My One and Only Self-Portrait ~ Bill

Self-portraiture is a great way to hone your portrait skills because you always have someone to pose for you.  All you need is a mirror.  In college, I had an art teacher who told his students to bring in a variety of pictures to class, including pictures of us.  We didn’t know what was coming.  We had just completed painting miniatures and in order for us to get a feel for working in a variety of sizes, our next project was going to be a mural size dot drawing!  A six by eight foot dot drawing using a black magic marker!

Our teacher picked each students' photo for them, knowing what composition would blow-up well.  For one female student he picked a face of a tiger.  I could definitely see that looking really cool enlarged.  When it came to me he happened to pick out a picture of me wearing a cowboy hat that my girlfriend Jen had taken.  Oh no, I thought to myself.  I was going to spend the rest of the semester working on a mural size portrait of myself!  For a relatively shy person I thought how bad this would look to everyone around me.  The EGO! 

He had us use a projector to blow-up the picture on a huge sheet of white paper.  We drew a very fine pencil outline and from there it was one dot here and one dot there.  Hours upon hours of pointillism to create in the end what became a very realistic huge portrait of ME!

It was one of the most memorable albeit embarrassing art challenges I experienced in college.  It turned out to be one of my best works.  But what was I going to do with a mural size drawing of myself? 

For years, Bill was rolled up in a long cardboard box and traveled with us wherever we moved.  For a number of years, my brother displayed him in a large vaulted room in his home in Colorado.  I was flattered that he loved his brother so much that he could live with a bigger than life size version of me day in and day out. 

When he moved he no longer had room for Bill’s hugeness. I think the reality was that maybe my brother’s girlfriends found it odd.  :-)  Bill was now back in the box. 

Finally, I realized Bill had to go.  I would never hang him.  He couldn’t ever be seen again.  Big Bill ended up in many tiny pieces!  All that work was now in the trash.

I do admire self-portraits by others though.  Van Gogh instantly comes to mind.  He painted dozens of them.  I recently admired a self-portrait done by a friend and modern master Ryan Bonger. It is a worthy exercise for artists and many great self-portraits hang in the most prominent and important museums.    

Just not mine! 

Breaking Out the Fine Point Brushes~Focusing the Lens

Rose Covered ArborAfter my trip to Boston and photo shoot for the portrait painting that I have coming up, I refocused on finishing my second in a series of Annie Bettie’s Cottage paintings.  This painting has been very time consuming.  So much so that I took a break and painted Monhegan Headlands in between painting sessions. 

In the portrait photo shoot, a number of the shots I took were done in the manual mode.  Adjusting the aperture or f–stops gives a variation of depth of field, with the higher f-stop numbers yielding a greater depth of field (objects are in focus up close and in the distance).  The reason Rose Covered Arbor took so long is because I broke out the small brushes again to gain a strong depth of field.  Standing before the rose covered arbor, I wanted the viewers to be sensing all that surrounds them.  I took the time to define every leaf on the arbor, highlighted by backlight.  I concentrated on cast shadows, reflective light and ultimate lights and darks.  The leggy, potted geraniums in the darkest nook are reaching for needed sunlight.  Annuals are thriving in their porcelain pots.  The angle of intense sunlight through the picket gate casts a shadow that creates a complex maze with the linear perspective of the cobblestone walkway. 

The highlighted woodwork I kept light from the beginning (no dark undertones), which helps give a stronger contrast from light to dark.  I let painted areas dry so that I could work in the tiny details later without the paint being muddied.  Glazes were applied over flat colors to add depth and interest. 

The strong perspective, strong lighting and abundance of color all made me want to take the time to focus in on every little area.  All this takes time.  This is my natural tendency in painting, whether it is a landscape, a ship painting or portrait.  It requires more patience to paint realistically but afterwards I find the finished product very rewarding. 

I love going to museums and examining details of a masterpiece up close.  I get so close that occasionally I see the guards start wandering my way!  I never have enough time at a museum to sit and study all that I find interesting because I don’t want to miss the painting that is around the next corner. 

I end up doing the same with Impressionist paintings at museums, as I find the brushwork and use of color fascinating.  The great majority of my work now combines realism with touches of Impressionism.  Occasionally, I have the desire to put everything in focus as in Rose Covered Arbor.  When working on a painting that is so time consuming, I liken it to taking on a challenging 1000 piece puzzle.  Starting out it’s overwhelming, in the middle you think I’m making progress, and in the end the final pieces are the fun ones. I just painted in the final pieces, so to speak.

I hope you enjoy taking a peek past the charming arbor into the secret gardens that await beyond the picket fence.