Having a limited group of available and willing friends who will pose for me in London, I am often left with the one face always available - my own. Sketching myself from life gives me an uneasy feeling. It might be the inability to do my "mirror face" for a long time, but I suspect it is something deeper, like an inability to objectify my own form.
I like to think of myself as a woman growing out of the pains of imposed Western beauty standards and all the insecurities that come with them. I've learned to go easy on myself, look myself in the mirror under soft lights, up close only if feeling good, with a lot of trained self-acceptance. Looking at my head as a stranger simply does not come naturally.
Taking a selfie is an everyday ritual of affirmation for many people. For me it has nowadays become a tool for painting. If I take my own photo, I don't have to at least keep jumping from my serious work expression to whichever pose expression I want.
When it came to painting myself in acrylics, I knew I wanted to do a 'face", distort myself somehow in a general comment of discomfort of incessant posing into my own camera-holding hand. I am inspired by Dorielle Caimi's paintings of modern women in what seem to be private reactions to their environment, with a lot of healthy humour. I took a burst of selfie photos right after I sketched myself from life, and I hope this rebel sense of being bored with posing comes through.
I started with a light sketch on the acrylic paper that I quickly covered with a burnt sienna under painting. From there I moved to the bright sky in my widest brush. Whenever i come back to acrylics I am all over again surprised at how darker they dry. It gives an effortless intensity to the work. The clouds reference I used were from a couple of days earlier, when a beautiful string of aeroplane trails criss-crossed the sky above South London as usual. I've added them several times over until the thickness in area I needed was enough.
I've started to block in the shadows in different tones, and after adding the midtones, the shape started to form. Now we come to the part where I started to mess up. One of my biggest shortcomings is, when I'm in the middle of working, I am very, very resistant to correcting if that includes going back to the start. In this case, as my hand can only reach as far, my shoulders were cut out from the reference photo. Instead of taking another photo, I thought I could get away with it.
Boy, was I wrong! First, I made my complete shoulders too small. Then I made the outreached arm practically dislocated with the shadows I was adding. Finally, with correcting of the shape so much, the folds of the T-shirt lost their shape, and I was left with a cartoonish torso while my arm and face look somewhat representational.
I continued to work on my hair waves to frame it and started building up the main highlights. This is the part i most love doing, adding the landscape of the face and in this case - a very familiar one. Unfortunately in the process I've made my nose a little too small as I was making space for the folds my hand was forming around it.
As I've added cold tones that are formed by the shadows and the veins under my skin, it became clear the painting is nearing its end and I made a decision to finish it as it is - with the awkward shoulders of a cartoon and someone else's nose. I've finished off with the lightest highlights and made a mental note:
- You cannot draw something you don't see
- When in doubt, go back and measure