Friday 25 October 2013

Things I Have Learned From Making Self Portraits

1. Conté on blue Murano paper
It's quite an education, doing self portraits.

You get to see how silly you look with a fixed grin on your face (7), for a start. And consequently you eventually figure out how to arrange your features so that you don't look daft. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work with photographs; I had to get a couple of ID photographs done recently, and I managed to pull silly faces in both of them.

Unsurprisingly, smiles are more popular than serious or relaxed expressions.

But mostly, I have learnt things about drawing and painting, some of which are transferable to other subjects.
  • Smiles are harder to capture if you take a long time about it.
  • Smiles are fleeting and are made with the whole face; the eyes are particularly important. Working quickly gives you a better chance of capturing the moment before the subject relaxes their face. (1 - a quick sketch that worked, 2 - a longer study that didn't)
  • Sometimes, the broad sweeping marks of a quick sketch capture a person better than a more measured study. I think the same applies to any subject - whether it moves or not.
  • People are largely monochromatic (this is a lesson carried over from life drawing, where more flesh is visible). This allows you to impose colours on the human form that may not be present. However, it is - unless you are deliberately working in monochrome - a mistake to use shades of only one colour to represent skin tones. At the very minimum, shadows and reflections will affect the colour of the skin.
  • The colour you see first isn't always the best one to use. I think it is possible to see a colour "behind" the surface colour - often a brighter colour - and that is the one that I try to find, and to use. Sometimes it gets blended back in, other times it stays resolutely vivid.
  • Bright red almost always looks disturbing, especially when associated with flesh. (4)
  • Green, on the other hand, often looks fabulous when placed aongside warm flesh-related tones. The strong blue-green of viridian makes a particularly effective shadow colour. (5) 
  • Things you don't want to mess with (much) in a figurative work include the relative tonal vaues (4 - the darks aren't dark enough), and, especialy in portraiture, the proportions (6 - the eyes are too big).
  • Don't overdo the reflection on spectacles; it can look really strange. (3)
And finally,
  • The more you practice, the better you get. You can probably work out an approximate order for the pictures in this post.
2. Oil on canvas3. Digital drawing
4. Conté on red Murano paper
5. Watercolour on paper

6. Derwent drawing
on black paper
7. Derwent drawing
on black paper

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