Not long after we moved into this apartment, we bought a heavy wood-framed mirror off Craigslist ($40! a steal!) and then left it propped up on a folding chair for months, not having the tools we needed to mount it to the wall. We finally put it up a week or two ago. It hangs right across from our sofette so sometimes, when I’m sitting there, I can see my reflection framed as if in a picture. The mirror is also right next to our biggest open floor area. With this in mind, this morning I walked to the art store and bought a folding easel. I set it up next to the mirror, and then improvised a work surface using my clothes drying rack and cutting mat. It’s not the most stable setup, but assuming no earthquakes, it does the job.*
After buying the easel, but before trying it out, I did a recording session for Learning Ally, and also spent a couple of hours reading my recent story out loud to test for flow. (This was a really good idea. The story has so much dialogue, and “audiobook-ing” it showed me which lines sounded real and which were clunky.) After that I couldn’t bear the thought of any more sitting, so I went for another walk… and came home with a new dress.
I put on the dress, had my lunch, and then started my painting.
I had been looking at this old sketch and admiring its freedom and richness, so I decided to try to make a self-portrait with that same feeling. I was going to forego a pencil sketch, but ended up doing one after all, and I’m glad I did. I was so enamored of my new dress, I borrowed its print to frame my portrait (much as I did with Ying’s portrait, but this time it came out even better). I also attempted to make a facial expression that suited how I felt — a kind of happy mouth-scrunching thing. I don’t know if the happiness comes across, but at least it’s a different expression than in my other portraits. A different angle, as well.
I also remembered that I keep some scraps of good paper around for trying things out, so I used one to test a new technique for hair. (Usually I forget those scraps exist, and then find them later and think, “I really need to start using these.” Then I forget again.) I like it. I don’t know if it will work for all hairdos but it’s particularly well suited for mine.
I think is my favorite self-portrait ever. It’s something like #18; I’ve lost count.
Lyapa, however, is not impressed.
I’m not really sure why I put off buying an easel for so many years. It’s not that it was expensive; it cost about the same as our mirror. It isn’t that it takes up so much space, because this one folds into a small case, and is lightweight enough to carry around (for example, on the 0.8 mile walk home from the art store). Maybe it’s just that I thought I wouldn’t use it, since drippy watercolors need to be painted on a flatter work surface? But actually, a lot of the work I do is pretty dry. Anyway, I’m really glad I have the easel now, because I discovered (I guess I always sort of knew) that it really changes the way I work. Part of it is mental, I’m sure, but just mechanically, there is a big difference between sitting plopped into a chair, and having full-body range of motion, which is what I get when working at an easel. I put on the playlist I use for lively parties, and danced as I worked. I think that energy comes across in the finished painting.
*The delights of living in a small apartment! I’ve begun doing home recording sessions for Learning Ally. I did some test recordings last week, in different parts of the apartment, and the director decided the best sound came from a setup that involves my sitting in our small closet on a folding chair, with my computer propped up on a stack of boxes on another folding chair. Our high ceilings make all other parts of the apartment sound too echoey, and apparently the clothes in the closet help muffle extraneous noise. It’s a funny little routine, taking everything out of the closet and setting up my “recording studio” inside!