Monday Art: First painted self-portrait

Following on the heels of last week’s watercolor portrait, I decided to get bold and try a self-portrait in the same medium. I attempted one in ink wash a month ago, but this time I was going full-out with the paints.

Pencil self-portrait

Pencil sketch

I started as usual with a quick pencil sketch to get the basic proportions and the placement of everything. In past self-portraits I’ve noticed a tendency to make my face too wide, which can make me look obese or give me a childlike expression. So this time I tried more carefully to prevent that widening.

I wonder if having a dedicated drawing space would help with some of these issues. As everyone knows who has taken photos, it’s easy for distortion to creep in. Getting too close to your subject changes the features, as do lighting and angle. When it comes to drawing, it’s better not to make the drawing on a flat (horizontal) surface like a desk; it’s better to use an easel (almost fully vertical) or a drawing board or table (angled from the horizontal). What I’ve been doing about all this is positioning the mirror as far away from me as I can (which isn’t very), using as strong a light as I can, and setting up a makeshift drawing board with an oversize picture book propped on a thick novel. It works, but I often wonder if a bigger drawing table would be better, or an easel-lamp-and-mirror setup.

Painted self-portrait

Finished portrait

The finished portrait, as so often happens, both pleases me and indicates where I need improvement. The colors are all wrong; everything came out too pink, even though I used mostly yellow ochre and white (not that you can tell!). I still have almost no awareness of how water is working with my paints, so I unintentionally used very little water and ended up with a very opaque painting (like the giant brown blob that is the hair)… which isn’t a problem, but if I’m going to do it I ought to do it on purpose instead of accidentally! And as always, my shading isn’t as subtle as I’d like.

But I think the likeness is closer than any of my previous self-portraits, I’m still happy with my lines (the glasses, for instance, were surprisingly easy to do), and there’s actual dimension to the face, which is always cause for celebration. It took me so many years of drawing to figure out how to create volume in a two-dimensional space, I can’t help but feel triumphant every time it happens.

I think painting is good for me. I’m so grateful I decided to take the plunge with it, instead of waiting forever, as was my original plan!

Tomorrow’s artist date takes me in search of sunshine and fresh produce. See you then!