I decided to do a take-off on Botticelli's famous "Birth of Venus" -- making her older, but still lovely. I also very loosely based some of her features on my own. Of course, as they say, every portrait is, to one degree or another, a self-portrait. Not a "finished" piece, but more in keeping with the freshness and spontaneity of a sketch.
The greatest advantage of the self-portrait is simply that I am always available to model for myself. The difficulty lies in the question: use a mirror or a photo? I prefer the mirror, as it gives more immediacy. A photograph is a frozen moment. Looking in the mirror, I see my expression change slightly, the tilt of the head change. I see the concentration and focus -- and sometimes, the frustration, when the drawing is not working out. However, when sitting in a coffee shop with my iPad and wanting to draw, but no handy models? Taking a quick photo of myself with the iPad, then working over it in a drawing app, can be very satisfying in its own way. All of these drawings were done using the Sketch Club app for the iPad. Some were then loaded into the Camera+ app for cropping and color manipulation. And, yes, I usually edit out my wrinkles. Not out of vanity, really, but simply because I don't feel wrinkled inside.
See below, Self-Portrait as a Robot in a Pink Hat
I always wear a hat. I have worn my pink hat more than any other this summer. Do you ever feel like a robot, going thru the motions, cold and numb?
I did this self-portrait, at left, two days after my mother's death, six weeks ago. Her passing filled me with both deep feeling and great numbness. At times, the two states took turns. Sometimes, they resided within me simultaneously. Perhaps one in my head and the other in my heart. We were not close, due to her severe alcoholism throughout my childhood.. A friend told me it is harder to grieve the loss of those we love and yet are not close to. Her death meant the death of a dream -- the impossible fantasy that we could someday have a normal mother-daughter relationship. She became sober in her Fifties, a remarkable achievement. But, her sobriety did not magically fill in my childhood memories with the love and nurture that were not there. I was more her mother, and my feelings for her were therefore much more maternal than filial.
Her passing has, however, helped me to see her more clearly. Yes, I had a horrible childhood. But, she had a horrific one. Realizing that terrible fact, I can give her this grace: she did better by me than was done by her.
Working up to a portrait
In lifedrawing, aka figure drawing, we normally start out doing gesture poses. The traditional gesture pose is 1 minute, but I've done everything from a 5 second to a 5 minute. Does 5 minutes count as a gesture? It's hard to know where to draw the line between a gesture and a sketch.
Doing portrait gestures is an extremely valuable exercise. Drawing the one-minute face, the three-minute, the five-minute. The seven minute, which is definitely moving into being a sketch, not a gesture drawing. Then moving on to a longer time.
Here are examples from yesterday.
First, the one minute face. Done on my iPad, using the ArtRage app. I routinely put about 75% of my gesture drawings in recycling, keeping the ones I like for reference. Using the iPad instead saves on paper. Goodness knows, just making the device left a big carbon footprint. I need to do what I can to offset that. Besides, how many pieces of paper can I have in my house before someone calls the fire marshall?
Here is the three minute face. There's a little bit of a likeness beginning to form. Again, done on iPad.
The five minute face. Again on the iPad. I managed to start bringing in some lights and darks.
The thirty minute face. I returned to traditional media for the longer piece. This is charcoal and pastel on Ampersand pastelboard. I enjoy seeing the progression. I had not drawn Jodie G. in a very long time. The likeness is not quite there yet. I need to draw her several more times before a true likeness emerges.
I can draw a recognizable image of my husband without him being anywhere nearby. We've been married 33 years. Remember the song from My Fair Lady? "I've grown accustomed to her face...." Or, in this case, to his face.