My husband is learning to draw and wants to start to sketch people. When I suggested he could do worse than have a try at a self portrait, he commented that he thought it felt a bit vain to do so. That surprised me; I hadn’t looked at it that way. I countered that I think our own faces are the ones we are know best, and that at least we’re always available to model for ourselves. Anyway, in my limited experience, self portraits are rarely flattering, given the fixed stare, frown, clenched jaw and compressed lips which result from the intensity of effort involved.
It was a series of self portraits in pastel which prompted me to kick off this blog just over a year ago. It was a good adventure, and one which taught me a lot. I’ve done a couple in watercolour since, but today was the time for a proper selfie in acrylic.
I got the mirror rigged up, paints out, and off I went – starting is often the scariest bit. The board (30x40cms) was prepped by a light sanding and then propped on my tabletop easel. Having sketched the basic features in pencil, I worked from the background forwards. For once I did have a plan for the background, inspired by the black glass of the oven behind me (I like to paint in the kitchen).
The skin tones really gave me food for thought, how to mix the right colours; it took quite a bit of trial and error, and I’ve still come out somewhat more tanned than I am in reality. The shadows on the face were especially challenging. What colour is that? The chin is definitely a bit odd (I might revisit that). The bit I like most, and tellingly which took least effort, was the ear. If the rest of the painting was as loose and yet still as convincing as that I’d be really chuffed. I found that the acrylics actually dried a little too fast for me to achieve the smoothness of skin tones I was hoping for. I can see how oils would be a bonus here. Yet the acrylics do offer a sort of coarseness which is appealing.
I’d hoped that using my 3/4 in flat brush throughout would help me to paint more loosely, but in fact it created some problems where detail was necessary, particularly round the eyes and nose. Rightly or wrongly, I persisted. I’d be interested to know what brushes other people use for portraits, all advice gratefully accepted!
As has been the case with every selfie I’ve done, this sort of looks like me, but doesn’t really. Having looked at my previous attempts I think that I am getting better at this business, although my stern expression seems to confirm my opinion that self-portraiture is a very serious business indeed.