To explore the human figure component of their coursework, our A Level Art pupils have been painting self-portraits. Taking inspiration from American painter, artist and photographer Charles Thomas “Chuck” Close, our young artists used some of his techniques to create massive-scale photorealist portraits, one in charcoal and one in oil paint. Here you can read more about the technique and what our pupils learned from creating detail and depth in their work.

Usually I prefer to create my paintings in a more expressive way however I enjoyed learning how to paint in a more realistic, better toned and detailed manner. Both my colour and tone mixing skills vastly improved.

Pippa (J)

Honor (J)

I began by gridding up an A4 image of myself before recreating a larger grid on a plain piece of A0 cartridge paper. Using this technique, we painted each diamond individually according to the corresponding colours and tones in the A4 image. It enabled me to focus on overall tones, not being distracted by outlines or positioning of the features. By painting on such a large scale, I have been able to concentrate on all the changes in colour and light and direction of my brushstrokes.

Zadie (M)

For the oil paint portrait, the 16×16-gridding method really helped with the proportioning without even drawing an outline. By using the technique and focussing on one diamond of the grid at the time, you realise the expanse of colours in every detail of the picture so I was able to improve my skill of mixing colours. The project gave me a greater appreciation of the grid method as it was almost impossible to make something out of proportion.

Ella (M)

Using a grid for my self-portrait helped make the painting hyper-realistic; using oil I was able to match the exact colour and create added texture. I painted it over two weeks as it meant that I could see what needed to be changed over time. These skills will help me in my future projects as I now have a deeper understanding of mixing colour and tone.

Lydia (K)

Through using the grid method I was able to isolate each diamond section separately and paint the colours of that section as they appeared in the original photo. By viewing my image as simply a collection of diamonds rather than a whole face, it forced me to focus on mixing the precise tone section by section, thereby creating more detail. This provided the forensic focus revealing the wide variation of colour on a granular basis that appears within a single image.

Yoyo (K)

Painting a self-portrait in this way helped me to practise scaling up a picture, in this case from A3 to A0 and the diamond grid provided me with an accurate scale and a sense of fragments. I used oil paint in order to create the rich texture and the variety of colours. Learning the technique has been a useful exercise and given me a skill that I will definitely use in my future art projects when I need to scale something up or down.

Camilla (I)

I found that compiling my A0 self-portrait using charcoal helped me develop my tonal skills. I took a black and white photo of myself so that I could see the variation of tone in the picture to begin the drawing. I then marked out a grid to see where the features of my faces would end up on the page. I started by drawing the rough shape and features of my face whilst focusing on the tone rather than doing the features first and the tone second. This was to make sure my drawing flowed and was true to a human face.

Josie (K)

I had never used oil paint on a grid before and found that I thoroughly enjoyed learning the technique. It enabled me to practise hyperrealism and explore the different tones in my face. The water-based oil paint I used was really easy to work with and I found I was able to soften and blend my features.

Pippa (J)

I had a photo taken of me in the sun in order to show lots of tone in the photo using shadow and colour of the sunlight. Using the grid technique I was able to capture so much detail in each diamond I painted. I learned a lot about using tone and colour as, when painting a self-portrait, there are so many different hidden tones. By taking a closer look you can see many different colours you had not noticed before. Usually I prefer to create my paintings in a more expressive way however I enjoyed learning how to paint in a more realistic, better toned and detailed manner. Both my colour and tone mixing skills vastly improved.

Alice (M)

Although I did not enjoy the time consuming nature of drawing the grid I would say I have learned a lot from the project. I could not quite match the colours from my photo so really just went with the flow and it has ended up quite green. I liked utilising the gridding method as it made the perspective easier to figure out. This was my first time using oil paint and producing a range of colours, just not the ones I needed. It took me a long time to get into the groove of painting with oil paint but once I did everything clicked and, while the project remains unfinished, I am really proud of the quarter of my painting and I hope to finish it one day.