Self Portrait at 63
Staring at Mirrors
I finished another self portrait today.
I will post in order, first to last, along with a few notes about my thinking.
I started in pencil, made sure it was accurate, then sprayed it with fix. This pencil drawing was about 4 hours of work. I intentionally made the eyes oversized. Several months ago I watched a movie called “Big Eyes”. It was about an artist who became famous for her paintings of children with huge eyes. I’ve always loved pencil drawing as a stand alone medium, so I was very nervous about the potential for disaster when I moved from pencil to paint. As expected, when I started in with the palette knife I immediately had a train wreck. That was a dark moment, but I scraped it off, then cleaned the remaining paint off with turpentine. I was surprised the turpentine didn’t get past the spray fix to the pencil. Good chemicals!
I started in with oil washes, trying to keep the values correct while searching for the color scheme. This felt a lot like watercolor painting. I love the versatility of oil paints. They can be anything you want them to be. And they are soooo much cheaper than pastels. I do miss my pastels though. I have so many good memories of painting beautiful places with pastel. And quite a few of them sold too (about 60). I’ve only sold one oil.
I continued on with the oils. Skin tones are very confusing to me. Shades of brown never look right, so I randomly grab colors to see if they ring true. Hue can be wrong, but if the value is correct…
I could have called it done here…and maybe I should have? I was posting my progressives on instagram. It’s fun to see how many likes I get up there. It’s a good gauge
of the quality of the work. Not that I’m obsessed about likes, or, for that matter, sales. I paint for the satisfaction of the moment. The hours I spend painting feel…gosh, it’s hard to put into words. Time seems to stop when I am painting. It’s as if I step off the train of life, with all it’s complications and detours, onto a platform where everything is right in the world. The birds are chirping, the sky is blue, I’m young again, and doing what I was born to do.
And that feeling lasts until I realize I’ve screwed up the painting again…and have to wipe it off and repaint the nose. But that’s art. My climbing and painting friend Kristi asked if I could leave part of the pencil drawing showing through the oil. That got me thinking about the nature of art, and
realism. What is a finished painting? And why not just use a camera if you want it totally real?
I’ve been using $40 home depot light for 5 years, but the darn things are made so cheaply the switches and wiring break down. While I was teaching film making in 2013 I got to use professional lighting instruments in our TV studio. Last week, I happened to be running errands in Seattle and dropped by Glazers camera where I picked up a Lowel Tota light. They are the most inexpensive pro level continuous light on the market,
and have held that title for 20 years. They are sooo much better than home depot work lights. I also have photography umbrella that mounts with the Tota light on a light stand. I learned a lot teaching video, and those skills cross over into painting. I do try to keep in mind that fact that Van Gogh never had electricity, much less iTunes, or Tota lights.