Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (2023)

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

This outstanding Painting and Related Media project was completed by Abby Hope Skinner while studying A Level Art and Design at the International School of Paphos, Cyprus. Abby achieved 98% overall for A Level Art (100% for AS Art and Design) and was awarded Top in the World for the CIE June examinations, 2012. Her A2 Coursework project explores the theme ‘Identity’. She submitted 9 x A1 sheets of preparatory work, an A4 sketchbook and an A3 final piece.

Some of Abby’s sketchbook pages are included in our new book:Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools.Learn more!

The Student Art Guide regularly features exceptional high school Painting projects; it is rare that we stumble across one that is such a valuable learning opportunity for both students and teachers as this one. Abby’s project provides a clear sequence of development, personal responses and analysis of relevant artists. Her project is a comprehensive body of research, exploration and investigation of ideas – the result of a passionate, highly skilled student. We interviewed Abby to find out more: her informative responses, along with detailed images of her artwork can be found below.

Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (1)

Your project explores the theme of Identity. Talk me through why you selected this theme and which particular aspects of identity you explored.

Abby: I was able to choose any subject for my A Level Art exam.

The process that works for me, when deciding on a project, is to start with a topic or style that interests me.

At the beginning, I’m not concerned if I don’t know where the topic will take me.

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I would say that it’s possible to start with any idea. I believe it’s more how you develop the idea that counts. I decided to combine my interest in portraiture with a graphic, abstract style, which I have used in the past. I wanted to explore a graphic ‘planar’ style that I had developed prior to beginning this project. I started to think about how abstraction can challenge assumptions and prejudgments. Abstract art can separate us from the ‘known’ and force us to see things anew.


I began my preliminary work by abstracting the human face into a graphic pattern. It’s possible to become blind to the real person by building a filter of our own ‘images’, and so (whether they be a family member or a stranger) we prejudge that person. I wanted to explore ways of bringing awareness to this.

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In most cases, a project evolves, and, at some stage, there is a ‘tipping point’. It’s as if a particular theme or message materialises and encapsulates all you want to say.

I often come to this through extensive research and/or experimentation. My A Level project evolved from ‘Hands and Faces’, to ‘Prejudice’, to ‘Identity’. I finally narrowed this down to the theme of ‘My Identity’. I believe it’s essential to focus a project on a specific theme. ‘Prejudice’, as a topic, is very wide, and therefore the message can be diluted, whereas, ‘My Identity’ is more personal and focused.

I start my projects with a broad area of research and then narrow my focus into a more specific, targeted theme. I feel, the more personal and specific a project is, the more emotionally connective it tends to be. For me, emotional connection in art is one of the main requisites. In my opinion, it’s this approach in art that’s capable of changing or challenging a viewer’s outlook.

Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (4)
Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (5)
Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (6)

I think I had an underlying need to ‘speak’ about identity and my feelings of not belonging to any particular group. I am mixed-heritage and have lived away from most of my family since the age of 8. And, like most people, I’ve experience a certain amount of prejudice about ‘who I am’. I decided to use symbols, such as masks, and different styles and forms of self-portrait to discover what best expressed my message.

The process was interesting, in that it revealed I primarily identify myself as ‘an Artist’.

Your A2 Art submission is exceptionally comprehensive, with separate sub-projects leading towards the development of your final piece.Please describe how you approached and structured your Coursework project.

Abby: It was my responsibility to devise my own method of working, from idea to production. My teacher would check my progress every week, but I was encouraged to be self-reliant. I read and referred to the syllabus quite often. I also gleaned information from various websites, including the Student Art Guide.

Because I wasn’t certain what was required to achieve a good grade, I suspect I over-compensated with the work. This had an upside and a downside. As a result of working this way, I achieved a high mark. But my work-life balance was out of kilter, and the pressures were, at times, enormous.

(Video) 11 Levels of Drawing Yourself: Easy to Complex | WIRED

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I continually pushed my project by conducting research, seeking out the crux of what I wanted to say in my art. I started with a subject, found a theme within that subject, and then settled on a final message. From then on, any research and experimentation I did was directed by that message.

I think it’s important to research a variety of theoretical contexts in addition to artists and techniques. For instance, I drew inspiration from literature, music and philosophy. I find this adds more depth to the message.

I worked through the three stages of the creative process – ‘idea generation’, ‘research and experimentation’ and ‘production of the final piece’. This helped to form a complete and rounded project.

Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (8)
Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (9)

You have selected an interesting range of relevant artist models – something many students find challenging. How did you go about selecting these artists and what guided your choices?

Abby: I think it’s important to select an artist for a reason. It can help if their work or life (or identity in my case) relates to your message.

I researched artists specialising in portraiture. I took inspiration from the artist, Frida Kahlo, who painted many self-portraits. I formed the opinion, after analysing her work and researching her life, that her art expressed her struggle to console a dualistic identity. I believe this was a result of her mixed-heritage.

In all cases, I attempted to interpret the artists’ work I referenced and integrate their style or message into my own work. I emulated styles, but never directly copied. I referenced contemporary artists as well as historical artists, which gave me a broad insight into a variety of methods, both traditional and modern. Researching ‘unknown’ contemporary artists, I believe, keeps the work relevant by revealing trends in style, theme and topic.

It’s a good idea to look at websites that host artist communities. These present many different artistic styles. The artists often share a link to their personal blogs, where they may talk about their process or ideas.

Unfortunately, I was unable to see any famous art first-hand, however, I visited a few galleries in Cyprus and was able to see the work of contemporary Cypriot artists. It was beneficial to study art from a different culture. Culture shifts an artist’s perspective. New symbols and means of expression are available.

(Video) Twelve-year-old girl producing art so realistic people question if she really did it

I contacted a local Cypriot artist, Andreas Charalambides, whose work contains the recurring symbol, masks. Different interpretations can often lead to an expansion of your theme and idea.

In all forms of research and experimentation, the message was my guiding light.

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Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (11)
Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (12)

One of the most striking aspects of your project is your high level of technical skill. You have an impressive ability to replicate forms, proportion and detail. What do you believe contributed to your ability in this area?

Abby: I attended art lessons outside school, beginning at the age of 13, for 4 years. We focused on producing work from still life, but mainly from photographs. This practice helped hone my skills in replicating forms and I was introduced to many different media.

As with anything, in order to become skilled, practice is key. From a young age, I would carry a sketchbook everywhere – pens and paper were always with me. I did a prolific amount of drawings. My parents tell me I was always a perfectionist. Although I now realise perfection is unattainable, I continue to strive for it. I can always ‘do better next time’. My advice for artists who wish to improve their realism would be to practice observational drawings. Try to dispel what you think the ‘tree’ or the ‘glass’ you’re drawing looks like. Really see the positive and negative spaces. Everything is a shape. Learn your trade from the ground up. Mastering the technical skills in art gives you a foundation to build upon. Learn the basic drawing and painting principles, perspective, the grey scale, dead-layers, etc. Go beyond school, and learn about your tools and the grounds (paper, canvas, etc) available. Then add your artistry and flair to these skills. Earn the right to be experimental and avant-garde by having a solid grounding in the fundamentals. No matter what the assumption about art is, I believe it’s important to see yourself as an artisan first and then an artist.

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Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (14)

What advice do you have for other high school Art students who hope to achieve excellent grades?

Abby: Certain skills may come naturally to some more than others, but, I think the attributes that make a great artist are persistence, focus, and commitment. In my view, artists with these attributes will soon surpass those who rely solely on natural talent. Natural talent is not enough to make a successful artist. You have to continually progress, improve, and push yourself.

Too many students think studying Art is an ‘easy option’. They fall prey to the romantic image of the eccentric, care-free artist. History has shown that succeeding as an artist is hard work. In most cases, an artist needs to be self-motivated and able to switch between a creative mind and a practical mind: empathetic, open-minded, perceptive, whilst organised and efficient.

Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (15)
Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (16)

Although most people see it as an escape from academic work, I think the research and the organisation involved in producing a piece of art requires a degree of academic mindset. I think my interest in Literature, as well as other academic subjects, has benefitted my work.

(Video) My art in Class vs At home | Artcoaster #shorts

My best advice would be to make what you do relevant, emotionally connective, original and technically adept. That’s what I keep in mind when I’m creating a piece of art.

One of the artists I interviewed for my A Level Art project advised me to create work that ‘speaks about the world around us’. So, make your work current and attainable for modern audiences. Don’t get stuck in the past, unless the past is relevant to you today. Most of all, have an opinion on your world, and then go and express it through your art!

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Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (18)

Abby Hope Skinner is a talent to watch. She has recently finished her Foundation Year in the UK, where she was awarded a Distinction and the Principal’s Award for ‘Best in Show’ for her 2013 Summer Exhibition.

We will feature more of Abby’s exceptional high school Art projects in the months to come. If you found this Art project helpful, please share it using the social buttons below!

Top in the World: Stunning Self-Portraits by an A Level Art Student (19)

Amiria Gale

Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.

(Video) I Tried Realistic Portraits For 24 Hours!


Who is best known for her self-portraits? ›

Perhaps one of the most well-known female self-portraiture artists is Frida Kahlo, whose iconic self-portraits have gone on to cement her face into art history.

What artist is known for his self-portraits? ›

One of the most famous and most prolific of self-portraitists was Vincent van Gogh, who drew and painted himself more than 43 times between 1886 and 1889. In all of these self-portraits one is struck that the gaze of the painter is seldom directed at the viewer; even when it is a fixed gaze, he seems to look elsewhere.

Which contemporary artist is most well known for creating large scale portraits and self-portraits using a grid? ›

Artist Chuck Close creates large-scale portraits in a unique way. Through the use of a grid system, Close creates paintings that are composed of many squares. Like an illusion, when viewing one of these paintings close up, one sees an array of squares filled with abstract shapes and colors.

What is the most viewed portrait? ›

Arguably art history's most famous portrait ever painted, as well as the most instantly recognized artwork, is the Mona Lisa, which was painted by Leonardo da Vinci at the start of the 16th century.

Who is the most famous portrait? ›

1. The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506) By far the most famous portrait in the world, The Mona Lisa has been fascinating us for centuries.

Who was the first artist to ever do a self-portrait? ›

The Birth of Historic and Contemporary Self-Depiction

Some sources have identified the “Portrait of a Man” 6 painted by Jan van Eyck in 1433 as the world's first self-portrait (see Figure 2).

Who was the first artist to do a self-portrait? ›

"Though Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) is credited for being the first artist to consistently create self-portraits, Rembrandt (1606–1669) is given credit for being the first artist to intensely study of the self through art." The following timeline presents self portraits done by major painters working in Europe from c.

Who was the first self-portrait? ›

In 1839, a man by the name of Robert Cornelius took the very first example of self portrait photography in history. An amateur chemist, he took this photo by removing the lens cap and then running into the frame where he sat, or better yet posed, for a whole minute.

How much should I pay an artist for a portrait? ›

Typically, a small portrait painting might cost $60 to $100, while a large portrait costs $200 or more. Some artists may charge more or less depending on their experience and reputation.

Who painted the most realistic portraits? ›

Alyssa Monks is famously known for creating some of the most realistic paintings.

What artist is known for large scale portraits? ›

Inspired by their the large-scale public murals for the Work Progress Administration (WPA), abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner painted on large scale canvases that could take up entire walls, interpreted by some to represent the freedom of American expression.

Which artist is known for her introspective self-portraits? ›

Pain and Painting—the Tragic Tale behind Frida Kahlo's Self-portrait. This introspective self-portrait testifies to a painful period within Kahlo's life.

Which artist made more than 50 self-portraits? ›

Among the artists renowned for making images of themselves is the seventh-century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijan. Although art historians are still in debate over the actual number, he is assumed to have depicted himself in approximately 40 to 50 paintings, about 32 etchings, and 7 drawings.

Who is the No 1 photo the world? ›

#1 Henri Cartier-Bresson's famous photo Man Jumping the Puddle | 1930.

What is the most seen picture of all time? ›

Showing rolling green hills in Sonoma County, California, the image was shot by the side of a highway by professional photographer Charles O'Rear using a medium format camera. It has reportedly been viewed by over 1 billion people since it first emerged in 2002.

What is Da Vinci's most famous portrait? ›

Mona Lisa (c. 1503–19)

The world's most famous artwork, the Mona Lisa draws thousands of visitors to the Louvre Museum each day, many of whom are compelled by the sitter's mysterious gaze and enigmatic smile.

What makes a great portrait painting? ›

In conclusion, there are 5 core elements that make up a good portrait: Location, lighting, composition, emotion and technical settings. When all 5 of these elements are well executed, a great portrait is created. If any of these elements comes up short, the quality of the portrait suffers.

What is the difference between a portrait and a self-portrait? ›

While a portrait refers to any painting that depicts a human figure, a self-portrait refers to a painting that depicts the artist that produced it.

Why are self-portraits so hard? ›

The hardest part of a self-portrait is really looking at yourself. Most of us may glance in the mirror while brushing our teeth, or check our outfit before leaving the house, but we rarely focus on our faces. Even a person wearing make-up may isolate their features individually, rather than examining their whole face.

What is the psychology behind self-portraits? ›

A self-portrait has to do with the ego and narcissism but also with self-knowledge, reflection and critical analysis of the body, beauty and its expression; a self-portrait facilitates the construction of the self-image through self-representation, as well as the recognition of the impact of the gaze of others in this ...

What is the oldest selfie taken? ›

The first-ever 'selfie' was taken in 1839. While not termed as such then, the self-portrait was taken by Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast, in Philadelphia. Cornelius took a picture of himself in the back of his family's chandelier store.

Who painted the first known self-portrait by a female artist? ›

There is every reason to conclude, as art historians have, that an absorbing self-portrait by a gifted young Flemish Renaissance painter by the name of Caterina van Hemessen, painted in 1548, is likely the first self-portrayal of an artist, male or female, at work at the easel.

What was the first known self-portrait by a woman? ›

The first one is the Self-portrait by Caterina van Hemessen, a painter of the Flemish Renaissance, the painting executed in oil oak in 1548, when the artist was 20 years old. She presents herself at an easel, holding a maulstick (a common device used to support the artist's hand) while painting.

Can a self-portrait be a photo? ›

Self portrait photography is all about capturing the essence of who you are in a photograph. It can be a fun and challenging way to express yourself and a great way to learn more about how you see yourself. But self-portrait photography can be tricky—it's not always easy to capture your own personality in a photo.

Why do artists do self-portraits? ›

Artists' self-portraits are critical to our understanding of both portraiture and the history of art. They are the form in which many artists have come to be remembered, offering insights into their lives, surroundings, and even their state of mind.

Did Da Vinci paint a self-portrait? ›

This self portrait was painted in 1512 using red chalk, when Leonardo da Vinci was 50 and living in France. The original painting measures 33.3 x 21.3 cm (13 1/8 x 8 3/8 in). It is now held in the magnificent collection of the Biblioteca Reale, Turin.

What should I price my art at? ›

Multiply the painting's width by its length to arrive at the total size, in square inches. Then multiply that number by a set dollar amount that's appropriate for your reputation. I currently use $6 per square inch for oil paintings. Then calculate your cost of canvas and framing, and then double that number.

How do you price yourself as an artist? ›

Pay yourself a reasonable hourly wage, add the cost of materials and make that your asking price. For example, if materials cost $50, you take 20 hours to make the art, and you pay yourself $20 an hour to make it, then you price the art at $450 ($20 X 20 hours + $50 cost of materials).

How much should I charge for an 8x10 painting? ›

So for instance, anything 8″x10″ or under is priced at $1.25 per square inch, anything over would be $1.00 per square inch. This formula may work well for you if your artworks are similar in technique, no matter what the size.

Who is the most faked painter? ›

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Dalí produced a vast number of paintings, etchings, lithographs, and sculptures. But fake reproductions of his art constitute a larger market.

What is the most expensive painting self portrait? ›

Intimate Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait Sells for $34.9 Million, Smashing Auction Records.

Who makes the most beautiful paintings? ›

Top famous paintings
  1. Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503–19. ...
  2. Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665. ...
  3. Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889. ...
  4. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907–1908. ...
  5. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484–1486. ...
  6. James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, 1871.
Jul 15, 2022

What are the 4 categories of portrait? ›

Examples of Portraiture Approaches. Within the field of portrait photography there are four main approaches: Constructionist, Candid, Environmental, and Creative.

What are 3 reasons artists create portraits? ›

Before the invention of photography, a painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait was the only way to record the appearance of someone. But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter.

How do I choose a portrait artist? ›

How to Choose an Artist for Your Custom Portrait
  1. Consider your own style. While the artist will work with you to create the work, you are the one who will be enjoying it for years to come. ...
  2. Consider the artist's style. ...
  3. Consider your home. ...
  4. Consider the process. ...
  5. Consider your timeline. ...
  6. Consider your budget.

Which artist is known for exquisite portraiture? ›

Jan van Eyck is best known for his exquisite portraiture, and he was entrusted with painting some of the world's most influential people of the time.

Who painted over 100 self-portraits? ›

Rembrandt made nearly 100 self-portraits from the 1620s until his death in 1669, including around 50 paintings as well as dozens of etchings and drawings.

What is the largest art masterpiece? ›

The largest canvas painting in the world—according to the Guinness World Record as of September 29, 2020—is The Journey of Humanity (2020) by Sacha Jafri. It is a little over 17,000 square feet and sold for $62 million at auction.

Who is the master of self-portraits? ›

Vincent Van Gogh

The Dutch artist painted upwards of 30 portraits of himself within the span of three years. His collection of self-portraits places him among one of the most prolific self-portraitists of all time.

What artist did a lot of self-portraits? ›

Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo are three artists famous for their series of self-portraits.

Which famous artist made more than 60 self-portraits? ›

The portraits of Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) are the self-portraits, portraits of him by other artists, and photographs—one of which is dubious—of the Dutch artist. Van Gogh's dozens of self-portraits were an important part of his œuvre as a painter.

Who painted more than 40 self-portraits? ›

The prolific Dutch genius Rembrandt van Rijn has executed over 40 self-portraits over the course of his artistic career and he was obsessed with aging image of himself.

Which artist painted around 40 self-portraits? ›

Rembrandt was a dedicated self-portraitist all his life, and roughly forty self-portraits by him survive today.

Was Frida Kahlo known for self-portraits? ›

Out of the less than 200 paintings Frida Kahlo made in her short life, about a third were self-portraits. Frida's powerful autobiographical works have made her one of the most influential artists of her century – and one of history's most recognisable faces.

What did Frida Kahlo say about self-portraits? ›

"I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best. I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to and I paint whatever passes through my head without any consideration." This statement captures the essence of Frida Kahlo's work.

What was the first self-portrait in art history? ›

Early self-portraits emerge in the early to middle Renaissance era, around the beginning of the 15th century (Gombrich, 2005). Some sources have identified the “Portrait of a Man” 6 painted by Jan van Eyck in 1433 as the world's first self-portrait (see Figure 2).

Why is Frida Kahlo so famous? ›

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, pain and passion, and bold, vibrant colors. She is celebrated in Mexico for her attention to Mexican and indigenous culture and by feminists for her depiction of the female experience and form.

What disability did Frida Kahlo have? ›

Frida Kahlo, a Mexican woman who had multiple disabilities including polio as a child and spinal and pelvis damage from a car accident, became a world-renowned self-portrait painter.

What style is Frida Kahlo art? ›

Who is known for her self-portraits ___ is one of the most recognizable artists of the twentieth century? ›

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican , best known for her self-portraits. She was born in 1907 in Mexico City.

Who is the famous artist known by his painting self-portrait in Old Age? ›

artist Rembrandt

What is Frida Kahlo most famous quote? ›

If you're a fan of her colorful work, enjoy the most famous quotes that have ever been associated with Frida Kahlo. "Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?" "I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality." "I think that little by little I'll be able to solve my problems and survive."

What is Frida Kahlo's message? ›

Life experience is a common theme in Kahlo's approximately 200 paintings, sketches and drawings. Her physical and emotional pain are depicted starkly on canvases, as is her turbulent relationship with her husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera, who she married twice.

Why did Kahlo mainly say she often painted self-portraits? ›

Kahlo said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." Her self portraits often include interpretations of physical and psychological wounds. Frida Kahlo's self-portraits are considered among the finest ever created.


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