Kicking my own ass

One of the most satisfying discoveries for an artist is to find that your skills have improved. Even better: discovering that your skills have improved a lot. About three years ago I was part of a group on DeviantArt that challenged artists to kick their own ass. I thought this was a cool challenge and I created two new works that showed just how much my portrait skills had developed in a timespan of 5-6 years. Especially positioned next to the old portrait, it is just immensely satisfying to find that the new portrait kicks ass. 🙂 Today I will feature the first of my two challenge portraits. Come back next week for the second!

The first time I tried the kick your own ass challenge, I drew the same photo again 5 years later: 2004 versus 2009. The subject is of course Ewan McGregor. The old drawing is on A4, the new drawing on A5. The reference photo is an autographed photo that I received after sending Mr. McGregor a thank you-painting when I was 13 years old. I still have it in a frame 🙂 Without further ado:


So what have I learned in those 5 years? Well, what have I NOT learnt?! Here is a little list of the improvements I find most striking:

:bulletgreen: Proportions. They are absolutely essential and the key to drawing good portraits. Since I don’t use grids or anything, this is largely a skill of the eye, and the ability to translate that information into lines on a sheet of paper. The old Ewan has eyes that are too big, a habit that took some time for me to unlearn and which I see almost every portraitist struggle with, especially if they also draw manga (something I never have).
:bulletgreen: Contrast. This is a fabulous thing, and something that cannot be achieved unless one uses both soft and hard pencils. (4H-9B) In 2004 I was clearly terrified of putting any pressure on my pencils, or using a softer pencil.
:bulletgreen: Hair. I have never cared much about hair, and still don’t. However, along the way I realised that if I want hair to look good, I have to spend time on it, often as much time as I spend on the entire face.
:bulletgreen: My shading has improved as I became less scared of screwing things up, and started understanding more about the facial features that are betrayed by shadows.
:bulletgreen: Finally, and most importantly, I have managed to instill life and personality into my portrait. This is my main goal for every portrait.

However, there are also things I hope to improve (more) on in the future:

:bulletorange: Noses. As you can probably see, I have hardly improved on the way I draw noses. They are tricky things, because in full-frontal perspective noses are nothing but a bunch of shadows in the right places.
:bulletorange: Skin texture. This is something I haven’t been able to achieve at all yet.

So, what do you think? Did I miss an improvement? Do you think there are still areas for me to improve on? Did you ever do a challenge like this? Let me know!

Come back next week for my second pair of improvement portraits! If you want, you can sign up with your emailaddress to be notified when I post a new blog. You can do this on the home page, on the right-hand side of the screen.

2 responses to “Kicking my own ass

  1. I Couldn’t Agree More About The Hair – I’m Currently Working On A Portrait & I’ve Spent A Day & A Half Just Working On The Hair Alone, So Far … But It’s Amazing The Difference It Makes To The End Result When You Put As Much Time & Effort Into The Portrait As A Whole & Not Just The Facial Features.
    Also – That’s Really Interesting, To See How You’ve Improved!! & You Really Have Improved, A Lot!! More Than Anything, I Think It’s Obvious How Much Your Confidence In Your Work & Your Own Ability Has Changed, Maybe That Has Effected Your Improvement As Much As Your Development In Your Skills?!

    Lovely Drawings & A Very Interesting Post!! xx

    • Oh, sounds like an exciting project! I’d love to see it when it’s done! And that is a good point you make. Confidence is definitely an important factor, too.

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