A Never Ending Subject

Recently, I was invited to participate in a show with 75 other artists . . . .all who must provide a self portrait for the show.   The organizer kept giggling at "what fun" that show will be.   In fact, she said something to the effect of not knowing what to expect and was quite excited at that aspect.

So, off I went, knowing that my portrait wasn't due until January of 2015.   Then, while sorting through a large pile of drawing paper in my studio, I decided I would "give it a go" to see what I could do.   After all, I haven't studied the figure much, or portrait drawing or painting.   I have done a few, mind you, over the years, but never in a studied way . . . . .just one of those challenges just to see "if I could do it."

Since that day of sorting through paper, I have done nearly ten self portraits  . . . . . and the fascination with the design in a portrait has stung me!!    . . . . .

Should I push the image into a caricature?   Should I exaggerate the nose?  The glasses?   And what to do with the mouth that my loving wife points to at every turn?   And what of the color?   How many different harmonies could I play with in order to build a serious mood?  And what about the shapes of the light and shadow on the face?   My goodness!   The possibilities are endless!!!

I have even taken a chance with watercolor crayons only then washing over the drawing with clear water . . . . . the crayon marks smear and merge in a delightful way, incidentally.

I am NOT an artist who has an attitude or is full of himself (at least I try to make a point of NOT being that way) . . . . .so, self portraits have always seemed rather self absorbed   . . . .which I am not. HOWEVER!   Or should I say BUT ?   The cool thing about doing a self portrait is that one never ever runs out of subject matter . . . .Ever!!!

Imagine the possibilities that one could devise . . . . . consider just color. . . . . Skin tones have to be the hardest and the most demanding in terms of understanding the paint pigments we use, transparency and opacity suddenly mattering a lot.   And which Yellow to use as an underpainting?   What if I did a green underpainting??   Or suppose I tackled an all violet portrait?   Or better, what if I took on the challenge of painting all in tones, then using pure tints in the center of interest?   Perhaps a few heavy shades thrown in to lift the tones to appear more colorful?

As you can see, dear reader, the possibilities for just color would be enough to entertain and frustrate any artist for YEARS !   Now that I think of it, I happen to enjoy interesting use of LINE in a good painting . . . . yes, edges, too . . . . . .and . . . .Oh, Yes!   Different value schemes, too, not to mention odd poses or perspective.

As you can see, a project like this would be one of those challenges that could lock myself away in my studio for months, maybe even years, to come.

You get the idea.   It isn't about making the mouth just right.  Nor is it really about whether or not the image resembles someone.   It is really about finding out what I can do with all those variables to make an interesting outcome.

Come to think of it, this same process is precisely the sort of process I have subjected myself to over the years . . . . . it is called painting in series.   You might know, too, that this very idea of fooling around with different ways to exploit the elements of design is an incredible way to learn to paint . . . . .  .in fact, it is THE WAY most great artists perfect their work and their craft.   It is to fully understand the nuances of every aspect of making marks on a canvas or paper.   And it can be done with any single subject.   Many of the best painters in the world have turned to series work with simple objects, such as still life or portraits, or even a pond in New Mexico . . . . . .the same point of view . . . . and not worrying about if the nostrils (details) are exactly right, but focusing on making something extraordinary and unique.   Something that will halt a viewer in his or her tracks in order to truly LOOK at your painting . . . . and look carefully.

I have done this with a still life . . . .over 120 versions . . . .and counting . . . .and I find that is isn't boring at all.  In fact, it is as challenging as anything I have ever painted . . . . . .  .and more . . .  .it has given the gift of significant breakthroughs in thinking and in painting skills.

It isn't the subject that matters.  It is what you DO with it.