I've written about self portraits before, and every time I paint one, it acts as a stepping stone to see how far I've come. I don't know exactly, but I think I've painted about 12-15 finished self portraits. I did a lot of them when I was in school because I didn't always have a model to pose.
Before my most recent one, the last self portrait I did was when I was a senior at Penn and I was 22 years old. It came out very well and I think it took me about 3 weeks to paint. I have it hanging above my bed and I look at it every day. It marks a very happy period in my life and I'll keep it forever. Every painting I do is very dear to me and makes me sentimental when I look back at them.
In the two years that are between these two self portraits, I've learned many things. The reason for my growth is because I've painted a lot of paintings. Some of them are pretty bad, but I've done a lot of commissions that I'm super proud of.
I'm starting to learn that the materials, technique, palette and everything are all secondary to the great poetic theme. Of course, I value technique immensely, but it will always be subservient to the theme. And the truth is that my technique is really simple and I use a fairly basic palette. A lot of my paintings may look very realistic, but they actually aren't. Aside from doing portraits, I don't like realism; even my most accurate portraits are idealized.
The other main thing that I've learned is how important tonal arrangements are in a painting. I sum it up in the follow order of importance: Line -> Value (tone) -> Color. It may be my colorblindness, but I place a great deal of importance on the value.
I keep learning every day, I paint almost every day and I'm still addicted to it after 10 years.
*See pictures below..