Self Portrait #2


Materials: ballpoint pen (black) + black fine-point Sharpie marker + Staedtler colored pencils

Time: 20  hours

Reference: photo of myself taken August 14, 2016. I look tired, because it was taken very early in the morning. And I look sad, because I’d said an indefinite goodbye to someone I love two days before. I took this photo because I realized that I’d never drawn sadness.

Comments: it was very difficult for me to complete this sketch. My style has improved a lot since I first started drawing portraits, but increased skill creates higher expectations, and I was disappointed to feel my old paralyzing perfectionism emerging once more. And drawing my own sadness meant that I was reminded – over and over – of the reasons for that sadness. Fighting perfectionism and embracing sadness for the duration of this drawing was emotionally exhausting. But I found that I was more comfortable drawing a self portrait this time. After my first self portrait, I said I liked my eyes and my hair and my collarbone. After my second self portrait, I realized – with great surprise! – that I actually like my whole face.


“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.”
– Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, 2003)

Portrait: S & R


Materials: ballpoint pen + colored pencils

Time: 20 hours

Reference: photo of my friend and his husband from their 2015 holiday card. I wanted more practice drawing smiles and I loved both of their smiles in the photo. I also wanted to try drawing two faces in the same sketch.

Comments: this was the most challenging and most enjoyable portrait so far! For some reason I felt more pressure to do a good job on this drawing… maybe because they are faces of friends rather than celebrities so I thought their portrait deserved even more respect. Drawing two faces at the same time was difficult. I had originally planned to finish one face completely and then draw the other, but in order to balance the darkness of shading I had to keep switching back and forth between the two. Since finishing this portrait, I have realized that the blackness of the ink tends to fade slightly over the next couple days… I should have returned to this drawing to darken the ink and even out the shading a few days later.


“I do have my own personal convictions and values, and I live by those. But as an artist… my job is to tell the truth and to capture someone’s spirit on a certain day. And it’s never the whole truth; it’s the truth I experience in a very intense and intimate fashion.”
– Platon (New Republic, A Conversation with Platon, 2013)

Self Portrait #1


Drawing this self portrait was a fascinating experience.

Before I ever start a drawing, I spend a lot of time analyzing the face in the reference photo, observing the technical aspects of facial proportions and composition and contrast, and figuring out how to capture the emotion in their expression. It’s an intellectual and artistic analysis done from a detached, non-judgmental, keenly observant, and empathetic perspective. This process has completely changed the way I see my own face in the mirror. Now I see my face with so much more interest – what’s unique about her face? how would I capture her expression there? – now I see my face with so much more compassion.

Drawing my self portrait (titled #1 because I think there will be more!) was very strange at first, like an out-of-body experience, similar to my mirror experiments but more prolonged and more precise. I deliberately drew all the facial imperfections that have long been a source of self-consciousness for me: acne scars on my left cheek, the vein that so prominently traverses my left temple, right iris heterochromia.

After I finished the sketch, I realized that I actually like my eyes – they are very big, very expressive, and asymmetrically colourful. I also like my collarbones and the upper pectoral definition on my chest, the hard-earned result of thousands of pushups. And I’ve always loved my short, messy hair.

I never thought I would be capable of drawing my own face. My self portrait took six hours to complete… six hours staring at my face, after six years of showering in the dark and avoiding mirrors with pathological self-loathing.


Materials: ballpoint pen (black) + black fine-point Sharpie marker + Staedtler colored pencils

Time: 6  hours

Reference: photo of myself taken July 16, 2016 on the stairs at a city train station. I chose that photo because the lighting provided good contrast and the cautious, wary facial expression is characteristic of my chronic skepticism.

Comments: I sign most of my drawings as TM. But I have as many names as I do clothes, so when I started drawing again, I was initially unsure what my signature should be. Most commonly I go by Thomas or by my given name (which starts with J), so I decided to sign with a provisional TM. I can turn the T into a capital J with a single curved stroke of the pen if I want. I signed this self portrait with JM because my given name and the face I drew have been mine my whole life. Thomas is a newer addition.


Irene Adler: Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.
Sherlock Holmes: You think I’m a vicar with a bleeding face?
Irene Adler: No, I think you’re damaged, delusional and believe in a higher power. In your case, it’s yourself. And somebody loves you.
– BBC Sherlock (S02, E01 – A Scandal in Belgravia)

Portrait: P!nk


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, green) + black fine-point Sharpie marker + Staedtler colored pencils

Time: 5 hours

Reference: P!nk, pop/R&B singer, songwriter, actress. I love her androgynous appearance. I also wanted to try another smile (first smile Tom Hardy).

Comments: I was very upset about external circumstances while completing this drawing, so I did not enjoy the process but I forced myself to continue drawing anyway. I am not happy with this sketch – her hairline is too low on her forehead, and the shading is poorly done. But I do like her smile, and I’m glad I was able to finish the drawing.


So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways, all my underdogs
We will never be, never be anything but loud
And nitty gritty, dirty little freaks
Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass!
Just come on and come on and raise your glass!
– P!nk (Raise Your Glass, 2010)

Portrait: Alan Rickman (Severus Snape)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black) + black Bic marker + black fine-point Sharpie marker

Time: 10-12 hours

Reference: Alan Rickman as Severus Snape on the poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010). Continued recent work with black. Different facial angle than previous portraits and wanted to try a cropped composition. Snape is my favorite character in the Harry Potter series!

Comments: my shading has improved and looks a lot smoother now. I also learned more about capturing hair and clothing details in a black background (continued from the Joker). I’m really happy with this one!



“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses… I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death.”
– Professor Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997)


Portrait: Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, red) + black fine-point Sharpie marker

Time: 5 hours

Reference: Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). As I noticed myself choosing only male faces for previous portraits, I kept wanting to try a female face but something kept preventing me from doing so. It wasn’t until I had gained a greater measure of peace with my own mirror image that I could finally draw a woman, especially with her chest partially visible. I also wanted to try a slightly different style with less detailed shading and high contrast.

Comments: really enjoyed this one, especially the dragon! Pencil allowed for outlines of face and body. Eraser allowed only when the drawing was complete. This style is visually striking but not technically challenging. Prep work prior to starting the drawing is increasingly helpful.



“I can be a regular bitch. Just try me.”
– Lisbeth Salander
(Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2005)

Portrait: Heath Ledger (The Joker)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red) + black Bic marker

Time: 6 hours

Reference: Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). Wanted to try a very different style with more black and more abstract representation of facial features. Also wanted to try to create a compelling portrait without being able to rely on detailed colorful eyes to draw attention.

Comments: most fun so far!!! Pencil allowed for outer face shape and outline of eyes. Eraser allowed only when the drawing was complete. Did lots of practice work to figure out the best method for black (high-density layering of black pen with marker over top) and the best way to draw hair to against a black background (could not use my previous scribbly style). Really happy with this one!



“Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.
Oh, and you know the thing about chaos?
It’s fair.”
– The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)

Portrait: Tom Hardy


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red, green)

Time: 6 hours

Reference: Tom Hardy (not in any character role). Chose a face with a happy, smiling expression and a more challenging posture (face slightly angled, head tilted upwards and looking over shoulder).

Comments: definitely the most challenging portrait so far. Pencil allowed for outer face shape and outline of eyes. Eraser allowed only when the drawing was complete (to remove traces of pencil outline). A smile is very difficult to capture, especially with an open mouth and visible teeth. Also very difficult to make his body position look natural. I’m happy with his shirt and necklaces, usually I don’t enjoy drawing clothing. Doing a five minute practice sketch first was helpful.



“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
– Eames (Inception, 2010)

Portrait: Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock Holmes)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, green)

Time: 2 hours

Reference: Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary (2012 – ). Chose a face in semi-profile for more challenge, with short stubble to try a different texture. I will admit that I’m a huge fan of various book and television versions of Sherlock Holmes, and I think Elementary provides the most compelling characterization of Holmes and Watson.

Comments: pencil allowed for outer face shape only. No eraser. Facial proportions accurate. Shading smoother. Eyes and hair consistently the most enjoyable aspects of a portrait. I lost interest after finishing the face and decided not to darken his jacket.


“I mean, Watson, that I am an important part of your life. And you are an important part of mine. And even though we might draw further or nearer from each other depending on circumstance, you and I are bound, somehow.”
– Sherlock Holmes (Elementary: S03/E04, 2014)

Portrait: Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red, green)

Time: 90 minutes

Reference: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in BBC Sherlock (2010 – ). Chose Cumberbatch for his very distinctive facial features. Slight head tilt for challenge.

Comments: pencil allowed for outer facial shape only. No eraser. Facial proportions much more accurate than previous drawing. Shading still very rough. Satisfied overall, but considerable room for improvement.


“Heroes don’t exist. And if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.”
– Sherlock Holmes (BBC Sherlock: S01/E03 – 2010)