Creative Approach to Portraiture: An Exciting A2 Coursework Project

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

This A2 Coursework project was completed by Dave Watson, while studying AQA A Level Fine Art at Hereford Sixth Form College, United Kingdom. Dave achieved a final A Level Art result of 91% (A*). Portraiture is a common subject amongst A Level Art students; it is therefore essential that this topic is approached with originality and innovation – which is why Dave’s project caught my eye.

pencil drawing portrait
Influenced by relevant contemporary artists, this creative pencil drawing immediately commands attention. A creative and well-executed portrait.

Dave began his Coursework project by producing accurate and detailed observational drawings. Portraiture is a subject that exposes technical drawing skill: leaves it naked to the viewer. Our familiarity with the human face means we recognise immediately if a line is wrong (unlike, for example, drawings of trees, in which an incorrect line is viewed much more forgivingly). Dave has no issues in this area, demonstrating an aptitude for highly realistic representation (this is also evident in his GCSE Art project, for which he achieved 100%).

realistic portrait drawing, graphite pencil
A body of realistic portrait drawing created a strong foundation for this project.

With inspiration drawn from images of himself and friends at British music festivals, Dave’s project has youthful enthusiasm embedded within it at every level: explorations of expression, costumes and decorative face paint. It is a study of not only the aesthetic richness of festivity, but ‘the different frame of mind, perceptions, behaviours that people exhibit at music festivals compared to everyday life‘.

A Level Art coloured pencil portrait
Coloured pencil portrait

Guided by a teaching programme that encourages students to explore ideas under subheadings such as light, colour, scale, texture, emotional impact, cultural / social references, gesture and mood (an approach that ensures students investigate their topic thoroughly), Dave’s portraiture focused upon distortion (primarily physical manipulation through pushing, pulling and twisting faces). He referenced a range of contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman, Julie Verhoeven, Paula Rego, Ben Tour, Russ Mills, Mark Demsteader and Jenny Saville, developing his ideas with the use of a wide range of media. Mediums included coffee (to create blotched, stained washes), highlighter pens (see the drawing below), watercolour, acrylic (applied using a palette knife and dripped in watery washes), biro and coloured pencil. In addition, physical elements such as lighting conditions were explored through vast photographic investigations that were then developed into further drawings and paintings.

painted dripping portrait
A pencil drawing over which brightly coloured paint has been dripped, creating a dramatic and unexpected work. There is a certain refreshing fearlessness in this work. (Note: for those who don’t quite have the courage to drizzle wet paint over a refined drawing, digital manipulation has done wonders for experimentation of this kind).
highlighter pen drawing
This marker pen drawing is one of the most competent I have ever seen from a high school student. An excellent example of what can be done with the humble highlighter pen.

Dave’s project offers a reminder that an A2 Coursework project doesn’t have to be devoid of fun: it can embrace excitement that is at the very heart of a teenage existence. It can (and should) follow a candidate into their world.

mixed media drawing using pen and paint
This mixed media drawing was created upon an acrylic background applied with a palette knife, with tone applied using biro (a readily available ballpoint pen
creative portrait A Level Art
A Level Art: The gestural acrylic brush strokes in this creative portrait provide welcome relief from the carefully controlled and skilful graphite rendering.

To gain a full understanding of Dave’s A2 Coursework project, I recommend you watch the video below. This showcases his A Level Art sketchbook – a thorough and comprehensive body of work, in which you see how his work continually feeds back on itself, exploring and developing ideas with reference to artist analysis, photographic investigation, media trials and experimentation with composition: a vibrant and personal A2 Coursework project.

If you wish to see more examples of excellent student artwork, please view our Featured Art Projects.


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