“Some people say they haven’t found themselves. But self is not something one finds; it’s something one creates.”
Why do artist’s paint themselves? They don’t have to pay a model to pose? They like to experiment with the human form without insulting the model? Maybe they simply want to record their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
I’ve drawn, painted and sculpted hundreds of self portraits for many reasons. In the beginning they were assignments for my art classes. After my coursework was finished, I continued to create self portraits for the various reasons I stated above. What I’ve learned through the years is that while the images of me have changed, the feelings I experienced were always similar. When I painted myself I was reflecting my thoughts in that moment. I was recording my visual biography.
Creating a self portrait isn’t vain. It’s a useful exercise in exploring your inner feelings. You can record your private thoughts without fear of repercussion. The viewer will never know what you were actually thinking even if they can recognize your emotions. At times your self portraits can leave you feeling naked (not literally unless you paint yourself in the nude), but your innermost feelings can remain in your brain. You will feel the surge of freedom that creating visual image offers. Let others think it’s vanity. You’ll know the truth.
A self portrait doesn’t even have to be a picture of you. Consider creating a collage of things that are important you you. Include words, pictures, and drawings that reflect your true feelings that day. Create a series of these collages for a year. See how your exploration of self changes.
Or try this simple self portrait drawing technique I use with many of my students. Grab a sheet of paper, some washable markers, a cup of water, a paintbrush, a black sharpie and a mirror.
Here are the steps:
1. Closely look at your eye. Pick one color washable marker and draw the details of your eye using one continuous line (contour line drawing). Draw big - you’re not making it true to life size.
2. Turn your paper a quarter turn. Look at your other eye and using a different color marker draw this one, again using a continuous line.
3. Turn your paper a quarter turn. Now look closely at your nose and draw it with a different color marker.
4. Turn your paper again and repeat the process with your mouth.
5. Look at the empty space in your picture. Add another facial feature like your ears, chin, neck or hairline using yet another color of marker.
6. Dip your paintbrush in water and paint over the maker lines. The colors will begin to flow like paint. If you want more color in a different area use a marker to fill in and move the color around with more water.
|I think I look suspicious. |
Could be that my dog was barking.
Now’s the time to reflect on your self portrait. Is it reflecting the emotions that you were feeling as you worked? Early attempts may leave you looking bored. Experiment with different expressions when you try this exercise again. You’ll be delighted by the results.
“I paint self portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know the best.”
- - Frida Kahlo