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Selfies THE old fashioned way

About two years ago I watched a TV programme about the self portrait. One of the examples in particular I found especially engaging in it’s honesty; it was Lucien Freud so it was, you might say, brutal in its honesty. It was a full-length, nude self portrait.

The idea of self portraits stayed with me but I did nothing more with it. I considered setting up a mirror in the studio but felt—I’m not entirely sure why—that this was unsatisfactory and would not lead where I wanted to go with the idea.

A little research on self portraits turned up some work by Tony Squance in which he used lo-res video self portraits as the basis for work exploring similarities between portrait and landscape. Not where I wanted to go but the use of the video was worth a shot I thought. It seemed so obvious then, that I was a little ashamed of myself for not thinking of this earlier. My mitigation was that it perhaps needs that taken-for-granted familiarity with access to video that is not second-nature to most of my generation.

So on a warm, sunny day when I was out working in my sketchbook at one of my regular locations, I took a break and walked up and down (to achieve different light-shade distribution) waving my ‘phone around. The result was a lot of video of nothing more than ground and sky, but after taking quick screen shots on my laptop, and a little cropping and contrast manipulation in Photoshop I had around five or six what I thought were usable reference shots.

Self Portrait 1. Charcoal on paper, 22 x 30 inches.

My default drawing medium is graphite but I chose to produce the first drawing in charcoal—with charcoal it is even easier to use the rubber as a drawing and mark-making tool.

My second self portrait was done in my default medium of graphite. I use the hard plastic eraser as much as the graphite stick—there is a big difference between a mark made heavily with the graphite and then rubbed back and a mark made lightly or with a harder grade of graphite. I felt quite early-on that there was a stiffness to the drawing that I didn’t like.

The stiffness, I felt, came from too-careful planning and initial mapping out. But perhaps I could deal with this with gesso, so I dampened the paper and with a hard plastic roller began to apply coat upon coat of diluted gesso. Some areas of the drawing were covered almost completely and when dry I reaffirmed the drawing, this time working much more quickly and loosely. Further disruption of the drawing was done with oil pastel.

Self Portrait 2. Graphite, gesso and oil pastel on paper, 32x42 inches.

For the third self portrait I went back to the charcoal but with a different reference image and at a larger scale.

Self Portrait 3, charcoal on paper, 37x52 inches.

The fourth in the series started in graphite again working with graphite sticks and large graphite blocks, after having got the basics of the drawing in, I could see that there was something wrong with it. Even ‘disrupting’ the drawing—randomly throwing gesso at it and making random marks with the graphite sticks—failed to spark anything new and I just couldn’t seem to ‘find’ it at all so I left the drawing ‘to cook’ for a few days.

Three or four days later in an all or nothing attempt at a dramatic disruption I took a large four-inch brush and with black ink started to paint vigorously over the graphite. The dense black was a step forward but the textures in the graphite—now lost to the fluid nature of the ink—needed to be exchanged for something else. White acrylic applied whilst areas of the ink were still wet produced some interesting mixes and contrasts.

Self Portrait 4. Ink and mixed media, 37x 52 inches.

Created By
john humber
Appreciate

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