04 BEN SHAHN – Self Portrait

I lived too far away to spend much lap-time with Dougie, so I wrote him these letters.


Hi Dougie,

Let’s draw some more like Ben Shahn.  First take a look at this picture. It’s a self-portrait he did. Remember, a self-portrait is when you draw your own face.. See how simply Ben Shah draws? The nose looks a little like a carrot, like before. The mouth is a simple curved line, a bit of a smile, with lines coming down at the ends.

But look at the eyes. That’s what we want to draw. See how the top half of the eye, the eyelid, is a half-circle, only a little squashed. It looks like a half of a walnut shell. When people grow old you can see more of their eye lid. That’s easy to see on anyone if they look down a bit. Look at people carefully. See if you can find  someone with eyes like Ben Shahn’s. 

Let’s draw an eye the way Ben does. Look at his left eye, that’s the one on the right side of the picture. Start by making a squashed half circle–that walnut shell.

Now add the other walnut shell, the bottom half-circle, but don’t make the ends meet on the left side. Like this:

And now add the dark part of the eye. That colored part of the eye is called the iris. Make the iris round on the left side and color it in to the edge of the bottom curve. Like this”

There we have it. A Ben Shahn eye.

But look again at Ben Shahn’s eye. Look carefully. Try to pick out what he did that is different than what we drew.

Do you see that the iris is higher than ours? It doesn’t touch the bottom of the eye, just the side. And it’s smaller than ours.

And see how the bottom half-circle is more like a half-egg than a half-circle. 

And do you see how some lines are thicker?  Ben Shahn does that on purpose. He chooses very carefully which lines he wants to be thicker. 

Let’s look at both eyes. 

Do you see how both eyes slant down a bit away from the nose? Do you see how the thin and thick lines make the eyes look real even though it is a simple drawing? 

Let’s draw an eye again and try to make it look more like Ben Shahn’s.

Make the line of the top half-circle thicker on the right side. Like this:

Add the horizontal line.

Now add the bottom, but this time make it a half-egg. Make the line on the left side darker. Like this:

Now add the iris.

If you tried to draw this eye like Behn Shahn you will found out how hard it is. Do two or three of these drawings. Keep practicing until you can get it to look like Ben Shahn’s.

Ben Shahn spent many years learning how to draw with simple lines that showed exactly what he wanted to show. Just because a drawing is made of simple lines does not mean it was simple to draw.

Look at the “Self-Portrait” again. Do you agree that Ben Shahn was a great artist?



About majchr

Majora Christo
This entry was posted in Art, Children & Art, Drawing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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