy or a red face to convey anger, or whatever. A person is never only the stage for one feeling, but “mood” seems to be the sum of feelings felt at a moment in time, as a result of intrinsic sources and in resonance with the atmosphere. I think that it is only possible to capture mood and atmosphere by letting oneself to be guided by the messages picked up by intuition.

So, how do other artists use colour here? Because of the strong impression left by the first encounter, I decided to stay with Jawlensky and see whether I could find out some principles by comparing some of his works.

First, his “Head in Blue” (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Head in Blue”, 1912, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Comons
My impressions in short:

  1. Outline of head and surroundings are both more or less the same colour, so the person seems to be in resonance with the surroundings
  2. The strong lines, bold blocks of colour and shape of the facial features suggest a strong character, who shows it at the moment of painting: she is alert, but in a “cool” manner
  3. The chosen colours remind me of the image produced by a thermal camera, although the result would in reality be somewhat different. Interestingly, this observation ties in with my concept of mood and atmosphere influencing each other by means of “radiation”. The red – warm – areas I interpret as those active in radiation and re-radiation: The person is active in taking in her surroundings by vision and smell, less so by hearing, little by touch, but not at that moment by verbal communication

When comparing the above with other portraits by Jawlensky, e.g. “Frauenkopf” (1911), the difference in colour between surroundings and head act to leave the impression of an introvert character. The somewhat erratic brush strokes defining the outline seem to indicate a conflict with the environment and the eyes, although open, do not seem to make contact with anything in particular. When looking with my thermal camera I detect the hottest, i.e. most active, areas on the forehead, cheeks and the back of the neck, as if he were struggling to keep up some appearance. Most senses and verbal communication seem not to be too active.

To me, one of the most impressive of Jawlensky’s paintings was the portrait of the dancer and actor Alexander Sakharoff :

Figure 2. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff”, 1909, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Body posture, outline, choice of colours and surrounding brushstrokes make the whole canvas a vibrating whole. To me, the dancer’s true mood might be hidden behind an air of overt professional provocation directed at the painter, enhanced by the stage dress: Here, the most important connections seem to be the eyes and their colour repeated by the environment and the red of mouth, rose and dress. While the latter send an “invitation” (red standing out from the picture plane, hot area for the thermal camera), the former seem to say “Let me see you dare” (turquoise standing back,  cool area for the camera). What a clever composition.


Arts Experts (n.d.) Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [online]. Arts Experts, New York. Available at: [Accessed 14 August 2016]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 87.

von Jawlensky, A. (1909) Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff [oil on canvas] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (19119) Head of a Woman [oil on millboard laid on plywood] [online]. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Available at: [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (1912) Head in Blue [oil on cardboard] [online]. Buchheim Museum der Phantasie, Bernried. Available at: [Accessed 14 August 2016]


Part 3, project 2, exercise 2: Looking at faces – head and shoulder portrait

Updated on 10 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

11 August 2016. Although I had initially planned to do a self-portrait here, I decided that I would ask my husband again, sitting at the dinner table, with his head resting on his arms. I thought that in this way I would be able to avoid the changes in posture mentioned on p. 86 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011), also I love my husband’s profile and I could include some silent communication with an object placed on the table in front of him. Since this was going to be a highly arranged senario, I tested a number of varieties in my mind.

12 August 2016. In the end I came up with something, which has been on our minds all summer. We will not go on a holiday this year, because the medical expert reports for our son cost an absolute fortune. Until the hospital is prepared to take the responsibility for this sum there will be no holidays for us, at least not for some time to come. Also, we have had a piggy bank the shape of a cat sitting on a shelf in our kitchen ever since we started planning a trip to Hawaii a decade ago. So this was going to be the object on the dinner table, the two of them dreaming of a holiday together.

First I had a look at several profile portraits and had a closer look at two of them, which share the type of backlight I was thinking of for my own setup (coming from behind a curtain), one by Edgar Degas (“Study of a Girl’s Head”, oil on canvas, 1880) and the incredible self-portrait by Paul Gauguin, which he had painted on Tahiti in 1896. Then I drew an inkpen thumbnail image to identify the main tonal areas (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Sektchbook page preparing composition

After that I repeated the sketch with acrylics painted directly on an ochre background in my sketchbook, mixed from vermilion red, oriental blue, cadmium yellow and titanium white, the only colours I have so far of my new brilliant quality paint. The dreaming part was done with a lot of commitment on the part of my husband, since he managed to even fall asleep at one point :o) (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Sketchbook – acrylics skecth testing setup

13 August 2016. For the actual painting I prepared the background (56 x 42 cm acrylic paper, with a strip on the right side to be removed after finishing the painting to give a square) with great care to give a believable impression of dim, warm light shining through a curtain. The third image in the following sequence was not quite dry when the photo was taken, so there is a difference between then and when I started painting on it. The later photos are closer to reality (warmer orange) (Fig. 3-5):

Figure 3. Preparing the support, stage 1
Figure 4. Preparing the support, stage 2
Figure 5. Preparing the support, stage 3

On this background, when dry, I painted in a style similar to my sketchbook image, but – being the proud owner of some Paynes grey now – paid a lot more attention to tonal details. The day was split up into several short sessions of about 20 minutes each to make the position bearable for my husband. The intermediate result shown below was quite successful with regard to the cat and my husband’s face, but leaves some work to be done on the left side, in particular on the arms, hair and T-shirt. The lighting conditions were deliberately dim again, which makes the accurate representation of skin tones a challenge, but I think that the arrangement is interesting to look at (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Intermediate stage

Here is a close-up of the cat (Fig. 7):

Figure 7. Detail at intermediate stage

I was not sure at that point whether I should cut off the white strip at all. It looked as if it belonged there and in reality there is a piece of wall in exactly that place, so I kept the option open for the moment. In the end I extended the table somewhat and left the strip intact.
Again it was immensely difficult to get a correct representation of the colours on the photo. The truth sits somewhere in the middle between the image above and the final one below (Fig. 8):

Figure 8. Finished painting

I am very happy with the result. The likeness is good (confirmed by my husband, who is very anxious in this respect) and I think that I did succeed in conveying the impression of an intense eye communication between the two and the mood associated with not being able to pack our suitcases. I also like the righthand side of the painting, glad to have extended the table in a rough manner and leaving the “wall” untouched (paper white).


Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 86.

Research point: Artists’ self-portraits

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

8 August 2016. This task was relatively specific with a set of questions to be answered while looking at five or six self-portraits with a special appeal to me. As with my research for exercise 1 of this project I decided that I would concentrate on more unusual self-portraits.

The questions are:

1. Does the artist portray himself or herself as an artist?
2. What is the purpose of the self-portrait?
3. What impression is the artist trying to convey?
4. What impression is actually conveyed?

To set the stage for a complex subject: Jeanne Ivy , researcher at the University of Maryland summarizes her own findings as follows: “Self-portraits, we have found, can be carefully staged to show the audience only what the artist wishes to project, or deeply revealing, inadvertently displaying feelings of anguish and pain. Self-portraits have been used to test new techniques, make a signature mark, launch into self-study, remember the past and as a way to release emotion … What do artists find when they search the mirror? For some, the self-portrait is a cathartic experience, a letting go of pent-up emotions. For others, the process reveals new insights about themselves and their work. For all artists, the self-portrait is an exploration, an opportunity to see beyond the image in the mirror and begin to search into the soul.”(Ivy, n.d., the paper has unfortunately been taken off the web).

Which is not a big surprise really.
So, setting off to see what some famous artists did in that respect.

Between 1888 and 1889 Paul Gauguin (1848-1903, France) went through, what it seems, a self-conscious phase of self-portraiture, a corresponding quote of his on the National Gallery of Art website reading “the face of an outlaw . . . with an inner nobility and gentleness,” a face that is “symbol of the contemporary impressionist painter” and “a portrait of all wretched victims of society.” (National Gallery of Art, 2016), as expressed with great skill in his 1889 “Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake” (Fig. 1a). Vincent Van Gogh produced a portrait of his friend in 1888 (Van Gogh, 1888) (Fig. 1b). While the chosen angle is completely different, it appears to me that not only characteristic facial traits like the hooked nose and moustache were seen by them both in a similar way, but also the perception of Gauguin’s personality as described in the above quote seems to be shared by both of them alike. Both paintings do not show Gauguin at work, but his own piece seems to serve as a caricature removed from a certain time or place, while Van Gogh seemed more interested in capturing the mood of the moment. Without the background information I might gain the impression of a certain kind of arrogance, which is especially visible in the self-portrait. But when I look at what I produce myself in a similar situation, this impression may be false and a result of the particular circumstances self-portraiture comes along with.

In 1906, Henri Matisse painted his “Self Portrait in a Striped T-shirt” (Fig. 2a). Although Matisse often depicted himself as a correctly attired artist, if not overdressed for the occasion, he appears quite relaxed here – focused on the task while not visibly at work (I have a shirt like that myself and I associate it with holiday feelings :o)). The website published by the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhangen describes the attire as that typical of the fishermen in Southern France (Aagesen, 2017). As co-founders of Fauvism, Matisse and André Derain (1880-1954, France) painted each other in 1905/1906 in Southern France (Tate, 2009). When comparing Matisse’s piece with that of his Fauvist colleague, one might guess that the relaxed attitude seems to have been part of Matisse’s nature.

When doing the vice versa experiment, comparing a self-portrait by André Derain (c.1903) and a portrait by Matisse (1905), (Fig. 3a and 3b) the same seems to be true. Both are full of movement, quite loose and relaxed, but probably not overly joyful.

Despite the deplorable brevity of Egon Schiele’s life (1880-1918, Austria), a multi-layered relationship pervaded the artist’s friendship with Gustav Klimt (1862-1918, Austria). His famous “The Hermits” (Schiele, 1912) (Fig. 4) includes a whole world of emotion between the two (Leopoldmuseum, n.d.). Klimt on the other hand never painted a self-portrait in his long life, he is quoted to have explained this thus: “I am less interested in myself as a subject for painting than I am in other people, above all women.” (Blatty, 2015).

Figure 4. Egon Schiele: “The Hermits”, 1912, oil on canvas. Source: Egon Schiele (1880-1918) [Public domain] via Wikiart
The above examples are of artists, who shared the same experiences and interests over a long period of time and seem to have known each other extremely well. This might explain the consonance. In order to see whether the opposite might turn up in one place or another I tried to find for my final example a pair of painters, whose views of themselves and each other appeared to clash.

10 August 2016. Francis Bacon (1909-1992, UK) and Lucian Freud (1922-2011, Germany/UK) appear to have been one such pair, although they seem to have spent most of their lives in very close contact before their friendship ended (Gayford, 2013). On the Metropolitan Museum’s website Francis Bacon is mentioned to have said, in 1975, of his intention behind painting self-portraits: “I loathe my own face. . . . I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve nobody else left to paint but myself.” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d.). This is quite evident in his “Three Studies for a Self-Portrait” (Bacon, 1979-80) (Fig. 5a). Lucian Freud on the other hand had a very realistic and friendly view of Bacon’s face (Freud, 1952) (Fig. 5b). Although the two artists shared their wild social lives and many views of the world, Bacon’s own life seems to have been shaken by tragedy more than Freud’s, which may make the difference.

And, once more, the vice versa experiment (unfortunately no larger public domain images are available): Bacon seems to have seem not just himself, but other people in the same light. First, a detail of Bacon’s drastic portrait of his friend in “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (Bacon, 1969) (Fig. 6a) and Freud’s kinder view of himself, despite the black eye (Freud, ) (Fig. 6b):

Not surprisingly, there are as many reasons for, and approaches to, self-portraits as there are in any other field of art. The only difference may be that our cultural background makes the access to oneself difficult for some. It is not everybody’s cup of tea to lay bare one’s soul for public scrutiny.


Aagesen, D. (2017) Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Self-Portrait, 1906[online]. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Bacon, F. (1969) Three Studies of Lucian Freud [oil on canvas triptych] [online]. Private collection. Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2016]

Blatty, D. (2015) Gustav Klimt. Biography [online]. Bio. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Derain, A. (c.1903) Self-portrait in the Studio [oil on canvas] [online]. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Derain, A. (1905) Henri Matisse [oil on canvas] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Freud, L. (1952) Francis Bacon [oil on copper] [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2016]

Freud, L. (c.1978) Self-Portrait With Black Eye [oil on canvas] [online]. Private collection. Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2016]

Gauguin, P. (1889) Self-Portrait With Halo and Snake [oil on panel] [online]. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Gayford, M. (2013) Friends, Soulmates, Rivals: The Double Life of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud [online]. The Spectator, London, 14 December 2013. Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2016]

Ivy, J. (n.d.) Self-Portrait as Self-Study. The Exploration of Self: What Artists Find When They Search in the Mirror [online]. University of Maryland. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016, no longer available]

Leopoldmuseum (n.d.) Egon Schiele, The Hermits [online]. Leopold Museum, Vienna. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Matisse, H. (1905) André Derain [oil on canvas] [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Matisse, H. (1906) Self-Portrait [oil on canvas] [online]. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

National Gallery of Art (2016) Paul Gauguin. Self Portrait 1889. Overview [online]. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Schiele, E. (1912) The Hermits (oil on canvas] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Tate (2009) André Derain: Henri Matisse, 1905

[online]. T [Accessed 8 August 2016]

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (n.d.) Three Studies for a Self-Portrait [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2016]

Van Gogh, V. (1888) Portrait of Gauguin [oil on burlap] [online]. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Available at: [Accessed 8 August 2016]

Part 3, project 2, exercise 1: Looking at faces – self-portrait

Updated on 10 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

4 August 2016. I will need to set up my easel in our small shower room, there are no other suitable mirrors in our house. Sounds like fun, not quite looking forward to spending so much time in that room. On the other hand, thinking of claustrophobia and inadequate lighting I might be able to convey an atmosphere containing a certain amount of suspense. I have been thinking of painting not just my self-portrait, but me looking into the mirror from the side while painting the self-portrait. Will see whether I am able to do this and therefore off to some research about this type of indirect self-portrait (Collins, n.d.).

5 August 2016. It is hard to believe, but the surviving record of painted self-portraiture starts as late as the 15th century with the ingenious Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441, Netherlands) (Jones, 2002). His famous Arnolfini portrait (Fig. 1), for example, contains, in a mirror behind the portrayed couple, a tiny representation of himself. This conceptual trick provides a link with the real world in a fictitious environment (Jones, 2002):

Figure 1. Jan van Eyck: “Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and His Wife” (detail), 1434, oil on oak panel. Source: Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441) [Public domain] via The National Gallery

A hundred years later a similar idea – reality mingling with fiction by the presence of the painter and the mirror image on the back wall –  forms part of Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velásquez’s (1599-1660) masterpiece  “Las Meninas” (Fig. 2):

Figure 2. Diego Velásquez: “Las Meninas”, 1656-57, oil on canvas. Source: Diego Velásquez (1599-1660) [Public domain] via Wkimedia Commons
This approach of using a convex mirror to include more than juts the artist’s face but the environment he is working in, has been popular throughout the ages, see also 20th century painter Mark Gertler (1891-1939, UK) (Art History Today, 2009) (Fig. 3):

Figure 3. Mark Gertler: “Still Life With Self-Portrait”, 1918, oil on canvas (?). Source: Mark Gertler (1891-1939) [Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988] via Art UK
Since the approach to solving the problem of how to include a truthful likeness of the artist seems to have been mirrors for a very long time due to a lack of other devices, I decided that I would jump to the increasing possibilities derived from the advent of more modern materials and imaging systems.

The stunning effect of using a mirror in a self-portrait in an unconventional way can be seen in the brilliant photo “Invisible” by Laura Williams (*1995, UK). To transport this effect into a painting has certain obstacles regarding the use of brushes and seeing one’s own face while holding the mirror, so this may not be readily feasible.

Looking for more feasible options in environments close to my own idea I quickly came across a self-portrait done by Jenny Saville (*1970, UK) in her bathroom in 1991. I am always amazed at the casual naturalness some artists have in approaching their own body and I envy this grace. Still, the setup of this self-portrait is “conventional” insofar as no indirect source of information is included. Of course, there are several kinds of indirect self-portraits, of which Tracy Emin’s (*1963, UK) “My bed” (Emin, 1998) is particularly talkative, but I am quite sure that this is not what is expected from us at this point of the course.

I had a concluding look at lots of conventionally set up self-portraits done by other contemporary artists, including Andy Warhol (1928-1987, USA) Kear, 2015), Chuck Close (*1940, USA) (Artaic, 2016), Scott Rasmann (*?, USA) (Rasmann, 1999), Daniel Lumbini (*1978, UK) ((Lumbini, n.d.), which I liked a lot!) as well as John Singer Sargent via a John Myatt video (The ArtyBartfast, 2012), a wonderful early work by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959, UK) (1914) (Day, 2013 and Fig. 4 below) as well as an uncanny picture by Johannes Kahrs (*1965, Germany) (Schwabsky, 2002).

Figure 4. Stanley Spencer: “Self-portrait”, oil on canvas, 1914. Source: Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
With all these wildly different viewpoints and ideas at the back of my mind I realise that there is no other way to myself than my own and there is no shortcut. Which takes me back to my reluctance here. As long as there is a message I want to convey that has nothing to do with me as a person, I am quite fearless, but as soon as I need to have a closer look at what I am, there is a complete change. So, my idea of leaving the bathroom in semi-darkness with light coming only from behind me through the door (no window in this room, hence the claustrophobia), setting up the easel with my back to the door, there is a very interesting and disturbing distribution of light both in the room, leaving most of my face in darkness. This is what I will go for. Hiding for a good cause ;o).

7 August 2016. It took me two days to come up with a result and, not surprisingly, the bad lighting conditions caused problems. So I produced three investigatory sketches, one ink pen sketch to get accustomed to the setup and the rough overall distribution of tonal values, another one with my wonderful new artist’s quality Schmincke paint and some aluminium foil, another one using monochrome watercolour to have a look at my face. The exercise itself I completed on my 36 x 48 cm 420 g acrylic paper. Here is the sequence (Fig. 5-7):

Figure 5. Sketchbook: ink pen sketch
Figure 6. Sketchbook: preliminary acrylics painting on A4 paper and aluminium foil
Figure 7. A3 watercolour self-portrait

I was extremely happy to have done the preliminary investigation, otherwise it would have become very difficult to make the painting in the dim light.
For the finished piece I prepared a black and brown background, to which I glued another piece of aluminium foil, but this time with the reverse, matt, side up. Then I prepared a thin glace of bluish and light violet to allow light into the room. The actual mirror image I painted mostly on the foil. This is the result (Fig. 8):

Figure 8. Finished painting – acrylics on A3 paper and aluminium foil

There are many details I would need to improve to make this painting more than a sketch, but although in the final piece my face was much smaller (about 6 cm in size) than in the above watercolour sketch, I managed to get the main features correct, in particular the tonal values were mostly fine despite the darkness. I know that both the white of the eyes and lips would be darker in real life, but I liked the strange effect both of them had and decided that I would leave them as they were. I also like the effect the aluminium foil has, I believe that it helps to make the mirror image somewhat believable.
Here are two details I am very happy with – the T-shirt and the towel – and, since this exercise is about portraiture after all, my face (Fig. 9-11):

Figure 9. Detail of finished painting
Figure 10. Detail of finished painting
Figure 11. Detail of finished painting

The Schmincke paint is quite incredibly good, I could not believe my eyes. It was so easy to blend, so smooth and effortless to spread even with the smallest brush I have and I hardly used any paint. I have read one or two warnings regarding student quality acrylic paint and I have used the highest quality Schmincke watercolour paint for almost 20 years now, but somehow it took me four years to realise how big the difference in acrylics really is. On the other hand, in the few week-long courses I had taken over the years no one ever mentioned the quality problem, they just told us to get big bottles of whatever we could get hold of, since it was to be experimentation only and a waste of money to buy any better. Never mind, I found out for myself and to get started I will switch to smaller size canvasses, until I can handle the properties of the new colours with confidence. Also, before it was hardly possible to paint on small size canvasses, because I was simply unable to use small brushes, they would get clogged with paint, which would be dry the next minute.
I am immensely happy to have tried out the better quality, it makes the world of a difference to the outcome and to the joy of painting. Looking forward to seeing what I can do with them.

9 August 2016. Just noticed that I forgot to answer the set questions on p. 65 of the study guide:

  1. I am not sure whether the likeness is good. My husband tells me otherwise, but when I look at the paintings, both watercolour and acrylics, and compare them with self-portraits I did during Drawing 1, I get the impression that I really see myself that way. The outward likeness is probably better in the watercolour painting, also because the acrylic version is to small. I will produce a true self-portrait in the next exercise, where we are asked to paint a head and shoulder portrait, and compare that with the rest.
  2. There were no parts of the face I thought were more difficult than others, but I have been practicing painting and drawing portraits for a long time now, as part of my work as a caricaturist, where simplification is essential.
  3. By switching to high quality paint a lot of technical problems I used to experience (as described above) did not occur at all. I had to get used to wearing my reading glasses for painting, because of having chosen dim lighting conditions. There were surprisingly few problems overall.


Artaic (2016) Chuck Close: Mosaic Artist [online]. Artaic, Boston. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Collins, N. (n.d.) Self-portraits [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Day, T. (2013) Self-portraits: Stanley Spencer [blog] [online]. The Art Room

Emin, T. (1998) My Bed [frame, mattress, linens, pillows and various objects] [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Gertler, M. (1918) Still Life with Self Portrait [n.k.] [online]. Leeds Art Gallery. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Jones, S. (2002) Jan van Eyck [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Kear, J. (2015) Andy Warhol: Self-portrait, 1986 [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Lumbini, D. (n.d.) Self-portrait (not photorealistic) [n.k.] [online]. 5 Pieces Gallery, Bern. Available at:

Rasmann, S. (1999) 24″H x 15″W [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Saville, J. (1991) Self-portrait [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Schwabsky, B. (2002) Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting. Phaidon Press, pp. 164-165

Spencer, S. (1914) Self-portrait [oil on canvas] [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 10 March 2017]

TheArtyBartfast (2012) The Forger’s Masterclass – Ep.08 – John Singer Sargent [online]. The ArtyBartfast. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Van Eyck, J, (1434) Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and His Wife” (detail) [oil on oak panel] [online]. The National Gallery, London. Available at: [Accessed 10 March 2017]

Velásquez, D. (1656-57) Las Meninas [oil on canvas] [online]. Museo del Prado, Madrid.  Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Williams, L. (2013) Invisible [photograph] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]


Research: Sonia Delauney’s sketchbooks

Updated on 10 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

4 August 2016. And the last subject for now: keeping a sketchbook in the Sonia Delauney way. The Ukrainian-French artist lived from 1885 to 1979 and produced, in part, innovative geometric colour work reminding me of Josef Albers and Frank Stella (1).
As I was advised to specifically have a look at her sketchbooks I left the larger work aside. It was quite difficult to find on the web reliable sources dealing with this subject. In order to get an overview, I include here, despite having been warned by my tutor, a link to some images I found on Pinterest (2016). From what I found I can see that she liked to explore at a large scale the effects of colour and shapes and test compositions and patterns formed. One example, which did not exactly belong in the above category, but which I particularly liked was “Simultaneous Solar Prism” (Delaunay, 1914), a collage of paper snippets (?), of which I can only guess the sketchbook origin, but the subtle approach reminds me of Euan Uglow.

I do not know whether this is what I was expected to have a look at, but there was very little to find beyond the above sketchbook pages and I think that I am already learning to use my own sketchbook in that way. If there is time I will however try and find more on Sonia Delaunay, when working in my sketchbook preparing the exercises to follow.


Artsy (2016) Sonia Delaunay [online]. Artsy, New York. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Delaunay, S. (2014) Simultaneous Solar Prism [mixed media] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at:

Pinterest (2016) [n.k.] [collection of works by Sonia Delaunay]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Research: Adam Dix and the aesthetics of colour

Updated on 9 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

4 August 2016. I think it was a good idea to go through my research tasks in a marathon session. It appears that it is far easier to make the connections, if I stay tuned into the subject. So, Adam Dix (*1967, UK) next. My tutor suggested that I look up what he does after having seen my monochrome simple perspective interior (garage and barbecue), because the colours he chooses “have a similar aesthetic”. When opening his website I knew instantly what she meant. Although Dix’s main interest lies in modes and ways of communication from past to present, in one painting, it is his carefully selected muted colours, mostly monochrome, which appeal strongly to me. Since the meanings of colour are more or less universally shared in the Western world, the monochrome settings convey a mood shared by all the subjects depicted in the painting and the viewer. This is particularly evident in “Watch Over Me”, (Dix, 2015) or “Do You Receive Me” (Dix, 2012). The bluish grey haze provides a ghostly setting, where I feel a sense of loss, although the people sitting at the table seem to be doing their best to communicate a belonging together. While I strongly assume that Dix’s choice of colour was deliberate, I cannot say that mine was, especially since some of my acrylic mixes dry up to produce hues totally different from the mix in the wet state. But I will keep that aspect in mind and return to my subject of how to use colour in the conveyance of certain moods, probably already in the self portrait I have to do as my next exercise.


Dix, A. (2015) Watch Over Me [ink and oil on panel] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Dix, A. (2012) Do You Receive Me [ink, fluorescent pigment and oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Gallery visit: Arik Brauer and Alexander Timofeev in the Weihergut gallery

Updated on 7 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

4 August 2016. On 1 August we had an appoinment with our new lawyer in town. Since it is rare for us to be in the city centre at all, we took the opportunity to visit the Weihergut gallery (Galerie Weihergut Linzergasse, 2016). There were two painters on show, who could not be more different. One of them was the multi-talented Viennese phantastic realist Arik Brauer (*1929, Austria). Brauer is an important part of my childhood memories. My parents had one or two records by him in their cupboard and I still love the colourful cover paintings and the wonderfully sensitive songs, all painted, written and performed by him. For his unique style, closely related to that of the old masters, see a series of paintings on display in the Leopold Museum in Vienna, where his work is described in the following way: “… he cultivated a style that was to once again capture the imagination and accommodate the art of storytelling and joy of invention” (2).

The other one was Alexander Timofeev (*1971, St. Petersburgh) (3), whose approach ties in with black romanticism (using techniques intended to produce a frightening atmosphere). In preparation of a series of paintings Timofeev creates sceneries with actors and costumes, takes several super high resolution photographs and paints from those. The resulting hyperrealistic erotic oil paintings are of incredible detail and accuracy, radiating a great talent for conceptualizing and arranging, but the sheer number of large-scale paintings produced in 2016 and already on display in our gallery makes me wonder how he does it. I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable around hyperrealism, no matter how technically proficient.


Galerie Weihergut Linzergasse (2016) Galerie Weihergut Linzergasse [online]. Galerie Weihergut Linzergasse, Salzburg. Available at: [Accessed 4 August 2016]