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How to paint a self portrait

Esther Curtis combines a simple gouache portrait with some words to live by. Find out how to paint a self portrait step by step

How to paint a self portrait

Bring out your best side with this gorgeous project painted in gouache. Look for pattern and colour inspiration in your wardrobe, as well as favourite phrases from your best-loved books, to add a unique twist to the traditional portrait. Your art never looked so stylish!

What is a self portrait? It is, of course, a painting of yourself! But you don’t have to make it realistic – this project is a fun way to create an illustrated version of yourself and be creative in the process. You could even choose your own favourite quote to add to the background as a personal touch. Once you’ve had a go at painting yourself, you could try painting your friends and family too.

Gouache is a versatile medium to use and professional illustrators are particularly fond of it. It can be used to create beautiful paintings with bold opaque blocks of colour and it’s easy enough for beginners to master. If you’ve never tried using gouache before, there’s need to worry: we’ll guide you through the technique step by step.

Esther says: “Make sure you have enough colour mixed in your palette before you start. Add enough water so that the paint glides onto the page and your brush leaves a smooth edge.”

We’d recommend that you invest in a gouache paint set before you begin, such as this Royal and Langnickel gouache painting set with 24 tubes (£9.70 from Amazon), but if you’re not sure if you want to spend that much you can find cheaper sets in places such as Hobbycraft.

If you haven’t painted with gouache before, take a look at our beginner’s guide to gouache before you begin.

Looking for more art projects to try? Try making our DIY painted plant pots, learn how to paint a watercolour cactus or have a go at monochrome painting for beginners. If you would like to try painting in another medium, read our how to use acrylic painting guide. We’ve also put together some easy watercolour painting ideas, fall painting ideas and art journal ideas to inspire you.

Read on to learn how to paint a self portrait…


You Will Need

  • Pencil
  • Cartridge paper
  • Brushes in a range of sizes
  • Gouache paint set

Total time:

Step 1

Lightly sketch your figure in pencil. You can use a photo to guide you, draw using a mirror or sketch from memory.

How to paint a self portrait step one

Step 2

Paint in the base colours. Try to get your edges smooth, but don’t worry if you make a mistake as you can paint over it once the paint is dry.

How to paint a self portrait step two

Step 3

Fill in the hair as flat colour for extra impact. Here Esther’s left a little gap in the fringe for a simple added detail.

How to paint a self portrait step three

Step 4

Once the base colour is dry, use a fine brush to add the details and pattern. Don’t be afraid to go bright and bold!

How to paint a self portrait step four

Step 5

Carefully paint in the facial features. You don’t have to get too detailed here, just an impression is enough.

How to paint a self portrait step five

Step 6

It’s now time to add the words. Once you’ve chosen a quote, sketch it out on spare paper so you can see how it fits around the figure. Once you’re happy, practise painting the words before going for it on the final piece.

How to paint a self portrait step six

You now know how to paint a self portrait! Hang it somewhere in your home where you can admire it every day.

How to paint a self portrait
Illustration by Esther Curtis