I made a new self-portrait. The lighting is the best setup I’ve tried yet: natural light plus two strong bulbs. I’ve been reading Sister Wendy’s The Story of Painting and I think looking at all those pictures had an influence on the way I approached this. I think it’s a really great composition, and I love the concept of the viewer seeing exactly what I’m painting: myself in a mirror.
I neglected to check how long this took to paint. I think about two hours. It’s a challenging setup, incorporating a still life as well as a portrait, and I got tired very quickly. I’m really pleased with some parts of it, but overall — as usual! — I feel dissatisfied. It may be a mirror, but it doesn’t reflect me. My skin is so much more luminous, my eyes and expression more lively. I felt intelligent and active and engaged and definitely three-dimensional, but I painted a nice, flat, quiet rendering of a young woman sitting still at her desk.
A few hours before I made the portrait, I started to read Man with a Blue Scarf, art critic Martin Gayford’s account of having his portrait painted by Lucian Freud. Gayford quotes Freud: “Since the model [the artist] so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be hung there on its own, it is of no interest whether [the portrait] is an accurate copy of the model.” Very true, which is why I’m no longer bothering about whether it looks like me. This attempt does look more or less like me, but my full essence isn’t there, and that’s what’s so maddening.
Well! Try, try again!
By the way, when I sat down to do this, my intention was to do something quick and energetic, but I foiled myself yet again. Maybe the self-portrait format encourages a slower and more introspective approach. How do I paint myself looking the way I feel when I’m dancing? Would it help if I used a very large piece of paper and stood up, so that I could make the picture with my body, instead of doing it so sedentary? There’s an idea. I wonder, actually… I’m getting quite used to my own features. What would happen if I didn’t use a mirror and just painted from memory while dancing how I felt? Or what would happen if I painted in a dance studio surrounded by mirrors, so that it became impossible to paint from only one stiff angle — so that the me I painted was more of a composite? Hmm. Hmmmmmmm.
I rather like this painting — your expression is playful and happy. The skin tones are a little dark, which probably masks the aliveness and luminosity you saw there. Water color is not a forgiving medium. There is only so much adjustment you can do without muddying the whole thing. So you start over, right? I am happy you are painting again. I think it takes a while to feel settled and at home in new surroundings. You will get plenty of practice in the next year or two though!
Thank you, Sherry! I have to say I kind of like it too, even if its drawbacks drive me crazy at the same time. Yes, the skin tones are dark and that’ll be a good thing to work on next time. Agreed! Not a medium with which one can do much adjusting!
I’m happy to be painting again too. 🙂 It makes me feel engaged.
Hmmmmmm. I think you should give that a shot one of these days 🙂
Heheh, this reminds me of a watercolour I did of myself while looking in a mirror many moons ago. I don’t look very much like myself, but it was a very quick sketch, 10 minutes I think….but I loved it. even though I look like a junkie. And boyish. 😛 So I had it framed 😀
I think so too. 😀
Do you have a photo of your self-portrait? I’d love to see you looking like a boyish junkie. 😉 And all the paintings I’ve seen of yours (which are granted, few) are lovely!!
I know what you mean I tried a lot of self portraits – really tried to make them look like me – none did. sorry for the silence – computer had you trashed 😦
No worries, Carla. 🙂 I have a busy couple of weeks coming up but I want to come visit your studio sometime after that. I’ll email you.
That’s perfect after a couple of weeks. email me.
[…] over at the Satsumabug blog often paints herself while looking in the mirror. In her own words, Lisa is a […]
I love that last paragraph. I love all that energy, and promise, and wondering.
I see you in my mind every time I read your words, but I wonder — if I put my mind’s picture of you next to you, would it look different from the real you in some way? I love all these questions.
Thank you so much, Ré! I know — don’t you wish we could see other people’s “mind’s pictures” of us?! Or at least certain other people’s. 😉