DrawAble: Making Layered Portraits by Mike Barrett Part One

By Mike Barrett

Mike is an artist, digital creative and photographer whose work combines words, drawings, photographs, music and sound. In this resource, Mike shows young learners how to create a layered autobiographical portrait.


Mike Barrett

Notes for teachers


We’re going to be looking at building an artwork with a subtle narrative based around a portrait illustration, where the whole process starts with a drawing. So, here’s Step 1 – the drawing!


The Drawing by Mike Barrett


In much of my portrait illustration work, I build loose but purposeful narratives running through the images. This image is based around a very good musician. And as you can see, I’ve placed imagery within the artwork that relates to that musicianship – gelled lights that you might find on a stage setting, words and texts that relate to music. This musician had a dog he was very fond of, so I’ve put that in the imagery. There are also symbols relating to music, like musical notes, treble clefs and bass clefs buried in the imagery.


The Drawing details by Mike Barrett


I also use a lot of textures like paint splotch marks and different things I can find to build into the imagery to give it energy, and depth, and interest – as you can see in this illustration of this lady:


The Drawing 2 by Mike Barrett


To Begin

Of course, these images have been assembled digitally using Photoshop. But we’re going to look at making a similar style image using pens, paint, and collage. And it all starts with a drawing!

I’ve chosen to do a self-portrait. So I’m going to start with the features of the face. I’m just going to mark out the dominant features. I have an A4 piece of paper, and I am using a fountain pen to mark out the lines of my face.


Self portrait lines by Mike Barrett


Then, using a Biro pen, I’m going to use a crosshatching technique to put some texture and shade into the face. I very much look for dominant lines that make up the features of the face. I also like to be very loose and work quite quickly. This puts a lot of energy into the illustration, I find.


Self portrait shading by Mike Barrett


Then, I go over certain aspects of the image with a fountain pen, which is an ink that better reacts to water. And then I’m using a smudge pen – a water pen that you fill with water just to smudge parts of the ink in. Ad I’m also using a brush and watered down ink on a pallet – using a brush and just putting detail and texture into our image, and building up bit by bit, and making decisions as I go.


Self portrait water brush by Mike Barrett


I’m looking for something with energy, something that has strong lines. I also put a lot of detail in that, that wouldn’t be there in the image that I’m referencing. So, if I’m working off a photo, I tend to put in graphic incidents that aren’t there initially – little boxes with lines going through them, little squiggles, and all sorts of other things. This helps build up the layers and the textures, so hopefully I’ll end up with something quite energetic, and a strong image to take to the next stage.


Self portrait details by Mike Barrett


Finally, just to finish off this first step I take my portrait, and very carefully (with a pair of scissors) cut round it, leaving about a centimetre between the edge of the illustration, so it leaves a border all the way around. One of the reasons I do this is that it just makes the graphic pop out slightly, which will be interesting moving forward.


Self portrait cut out by Mike Barrett


Now this illustration is ready – and we’re ready to move on to the next stage, Step 2, which is preparing our background. You can make your portrait however you want. Look for dominant lines in the face, experiment with textures, maybe use some crosshatching, or even some watered-down inks, as I have in mine. It’s absolutely up to you – experiment, and have fun.


This is a sample of a resource created by UK Charity AccessArt. We have over 1100 resources to help develop and inspire your creative thinking, practice and teaching.

AccessArt welcomes artists, educators, teachers and parents both in the UK and overseas.

We believe everyone has the right to be creative and by working together and sharing ideas we can enable everyone to reach their creative potential.

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