Painting your portrait Brainstorming

Developing a clear understanding of how and why you want represent your subject will be integral to the success of your project.

The conventions of portraiture have their foundations in the empirical traditions. What this means is that conventionally a Portrait should be a faithful representation of the physical likeness of the subject. However since the invention of the camera the artist has been free to pursue other interpretations. In contemporary settings this has also come to include portrait paintings where the subject is absent.

Michael Zavros / 'Ars longa, vita brevis'. Finalist for the 2009 Archibald ...

Self Portrait

The way you see yourself and the way others see you differs significantly. Below are some things to consider while brainstorming possible interpretations of the current task.

Self portrait

As others see you


These are the people who raised you. Their picture of you is built on an experience that begins with your birth. No one else has this image of you and it comes with a whole lot of preset expectations that are often passed down from previous generations. They have aspirations for you that you may not necessarily agree with and expectations based on their beliefs about ability's that you may or may not have.


Your sisters and brothers have a relationship with you that is somewhat different from your parents. It encompasses exposure to behaviours that relate to birth order, sibling rivalry, shared experiences, common friendships ect


Your relatives will likely see you in a way that you may see as somewhat removed, out of touch or overly idealised.


How do your friends see you? In what way is it different to any of the above? Are you likely to share with friends things that you don't share with relatives, siblings or parents? How do you think this colours the way you are seen?


Your employer sees you in relation to your role in the work environment. Are you punctual, well presented, trustworthy, pro active etc?

As 'you' see you


Experiences that are traumatic, ecstatic, mundane, memorable etc mould our outlook and determine the kinds of things we are attracted to or avoid.


Selective, manufactured, enhanced and suppressed memories can significantly colour the perception of your internal and external worlds.


The way the body and brain functions can impact on how you interact with the world and others thereby colouring your perceptions.

Body image

Who determines the way you feel about your body and why is this important?


These are almost always seen as the positive side of your attributes. The perceived potential for you to do well is usually derived from your and / or other peoples ideas about what abilities you have or don't have.


These are the perceived sum total of your positive and negative physical, mental and emotional qualities.

Psychological makeup

This is a complex area of perception. The term itself is somewhat abstract in that the ego (constructed sense of self) is enmeshed with inherited traits, cognitive dispositions and physical and mental agility.


Is the subject known to you?


How does your relationship to you subject influence the way you intend to represent them?


Do you idealise your subject? Have you placed this person on a metaphorical pedestal? How might this influence the way you paint your portrait?


Is there a way to represent the subject that might utilise stylistic / visual / aesthetic / conceptual characteristics from other artists or art movements? What techniques related to material handling are worth exploring? Do you understand the physical properties of the media you'll be using?

Known & unknown

What do you really know about your subject? What do you imagine that you know and does this or how might this fill in the gaps in your knowledge? What stories do you make up in your head about this person?

As seen by the world

Is the subject of your portrait a public figure? If so, how might this influence your perception and portrayal of them?

As seen by you

What is unique about the way you see the subject of your portrait? Are you able to capture this? If so how will you go about doing this?

As seen by others

The audience is the end consumer of your work. Do you think your portrait will be read as intended? What do you think will be possible factors in how others see your work?

Benchmark Images
Typical A range works

Typical 'B" Range Works

Created By
Gary Poulton


Gary Poulton

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