Artists use many ways to tell their stories through art, but few ways are as personal as creating a self-portrait. In this tutorial from Melissa Averinos, discover how you can make a mixed-media self-portrait using a unique approach that combines fabric, paint, paper, and more. This article first appeared in our March/April 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Mixed-Media Self-Portrait, by Melissa Averinos
I have painted a number of self-portraits over the years, and each one tells the story of who I was at the time I created it. The background, the clothes I am wearing, the length of my hair, even my weight—these are all clues that indicate where I lived, what stage I was at in my life, and where I was with my creative process. A self-portrait is a perfect way to tell your story without using words.
In this project, I take a mixed-media approach—perhaps less detailed and realistic than my painted self-portraits of years past—but no less a snapshot of who I am right now.
- Scraps, different colors and small prints
- Solid, 8″ x 10″ piece
- Glue stick
- Sewing machine and thread
- Mod Podge®
- Decorative paper (I used vintage sheet music.)
- Stretched canvas (I used an 11″ x 14″ canvas.)
- Acrylic paint
- Scrap papers
- Permanent marker (I used a Sharpie®.)
- Embellishments: glitter, collage papers, text, buttons, etc.
Create the features
1. Cut shapes for the facial features from your fabric scraps, and arrange them on your base fabric. (FIGURE 1)
2. Play with the shapes and move them around to audition their placement. Once you have the features arranged in a way that pleases you, tack them down to the base fabric with the glue stick. (FIGURE 2) Don’t worry about securing the pieces well; you just want them to stay in place until you stitch them. Let dry.
3. Stitch the features to the base fabric with your sewing machine. I used white thread, but you could choose a dark color to add more detail. (FIGURE 3) Stitch over each piece at least twice, but don’t get too fussy about it. You are just adding texture with the stitching.
TIP: Don’t worry about securing the beginning and end of the stitching because this piece is not going to get any wear.
4. Trim the thread tails and cut the features from the base fabric, leaving a ¼” border of the base fabric around each facial feature.
1. Using a paintbrush, apply Mod Podge to the back of the decorative paper, making sure to apply it all the way to the edges. Center the paper over the canvas and press it in place with your hands, smoothing out any bubbles as you go.
2. Optional: Pencil in a face shape (FIGURE 4) to help you decide where to glue the features.
NOTE: I don’t mind if the pencil lines show in the finished piece, but if you don’t like that look, paint over them later.
3. Arrange the facial features on the canvas.
4. Play with the features to see how different arrangements affect the look of the face. Try putting the eyes close together or farther apart. Try placing the lips lower than you had them, or the eyebrows higher. Little adjustments can make a big difference. In my portrait, I tilted the eyes down slightly at the outside corners, which made them look more like mine.
5. Once you are pleased with the placement, glue the features to the canvas with Mod Podge. (FIGURE 4) Let dry.
NOTE: Some of the Mod Podge will absorb into the fabric, so I like to apply it rather thickly.
1. Add in the hairline, ears, the shape of the face, and the neck with paint. I like to let the decorative paper show through, so I watered down the paint for the forehead area. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.) I painted over the base fabric edges of the features, but you could choose to leave them outlined, or allow some of the color of the base fabric to show through.
2. Optional: If you don’t feel comfortable painting, continue to add papers, and collage the rest of the face.
3. Add details and/or color to the background. I left the background pretty simple, but you could paint patterns or glue down some papers or more fabrics. Delight in the process and make it your own.
I like to think about enjoying the process of creating rather than focusing on how the piece is going to turn out. If I enjoy making it, that’s what matters most to me. The great thing about mixed media is that if you don’t like how it came out, you can just add more until you do like it.
Tips for creating facial features
Relax your expectations about this being a “self” portrait and release the pressure to make it look just like you. It might help to think of it more as a symbolic representation of your face.
• Sketch out some basic features on paper first. I am accustomed to doing self-portraits so I like to just dive right in with the fabric, but if this is your first time, a sketch may help you figure out what you want to do. Then you can refer to your sketch when playing with the scraps.
• Choose fabrics with tonal prints or small designs. You don’t want large, busy prints to overwhelm and obscure the features you are creating.
• Look in a mirror and think about questions like these:
— Are your eyes almond shaped or round? Are they close together or far apart?
— Do you have thin or bold eyebrows?
— Is your nose short, long, crooked?
— Is your mouth wide or narrow, and are your lips thin or plump?
• Don’t overthink it. I am not fussy when it comes to cutting out the shapes to represent the facial features. I use simple rectangles, triangles, wonky circles, and half-moon shapes. The more you stress about creating your face, the less fun it is, so just relax and be loose.
• Keep an open mind and be flexible. When I was working on my portrait, I accidentally put the white eye shapes upside down, and they actually represented my eyes better than the way I had planned to place them.
Take it further
• Incorporate fabrics or printed papers that represent you or your interests in some way. Avid gardener? Use some floral or vegetable patch prints in the background. Equestrian? How about a novelty horse print or some horseshoes? Space enthusiast? There are tons of planet and star-themed fabrics and decorative papers.
• Add paint, glitter, or whatever you like to the borders to finish the piece.
• Paint themed designs or items in the background or draw them in with a permanent marker after the paint has dried.
• Use words to tell your story: Stamp an inspiring quote, song lyrics, a poem, or just some positive words that have meaning to you.
• Glue on some paper bits, buttons, found objects, etc. Use what you have on hand and have fun with it.
Melissa Averinos is a quilter, fabric designer, author, teacher, and painter. Her latest book is Making Faces in Fabric: Workshop with Melissa Averinos–Draw, Collage, Stitch & Show (C&T Publishing/Stash Books). She loves rust, pie, unicorns, and thrifting. Melissa lives on Cape Cod with her husband and pets. Read about her art and life on her website: melissaaverinos.com.
Want more ideas for making a mixed-media portrait? Here’s another great tutorial from Pam Carriker!