A Portrait With All the Trimmings


The final project for my life drawing class was also a full body self portrait.  For this project, I challenged myself to do the opposite of my midterm (read about that project here).  My midterm was in a relatively high key (featuring predominately white/light gray tones), no crosshatching, and showed me (in an open pose) as a glamorous figure.  Therefore I wanted this project to be mostly dark with a lot of hatching, featuring myself (in a closed pose) as a weird cave-like creature (who values personal hygiene).

The midterm was absurdly welcoming, almost like an advertisement.  My goal for this final was to make the viewer feel uneasy, like an intruder.  I think I achieved this.  My classmates had eagerly discussed my midterm, but it took the class a while to warm up to this one enough to talk about it.  One student remarked that it looked “cinematic”, and I’ll never forget the soft horror in the instructor’s voice when he said “Are you…trimming your toenails?”

I had a lot of fun with this project, and my only frustration was the damage the charcoal took on the commute to and from school.

The 18-Hour Selfie

The midterm for my life drawing class this semester was to create a full-body self portrait using charcoal.  Because this is a life drawing class, photo reference is prohibited (you can imagine how difficult the right hand was to complete!).

The Idea

Now, as those of you who have experience with self portraits from life will know, the simplest and most common method is to keep your face expressionless.  This is because the best way to ensure that your features stay in the same relative positions (and your facial muscles don’t get sore).  However, I had drawn so many self portraits this semester, I decided to make things more interesting (read: difficult).

The Undertaking

The biggest mirror I currently have access to is in my parents’ room.  With their permission, I set up a makeshift studio.  The limited space did not allow room for an easel, and this paper is 42″ tall.  My solution was to stack two bean bag chairs on my parents’ bed and lean the paper, which I had taped to a large piece of cardboard, against them.  (Naturally, I was careful to put a cover over everything!)

Then there was the problem of lighting.  My clip light was not nearly tall enough, but with the help of a fabric steamer and an extension cord, I was able to light myself from head to toe.

Now came the fun part: standing on one foot for hours on end!  The most nerve-racking aspect of the whole undertaking was probably the threat of getting charcoal on my nice white button-up shirt.  It took me about nine hours to nail down the body, and then I spent two hours working on my face.  It’s a good thing I like to smile, because holding that wacky expression for so long might have otherwise driven me insane.  It was a solid day or so before my cheek-muscles finally forgave me.

Next, it was time to draw the environment.  I didn’t want to draw my parents’ room, but I was smart enough to draw the horizon line so it wouldn’t look too wonky when I changed rooms.  I then set up shop in my own room and recreated the lighting as accurately as possible.  For this part, I had a medium-sized mirror aimed at myself so I could see how everything in the room related to my body.  I then proceeded to draw the room using the mirror as well as direct observation.  This part of the drawing took only seven hours.

The Result

Overall, I’m very happy with the outcome of this project.   It was a lot of fun to work on and it was very well received by the class.  I set out to put a silly and original spin on a traditionally serious and dreary assignment, and I think I accomplished that.  There is a minor issue with proportion (kudos if you can spot it!), which I think is partly because I had to stand so close to the mirror.  I didn’t originally intend to include so many birds in the composition, but once the rolling duck and the quetzal (hanging from the ceiling) established a pattern, I ran with it.  I never realized how many bird-related objects I owned prior to this drawing!

Dimensions: 32 x 38″
Total drawing time: 18 hours

Pet Portrait Commissions

These adorable dogs and cats were commissioned as gifts for friends of the client.  I love the challenge of capturing an animal’s unique personality!

All of these portraits are 5 x 7″.


“George” [pencil]

mable_watermark                  owen_watermark

“Mable” and “Owen” [watercolor and Micron pen]


“Tiny and McKenna” [pencil]



“Batsy” [ink and watercolor]


“Howie” [pencil]


“Tucker” [ink and watercolor]

The Pied Piper

Piper_1_forweb Piper_2_forweb Piper_3_forweb

For this project, I put a twist on the “Pied Piper” fairy tale.  In my version, a city populated by mice is plagued by all kinds of bugs!  The Piper, a jazz-playing squirrel wearing a zoot suit, rids the town of the bugs.  When the townspeople fail to pay him, he leads the children out of town as well.  The cityscape was inspired by 1930s New York.

Each spread is 9 x 12″ and done completely in graphite.  The entire project took 3 weeks to complete.