“You are your cheapest model.”
The final project for my Painting I course was a self-portrait, done on a large-scale (~24″x30″) stretched canvas. Building the stretchers, cutting and stretching the canvas, and priming/sanding it was part of the course.
The piece needed to be conceptually complex–we were also being taught to use photo manipulation as a preparative tool for painting. I had the pleasure of being introduced to one of the most delightful photo manipulation programs. It is free and affords artists many of the same functions as typical photo manipulation software packages like Photoshop. The artist doesn’t even have to download software–it is self-contained on the website pixlr.com. I would highly recommend it–it has allowed me to perform many necessary, high-quality, quick photo-fixes that I would not have been able to perform otherwise.
There was an exercise that went along with the assignment, and involved thinking of a time when a very strong emotion was experienced. This emotion and experience was further explored through journaling.
At the time–and in recent times–I was dealing with a strong sense of nostalgia and an overwhelming amount of memories. The foreground of my painting–the figure itself–was taken in front of a window. I tried to capture the feeling of nostalgia with my expression and body language. The background of the painting–a sunrise in Socorro, NM–encapsulated the strong impression of beauty that we can have when viewing the past. Like a photograph, memories can never be fully complete. There will always be things that we don’t know and perspectives we didn’t have. There is always something just outside the frame of the camera, outside of our line of sight–that we can never recover because it was never observed or recorded in the first place.
I can see the incredible beauty of the sunrise because it was in the frame when I took the photo, but I can’t look back and see the other, perhaps less-than-perfect parts of the environment. It doesn’t matter–the image recollects some of the most lovely moments that I have ever experienced. Safely in the future, I can forget the less-than-perfect parts and love the others for what they are in my memory.
Once the manipulated photo that I was going to use was complete, I sketched the image onto the canvas and got to work, painting in oil paints. It took quite some time, a lot of paint, and much frustration, but I finally arrived at a stopping point.
My portrait could by no means be mistaken for the original photo, but its image has often been mistaken for one (by those who have never seen the original). I’d like to think that I’m good at capturing the spirit of people. It is entirely possible to take photos of people that look nothing like them, and it is quite common to encounter drawings that do not resemble the original subject. My painting does not look like the photo, but that does not mean that it isn’t a good likeness of the original subject. For example, in the painting, I painted my face with the chin tucked a little lower than it was originally. That does not make the painting “wrong”–who’s to say that my chin wouldn’t be lowered by that much? That’s just my philosophy (or perhaps I’m rationalizing my own shortcomings–you decide… ;) ).
I am ashamed to admit that I ran out of time, but I was forced to leave two areas of the painting under-developed: the ear and the lower right portion of the sunburst. I still have not finished these regions (despite having “finished” the piece about six months ago). Perhaps I will, someday. :)