Could there be a more fitting title for a self-portrait post?
“Well I Wonder” is the title to a Smith’s song from “Meat is Murder”. Over a darkly breezy tangle of acousitc guitars, tambourine, brushed drums, and rain effects, Morrissey’s voice floats with disjointed phrases of self-obsessed import like, “Well I wonder / if you hear me when I cry,” and, “Please keep me in mind.”
Self-portraits carry with them many of the same dangers as confessional song lyrics. Folks tend to think you’re doing them because you’re self-centered when the truth is that you merely lack the creativity to find anything else more worthwhile to draw/paint/sing about.
The benefits I’ve enumerated before. Primary among them is access.
The portrait below I started a couple of weeks ago when I had some spare time at the studio. However, hunger cut my time there short, and I headed home to make dinner.
At this stage, the picture was pretty awful. When I came back to the studio for a figure drawing session this guy’s blotchy pate stared back at me. I decided not to finish it.
What’s wrong with this picture:
- There are a lot of awkward white patches (around the eyes and the knuckles). These were actually intentional, but set up a tricky challenge to ‘blend’ them in to the rest of the picture. They were created by painting those areas with a water-repellent ‘frisket’, that is later rubbed away, leaving virgin paper.
- The arm seems uncomfortably disjointed. Look at that wrist. Ugh.
- The color scheme is really boring. The light and shadows on the skin are especially pedestrian. It makes for a very flat picture.
- The eyes – – TOO INTENSE!
In fact, one of the main impetuses (impeti?) of this picture was in responding to studiomate Tom’s pointed ‘observation’ that people “always look so intense” in my paintings. Therefore, a more quizzical expression was chosen for this go-round. Yet, the unfinished eyes do have a piercing quality to them. I’m thinking Drakula in an old movie from the 50s.
This is where access to the model made all the difference. It was a subsequent visit to the studio. The weather was sweltering. Evidently, the heat drew the inspiration out of whatever internal organ it was hiding in, and it came to surface… along with no small amount of sweat. That, or heat-induced delirium made me forget what a doomed exercise it would be to try and rescue this painting.
Luckily, in the mili-second that inspiration hit, my model was there, ready to finish the pose. Because the model was me. Are you following?
The range of colors in the final product shows vast improvement. I utilized the techniques of loose-but-assertive washes and selective use of confident line work to finish it off, and pull it together.
The depth and realism hinted at in the face are especially satisfying. The lower part of the body is handled in somewhat more abstract way, where the qualities of the paint and the colors become more of a focus.
Perhaps my favorite part of this one is the forehead and the hair around the bangs. Fun textures are happening in there, and the deep shadow behind the temple is rather convincing, too. What’s your favorite part (and why)?
As the mournful strains of the Smiths trail off, this picture makes me want to listen to something more triumphant. Any suggestions?