Self Portrait Shenanigans

In the past month, I’ve had space problems (adult daughter and two cats moved in), computer problems (internet service and printer/scanner) and health problems (increased spasticity and bi-polar/depression flare-up).  And so I haven’t created much art, which always makes me feel, in the wise words of Anne Lamott, like a big pile of spider puke.

So, I finally got back to drawing through the wonderful figure drawing class at Brooks Museum.  Not that my figures were wonderful, but were so terrible that I felt I’d better start practicing or I’d feel even more like spider puke.  Also, I’ve gotten my space set up in a way that works with me, the wheelchair and my range of motion.

I decided to make a self portrait first — something quick and easy and fun.  I usually don’t worry about “mistakes” in self portraits, they are loosening up exercises.  I don’t have to worry about insulting anyone if I don’t make them look right, or beautiful, or even human.

I had an old 8×10″ canvas that I’d splattered leftover green gold acrylic on for a future project.  I decided I’d paint over it.  I’m learning the grid method for creating portraits and figures of other people, but for myself and this painting, I just looked in the mirror.  I have to put my glasses at the tip of my nose to see up close, and out of the way for seeing distance.  So I drew a familiar facial expression to start with:


I’m learning to mix skin tones and I want to work with more vibrant colors, so I went to work on that.


I wanted to show my facial roundness and somehow show my double chin.  I started looking at this as an exercise in self-acceptance.  But that expression was just too grim.  So I added a grin.


But wait!  If this is a portrait about self acceptance, what about my disability and my wonky moods?  Plus my head’s not really that flat, is it?


Bright moods, dark moods.   I have so much going on inn my head and my face is  really larger than this.


And it was at this point, I realized that my quick selfie was no longer quick.  I did about a squillion revisions on it — painting over parts, readjusting parts, trying to find symmetry, trying to capture some essence of myself.  Capturing it, overworking it, blocking out parts, moving forward, falling back.

I always thought that the more I painted, the more I drew, the easier it would get.  I’d be able to quickly make art.  But that’s not what’s happening.  I’m getting slower.  I’m seeing more, wanting more from what I paint.  Moving from acrylic to watercolor has opened up a lot of possibilities and I want to explore them.

I’ve heard over and over that you should make bold lines and then stick to them.  I make my bold lines, set the painting up so I can see it first thing in the morning light and I see where I need to get back to work.  Luckily, I also watch Gwenn Seemel’s videos, so I know I can work over things and still achieve a lot of dynamism.  We all have to come up with our own way of working, I’m grateful to have guides to share their process.

While I was going through all the iterations of this piece, I kept thinking of the old nursery rhyme about the girl with the curl:

There was a little girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

And when she was good,

She was very, very good,

And when she was bad

She was horrid!

I kept thinking about how horrid this portrait was going to turn out.  And then yesterday morning, it was finished.


Maybe it’s horrid.  Maybe when I’m “bad,” I’m horrid.  But I think this little exercise in self examination, shape, and color was what I needed.

Now I need to get to work on painting from the hundreds of reference pictures I took of my flowers while I wasn’t painting.  And I want to draw figures,  and write, and many things that will take time.

An abundance of good work for me and myself.

Over exposed selfie


Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

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8 thoughts on “Self Portrait Shenanigans

  1. Hi Joy! I seem to sense a bit of bemusement in your self-portraits as well, but that could just be my goofy brain. Hope to see you soon💚

    1. At some point in every self portrait, I start getting bemused. And in many of the other paintings I do, I find a source of amusement. It’s like the therapeutic part of art for me. Can I find the amusement, the joy?

  2. What a great self portrait — so full of life and personality! And so good to see your process. Thanks for sharing that with us and being so forthright and vulnerable. PS — I’m a big fan of Gwenn Seemel too!

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