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.
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