The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

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Self image: making a self-portrait

Why make a self-portrait?

A self-portrait is an exploration of your face, body and personality.

A self-portrait is an historical record of the person that made it, left behind for posterity.

A self-portrait can be a visual journal documenting something that is happening or has happened in your life.

A self-portrait is a demonstration of style and skill to show to prospective clients.

A self-portrait can be a way to experiment with pose and technique using a readily available model.

Before you start to make your own self-portrait you need to think about a few things that will affect your artwork. Looking at our self-portrait collection will help you refine your ideas.

Every year in conjunction with BP, we run a portrait competition. Over time we have seen an increasing amount of self-portrait submissions, A number of these are reproduced on this site.

People will feel very differently standing and peering at a tiny image, or standing back and gazing up at a huge one.

How large or small are you going to make your self-portrait?

People will feel very differently standing and peering at a tiny image, or standing back and gazing up at a huge one.

Isaac Fuller
by Isaac Fuller
circa 1670
NPG 2104

Edward Bawden
by Edward Bawden
NPG 5929a

What shape will it be?

Where are you going to place the figure ? Usually the face is the focal point of a portrait and is positioned somewhere near the middle - but it doesn't have to be. Will your self-portrait be a detail of your face or represent your whole body?

Desmond Haughton
by Desmond Haughton
© BP1998 Courtesy Charles and Sue Jacques

George Arnald
by George Arnald
NPG 5254

Will it be abstract or not? Are you going to put in a background behind the face or figure? Will you put in what you can actually see? Some artists use a plain colour in the background to heighten the atmosphere of their portrait. How do different colours make you feel, do they suggest certain moods? Should you use your favourite colour(s) to convey something else about yourself?

Terry Frost
by Terry Frost
NPG 6018

Anna Zinkeisen
by Anna Zinkeisen
circa 1944
NPG 5884

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Untitled, c.1973 (Alex Chilton) by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

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Archive interviews

Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.

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