Posts Tagged ‘self-portrait’

Approaching self-portraiture

Friday, May 1st, 2015

A lot of us cringe when we see photographs of ourselves because we don’t like how they depict us. Our image in a photograph is not what we’re used to seeing in a mirror because, the fact is, we’re not built entirely symmetrically. Any aspect that is asymmetrical appears to be exaggerated—doubly so—whenever we see it photographed.

Historically, when artists have drawn or painted portraits, they usually referred to a mirror image. Since photography has come onto the scene, we have had the choice of which to derive our self-portraits from.

150309p Self Portrait

I have chosen to use photographs for my own self-portraiture (including #150409p, above) for two reasons. First, a photograph records my features as most people are used to seeing me, so a mirror image would appear to them to be as “wrong” and distorted as a photographic image appears to me.

The irony is that when preparing for the self-portrait above, I shot the reference photograph in a mirror but forgot to reverse the image before drawing from it. So what you see here is actually the mirror image that I am more familiar with. It does help to be able to chuckle at our own mistakes!

The second reason I like to work from a photograph is that, working from a less familiar image, I am less inclined to succumb to vanity and either consciously or unconsciously “improve” certain features to make them appear more attractive to my own eye. This is because I am forced to accept the reality of the less familiar image as though it were an entirely separate person. If I should try to “correct” my appearance from a photographic image, I would almost certainly be distorting it away from the perception others have of my actual appearance.

I do hope I managed to refrain from succumbing to that temptation in the self-portrait shown here.

Of course, this raises the question of why I should go to the trouble of drawing or painting a self-portrait if I’m taking a photograph anyway. I’ll address that question next time.

Finding the Good in It

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Don’t we always want to find something good about our work? Most of us need to receive a certain sense of accomplishment, if not some amount of satisfaction, as incentive to continue doing what we’re doing, no matter how much we already love the activity. We love it because it fulfills a need within us. Our friends and family know that, so they tend to offer comments like “That’s great!” and “Nice job!” as pats on the back and as encouragement to continue.

But unless they understand our specific goals and struggles, and are knowledgeable about the specifics of what we’re doing, we tend to (and should!) take their comments with a grain of salt. What do most of them really know, after all, about the process we went through or the issues we were contending with?

141212w Evaluation and Reflection, a self-portrait

So, often we must rely on our own judgment and become our own best critics. Did the overall product meet our expectations? Did it fulfill our goals? We’re the only ones who can answer such questions, and to answer honestly we need to take a good hard look to compare our ideal with the actual product. That’s not easy.

After focusing on a project over an extended length of time, and often at close range, it can become difficult to distance ourselves from it, both figuratively and literally, enough to see the big picture. Sometimes this requires a distance of time—anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks. It also often helps to create a physical distance from it to gain a different perspective, for instance by quite literally stepping back from the easel. And it’s just as important to create an emotional distance so we don’t cling so tightly to “what it isn’t” when we should be looking for “what it is” or “what it could become.”

If the product didn’t live up to our highest hopes, our initial inclination may be to say “It’s no good.” But that’s short-changing ourselves and our accomplishments. Is there truly no good to be found in it? There is probably a lot about it that’s good, with just a few aspects that don’t entirely please us. We need to see how many of the good elements we can identify.

If we don’t see any, we need to look harder. Has anything about it improved over a previous effort? Is the composition stronger than previous efforts? Or does it suggest an insight that we hadn’t consciously stated? Is the value structure more interesting or better controlled? Is the action less wooden? Is our use of color more accurate/lively/subtle/suitable for the purposes of this effort? At the very least, our dissatisfaction with it indicates that we’re becoming more discerning; that in itself is good and a valuable step forward!

It’s unfair to ourselves (and unrealistic) to overlook the improvements we’ve already made. Discounting our progress sets our feet on the road to frustration and discouragement. Improvement takes patience and practice and time. It’s important to acknowledge that and to recognize how far we’ve already come. It’s encouraging to remind ourselves that it’s bound to get even better from here.