Bryusov later described the work on the portrait as follows:
The door opened, and Vrubel came in. He entered with a wrong, heavy gait as if he was dragging his feet. To tell the truth, I was shocked when I saw Vrubel. It was a frail and sick person in a dirty, crumpled shirt. He had a reddish face and bird of prey eyes; protruding hair instead of a beard. First impression: crazy! <...> In real life, all small Vrubel's movement reflected his disorder. However, when his hand took a pencil or a lump of coal, it became very steady and confident. Lines that he drew were infallible.
His artistic strength survived everything else in him. The human died, was destroyed, but the master continued to live.
During the first session, the first draft was already finished. I am really sorry that nobody thought of taking a picture of this dark drawing. It was almost even more remarkable in terms of performance, facial expression, and similarity than the later portrait painted with coloured pencils.