Saturday, 10 March 2012

Self Portraits

Self portraits are a real treat to paint. Often when painting a portrait for someone else I can get worried about whether they will think it looks like themselves, or whether it is flattering enough.  This preoccupation can restrict my expression and sometimes make the painting look over done or too much like a photograph, or just a bit stale.  When painting myself I am not so worried about getting the features right and I feel more free to experiment with the style.  The oil painting which heads this article is the most recent in the post, there are others in the blog which are more recent, such as the one of myself drinking water, but even this is about a year old.  I painted this worried looking one from a photo of myself sat in the shade in front of a yellow wall, this has resulted in all the tones in my skin not being overpowered by direct sunlight, and the reflections all being true to how they would be for a person in front of a yellow background.  Sometimes I do a portrait and then pick a background colour of my choice, this always runs the risk of making the face jump out of the painting, not quite harmonizing with its surroundings, sometimes this can be a good effect, other times it just looks wrong.  I also painted this portrait of myself over another painting which had quite thick paint so there was no chance of trying to get any detail in as the surface was so rough, although you don't really notice this as the painting is quite large (61x80cm).  I am looking worried because I thought it might be more interesting than one of me grinning at the viewer.

One of the oldest self portrait I currently have in my possession is this one on the right of me on my balcony, it is painted in acrylics and to be honest I've improved quite a bit simce then, although I still like this painting.  The light is streaming over my shoulder and loses the shape of my head.  I had my hair quite short but not bald as it might appear in the photo.  Again a pensive look, trying to look thoughtful I suppose.  I remember I painted my finger far too long at first and didn't notice until a friend pointed it our to me.

Acrylics have their own charm and I used to use them a lot, they are great because they dry so quickly and you can put layer on top of layer without waiting for one to dry.  If you want to build up tones with semi-transparent glazes of colour then this can add a nice richness to the painting, especially if using a medium instead of just water.  The painting in the last post of the coffee pot with cherries is done in this way and looks quite good I think.

When painting in acrylics I often found myself trying to get it to look like an oil painting, with thick paint and visible brush strokes.  You can buy mediums which slow the drying of the acrylic paint so that you can paint wet-in-wet on the canvas, and also some acrylic lines claim to be able to produce impasto effects and hold the impression of the brush stroke.  Certainly the ones I tried about six years ago didn't seem to be able to achieve this, and as with normal acrylic paint the surface would flatten as it dried, maybe the products are better now.  I tried in oils and saw astounded at how perfect thick paint retains impressions, especially if it is a little dry.  I haven't really gone back to acrylics, except for underpainting, although I would certainly deny this is a permanent switch.  Here, on the left you can see another self portrait, this time in oils, using thick impasto. I painted it quickly and the photo was actually taken almost in the dark, at the opening of an exhibition in an art gallery, in front of a projector, hence the strong shadows.

Finally, the last painting was another experiment.  I had taken a lot of photos of myself shaving in a mirror and did a series of painting from them.  The intention had been to capture the steam on the mirror but as it was summer and there was no condensation on the glass, and the other paintings in this series look a bit ameteurish.  This one was an accident of composition as I wasn't quite sure where I was pointing the camera.  I liked the look of it in the photo so painted it along with the others and among the lot it remains my favourite and the only one I haven't painted over (yet).  The background was invented and my hair and eyebrow are darker than they are in real life (as a friend pointed out).  But that's the joy of self portraits, the extra licence to experiment because it's your own face you are painting.  Certainly it's a great way to practice and improve, some people are shocked at the number of paintings of myself I have when they visit me at my flat, and I get accused of being egotistical.  Well, perhaps I am, but that is an other issue.

1 comment:

  1. I love these portraits. They are very intense and full of emotions. Very engaging and moving work.


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