My most recent finished painting is this self portrait that I did while looking at my reflection in a mirror. I’d like to share with you some progress pictures, close up detail pictures, what inspired the making of this painting, as well as some of my thoughts on the subject of self portraits as a whole.
In today’s selfie culture, you might wonder what place the self portrait painting has in the world we live in today. Being a relatively under appreciated genre of painting, I believe that the self portrait offers a rare opportunity to see a person the way they see themselves, through their own eyes. They are capturing themselves in a moment alone, over a long period of time (in my case a few months) while trying really hard to honestly represent themselves in paint with the skills they have at their disposal, in whatever stage they are at in their career.
I had a few reasons for painting this self portrait. Ever since visiting Florence in 2016, one painting has lingered in my mind. This painting by Raffaello Sorbi of Oronzo Lelli (1858) is roughly the same size as my portrait (16x20 inches). I felt as if the man and I were breathing the same air. I wanted to try my hand at painting that three quarter view and with a similar limited palette of colors.
I originally planned on painting a light gray background like this painting, but decided I wanted to paint myself as I am right now in the environment of my studio, and at this particular point in life and in my career.
I tried to be as honest as I could, being sure to include some of those gray strands. When it comes to smartphone selfies, most people take pictures of themselves the way they would like to be seen, often in odd angles that end up not looking like the real version of themselves.
What I love about Frida Kahlo’s self portraits is that she leaves nothing out, lovingly painting her unibrow and hairy upper lip as if they were beauty marks. I don’t look for models that are beautiful in a conventional or stereotypical way. I paint light, and subtle nuances in tones and temperatures. I paint hard and soft edges. These things hold so much beauty in my eyes no matter who or what I am painting.
It is common for the expression of the artist in self portraits to be a little stern. It’s hard working from a mirror! Everything is in reverse and it is extremely hard to sight measurements since you usually close one eye to do so… which scrunches my features and my hand blocks what I am trying to measure.
Vincent Van Gough once said, “If I can manage to paint the coloring of my own head, which is not to be done without some difficulty, I shall likewise be able to paint the heads of other good souls, men and women.”
Above is a rough preparatory drawing that I did for the painting. I transferred this drawing to my canvas before diving in. My hair, expression and pose changed slightly over the course of the work.
Another inspiration for this painting was the warmth and textures in Rembrandt’s paintings, as well as John Singer Sargent’s loose brushwork. There are tons of other artists that influence me as well, both living and passed.
I am always growing and evolving. One of these days I might be brave enough to show you a self portrait painting of mine from 10 years ago. Most of the time my most available (and affordable) model is myself. It is a really interesting way to document myself as the years go by. I hope you have enjoyed this up close and personal look of one of my newest finished paintings.
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