Exercise: Head and shoulder portrait


Portrait of Tracey Emin, acrylic on paper , 36 x 27cm

I haven’t got a sitter available right now and if I am to keep to my schedule I must keep working (in Drawing One waiting for convenient times for family members to sit for me and for life drawing classes put me way behind and I cannot afford to lose time now if I am to complete my Level one modules in the four-year time-span).

This work follows on from the sketchbook pencil portraits I did a while back of artists  I admire. I chose Tracey Emin for this exercise because I have recently found myself appreciating her work and understanding better how her art is focused in on herself . I’ve worked from a photograph by Geoff Pugh and added as a background one of Emin’s 2014 figure paintings ‘The Legs’. The painting is faceless but I’m fairly sure it is Emin. By bringing the two together I’m putting a face to the faceless figure.

Of course, by choosing to paint a person who many people recognise I’ve set myself up for harsh judgment. If I’d painted my auntie few people would be able to question whether it was a likeness or not!

I chose to paint with black and white  in order to avoid copying the colour photograph slavishly and used brush and credit card to apply the paint. I worked quickly – as is my new resolve.

What works / doesn’t work so well?

  • I’m pleased with the painting conceptually and also the technique.
  • There is something of Emin about it but the chin is too weak. Also there is a slight sense of frailty which doesn’t feel right and the shoulders are  too narrow. I’m becoming acutely aware that achieving a good likeness is about closely observing and being able to reproduce the relationship between all the features of the face. If one little angle, size or position is out, it throws the whole portrait out. Challenging… but I like to be challenged.
  • If I had time to spare I’d have another crack at this as it feels on its way to somewhere and step in the right direction in terms of my personal skills and style.


Prep and process


Charcoal underdrawing – this was probably more Emin-like than the final painting in which I lost the strong, angular jaw


Quick drawing / painting in A4 sketchbook for composition /concept





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