The most hated of all exercises! I don’t do photos, hardly ever selfies, avoid mirrors like the plague and feel very uncomfortable even doing a Skype meet or being in home videos. So, to attempt to paint myself with any degree of realism goes completely against my nature. I took advice from some other artists in this course insofar as trying to be impartial, working upside down even – many people battle with this discipline, I’m not alone. We are asked to choose to work either in artificial or natural light and set up so that we can see our face – lit on one side and in shadow on the other. In my current home environment, this is impossible as first of all, I don’t have a mirror large enough to work from. After much faffing about, I chose to work from photographs. I wish we could have been allowed to produce an abstract or even impressionisstic rendition of how we see ourselves but the immediate task is to interpret what you see and make a convincing representation of your head, neck and shoulders, it seems to imply realism. I drew several ideas and had many dummy runs at painting myself – but I wasn’t satisfied with any of them. I tried various mediums, from oil and water colours to acrylics, pencils, oil pastels and marker pens. Eventually I worked with the Cobra oils, below is the first attempt on the left. I did a lot of reworking skin tone and ended up looking like a peach. Then i had a go at trying to ‘bleach out’ the image – similar to how Luc Tuymans has treated some subjects. This is very difficult to do! And only makes me respect his mastery of tone more than ever.
In all instances when I paint myself, I end up looking like a girl or a circus clown. I have a lot of difficulty getting my nose shape right, as well as my mouth. I was attacked by a dog when I was a baby and this has made me self-conscious of my mouth. It is not obviously scarred but I know that it is not even, so no matter how much I try to make it symmetrical underneath my nose, it just doesn’t want to do it and ends up looking skew.
I wondered if I might find it easier to work with soft pastels to get the transitions better on the face, so I had a go. This is more like me but there is still a lot ‘off’ with it.