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.