Review of ‘Portrait and Figure’

This has been, for me, a difficult module to get through. My attempts at figure drawing over the years have been few and far between and my main problem was where to start. My local library has a good selection of practical art books and I did some initial reading to try and work out an approach. I researched artists’ self-portraits finding that I had a leaning towards minimal, textured work. And then I started to think about it too much and came to a halt.

I was really struggling at this point and mentioned this to an artist friend. Her response was to show me some of her sketchbooks with pages of big drawings, small drawings, no drawings, abandoned drawings, random thoughts and lists related to projects she was involved with. Lesson 1: dive in and just do something.

So I made a start on some self-portraits using pastels with no clear approach but it stopped me being at a standstill. My first self-portrait in acrylics seemed like a huge milestone to reach and the fact that it looked like anyone, never mind myself, gave me some hope.

I was lucky in that a friend and my husband were willing to pose for some of the exercises and that, in itself, forced me to refine my working methods. Initially, each exercise seemed to take an inordinate amount of time which isn’t too helpful when you have a willing (or conscripted) model in front of you. I developed an approach of starting with small line drawings and quickly trying out different poses. Once I had a pose that offered potential I took photographs so that I had some record of the composition and lighting for further reference. After that I began to work on tonal and colour studies.

Having submitted the work to my tutor she felt that I had difficulties with form and paint application but that, on the whole, I managed to convey a sense of character in the portraits. She also suggested trying out different mediums such as oils, using acrylics in a more impasto way and exploring the textures that can be achieved with various mediums.

While this module has been difficult it is worth working through it and I say that even though, at several points, I was tempted to give in:

  • In general I now have more of an approach to a subject starting with line drawings, tonal and colour studies. That gets me focused and generating ideas rather than staring at a blank page or thinking to a point of paralysis.
  • Working with a model made me very aware of how slow I was and this made me rethink my approach and work more quickly.
  • I would like to try using figures in my work more often but will need to ensure I practice on a regular basis.
  • Going to a class to get an idea of different approaches and methods would be useful.
  • Trying out different mediums and exploring textures is also on my ‘to do’ list.


Since I wrote this review I have undertaken a figure drawing class and an introduction to oil painting workshop. Both of these have been really helpful in terms of technique and getting past that ‘where to start’ moment. One of the tutor’s on the figure drawing workshop stressed the need for continual practice to make progress.

Based on feedback from my tutor I also reworked the self-portrait assignment.

Following the blogs of fellow OCA students has also been really helpful. From reading them it looks as if this module is one that gives us all a lot of concern but the results that people can produce, despite their apprehensions, is enough inspiration in itself.

Related posts

Assignment 3 – Self-portrait – version 2 –

Self-portrait using pastels

Introduction to oil painting workshop –

Figure drawing workshop –


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