Drawing Figures – Project: Self Portrait

29/09/14

Research Point

Investigate some artists’ self portraits.  Look at both well-known self portraits – such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and at lesser known artists.  Make notes in your learning log.

I decided to avoid the most obvious self portraits (although many are favourites eg Rembrandt, van Gogh, Degas etc),  if there is such a thing, and looked for well-known artists that come to mind a little further down the list so to speak.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) – Mexico City

A fascinating life and many self portraits.  Frida Kahlo loaded her paintings with symbolism and story

Research Point Self Portraits Frida Kahlo - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Frida Kahlo – Self Portrait

telling.  I think she very much captured the essence of herself, not only in her features but in adding the relevant narrative for that specific time in her life’s story.  I watched a documentary about her some months ago, this followed her life, loves and tragedies which can be read throughout her self portraits.  Recovering from a horrendous traffic accident as a teenager, she had many months of recuperation and was never fully free of pain afterwards.  Therefore, she had nothing but her painting and, confined to bed, probably no other subject than herself.

She also depicted, sometimes quite graphically, her inability to carry her three pregnancies to full term due to her injuries. Not shy of describing her conditions and personal tragedies as a woman, she was revered by feminists for her illustrative candour.  Her life ended at the age of 47 in 1954 but had spanned many turbulent and transitional world events politically, artistically and religiously.  Religion and her Mexican culture played a large part in her life and therefore, her paintings.  If anyone truly painted themselves, it was Frida Kahlo.

Research Point Self Portraits Frida Kahlo - The Broken Column

Research Point
Self Portraits
Frida Kahlo – The Broken Column

I chose Kahlo because of the extra narrative she brought to her self portraits, the symbolism is rife within them and I can not begin to imagine how to use that in my own work.  I hope that over time, I can find such a personal voice to demonstrate feelings, emotions and beliefs in such a way that they inject more life and meaning into my images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)

Another prolific painter of the self-portrait, Egon Shiele was way ahead of his time in my humble opinion.  A few adjectives and phrases come to mind: stunning, expressive, disturbing, flexible, explicit, innovative, graphic, contortionist, self-aware, uninhibited…

Research Point Self Portraits Egon Schiele - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Egon Schiele – Self Portrait

Research Point Self Portraits Egon Schiele - Self Portrait

Research Point
Self Portraits
Egon Schiele – Self Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schiele was mentored by Gustav Klimt and his influence is sometimes clear, yet he has a very distinctive style of his own.  Exaggerating his own skinny physique with strong, jagged line and knobbly joints, Schiele manages to produce wonderfully twisted and expressive poses.  How on earth he managed to do this I don’t know – multiple mirrors, memory, a multitude of sketches?  However he did it, his work is unmistakable.  The facial expressions are numerous and vivid – I can’t imagine how he managed keep his expression and reproduce it at the same time.

His untimely death at the age of 28 leaves one wondering what he would have gone on to do had he lived longer.

Onto my supposedly lesser known artists and their self portraits.  I had whittled my list down to four:  Bryan Lewis Saunders, Paula Modensohn-Becker, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Kathe Kollwitz.  For the purpose of this research point I’ve decided to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with no insult or pre-judgement intended, so it’s Kathe Kollwitz and Bryan Lewis Saunders.

Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
(Käthe Kollwitz. [Internet]. 2014. The Biography.com website. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/käthe-kollwitz-37900 [Accessed 29 Sep 2014].
Supporting information from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A4the_Kollwitz

A quick introduction:
Kathe Kollwitz was a German draughtsman, painter and sculptor born in Kalinigrad, Russia formally known as Konigsberg, East Prussia 1867.  She studied at art schools for women in Berlin and Munich.  she excelled drawing working people and studies of the human condition.  I have to admit, I didn’t know of this artist until discussing self portraits at my life drawing class and her name came up.  I have researched some of her drawings and her self portraits are simply brilliant.  Again, a very expressive style with an abundance of emotion and feeling encased in her mark making.

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1898

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1898

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1910

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1910

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1938

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1938

Self Portraits Research Point Kathe Kollwitz - Self Portrait 1924

Self Portraits
Research Point
Kathe Kollwitz – Self Portrait 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A selection of self portraits spanning 40 years.  The likeness is always there, with the added life experience clearly depicted.  I especially like the 1924 charcoal drawing on tinted paper, such an economic style but speaks volumes.

Bryan Lewis Saunders
http://bryanlewissaunders.org/drugs/

A quirky choice which I described as ridiculous earlier.  This is not to be derogatory regarding his skill and style but maybe could have referred to his methods of one particular self-portrait series.  Saunders another prolific self portraitist, has, since 1995, made it a mission to complete at least one self-portrait per day until his end – over 8000 so far.  He has many hardback sketchbooks dedicated to this task and his drawings take many guises not least the “Under the Influence” series.  In this series, Saunders took a different drug, prescriptive or otherwise each day, and drew himself under the influence.  Not a method I’d recommend, even in my non-medical capacity, I can see this just maybe detrimental to one’s health.  In fact the artist himself admits it wasn’t ideal considering he did damage his brain to a recoverable degree, although he says he’s still continuing the experiment but not so intensively – each to their own.  I have attached a link to his website, as I’m not sure copyright would allow me to reproduce the images on my blog.  I have to say, some of them are very eye-catching and expressive, but then I probably would have expected that.  Here are the titles of those that particularly caught my eye (this is not a shopping list):

1 sm glass of “real” absinth
Bathsalts (?????)
1 “bump” of Crystal meth (can’t believe I’m typing this!)
PCP
20mg Valium
2mg Xanax

I did wonder, though, how much the intoxication actually influenced the drawing and how much was a, however subconscious, pre-conceived image.  Some are very obviously, out there and floating!  However the inspiration was attained, there is a clear likeness running through the images, even the more abstract and/or expressive ones.  From the recipe list above, my favourites are Bathsalts and PCP.

To be fair, some of his portraits were as a result of medication given in the ER for kidney stones.  Maybe I should do a sketch directly after my multi-vitamin in the morning!?

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Project: Self Portrait – Check and Log

26/09/14

Check & Log

  • Which drawing materials produced the best results? Why?

Over the course of this project I used varying grades of pencil (4B, 6B and 8B), liner pen, watersoluble pencil, soft and hard pastels and coloured pencils.  The majority of drawings were made in my A4 sketchbook which has NOT water colour paper pages and the colour self portrait was drawn on sanded pastel paper in a neutral green shade.  All worked reasonably well.  The liner pen seems to encourage me to be loose and expressive with my marks, yet still allows me to see what I’ve done.  The graphite pencils, as long as I keep them sharp, are good for more delicate shading and tone in smaller studies eg the Neck Shapes, although I do find them hard work for anything over A4.  My favourite, and therefore the best for me, was the combination of pastel and coloured pencil as in the self portrait – this was also helped by the neutral green tint of the pastel paper.  The pastels were great to block in tones, shapes and intial colours to establish the bulk of the head and neck.  Once the bare bones of the drawing were established it was nice to use the coloured pencils for more accurate drawing, although, once I realised which alterations were needed, I also used them for vigorous hatching and blocking in.  The main problem with doing this was that the pastel paper had a strong, abrasive tooth and wore the pencils down very quickly.

  • Does your self portrait look like you? Show it to a couple of friends or family members and note down their comments.

I think in general it does look like me.  As detailed in the exercise notes, it was fascinating to me how it evolved through a couple of family likenesses before it got to me.  I could definitely see my mother in it at one stage, which is very interesting as our features are quite different.  She used to say she had a “Bob Hope” nose, which although an exaggeration, I could see what she meant (realise this reference may have to be Googled by younger readers!).  I have to say I think the nose I drew is too small.

The Bob Hope nose

Disconcertingly, the next resemblance was my middle brother, we have a strong likeness to each other but I needed to bring in more feminine features.  As to what friends and family think, I bravely posted it on my Facebook page for critique!  In general, the comments were “I only remember a much more smiley Gina”, “looks like an older version of you”, “you’re definitely much more smiley than that”, “…looks even better than yesterday, was worth the re-work”, “eyes are spot on”, “an older version of you”, “…but you’re much more smiley”.  Very interesting I thought, I also noted the caption beneath the example in the course notes: “Boccioni’s frown of concentration is a frequent characteristic of self portraits!”  My conclusions are that: when attempting a portrait, self or otherwise, the sitter will relax into an expression and with the best will in the world can not hold a smile for the duration; a portrait is more than a moment in time, as may be said about a photograph, it is about a living, breathing person that should capture the essence of that person, the viewer should probably feel a connection or some sort of emotional pull that makes you feel you know something about them or have at least met them.  If I take my conclusions, then I probably failed on these aspects because people had specific recollections involving a lot of smiling (apparently), they thought I’d made myself look older, however, I think I got that part right, but I am quite animated when I talk so they don’t often see a “freeze-frame” serious me.  Well enough about me, let’s move on…

  • Did you find it easy to convert your sketches into a portrait?

No definitely not!  My portrait from memory was of my neighbour, and whereas a couple of my sketches do actually have a good likeness – or at least how I remember her, I could not replicate that likeness, try as I might!  I did put it down to the fact that Linda did not want her glasses on when I was sketching, yet that was how I’d always seen her and how I remembered her.  However, going back to the previous point, I think it was more than that, I needed to see her in front of me for the drawing to “be” her.

Court Artist Elizabeth Cook www.theguardian.com

Court Artist Elizabeth Cook http://www.theguardian.com

I have renewed admiration for court artists, such as Elizabeth Cook, who can capture not only a likeness but also the emotions and expressions of the players in a court of law.  They have to remember all these things and have their drawings displayed to the world as a realistic record of events denied to TV cameras and photographers.  See link:
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/court-artists-quick-on-the-draw-9091848.html

 

  •  Were your preliminary drawings adequate?

At the time I thought so.  After leaving it a couple of weeks before re-visiting the drawing, I was still confident until pencil hit paper.  I should have concentrated more on the solid head shape, BOTH eyes and more tonal structure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project: Self Portrait – Exercise: Portrait From Memory

28/08/14 & 16&19/09/14

Portrait from Memory

For this exercise you will use your imagination and the skills you have learned to draw someone you have seen momentarily or draw a self-portrait from memory.  In this situation you will only have time to make brief sketches and some written observational notes.

I asked a neighbour if she would come round and let me draw her while we chatted over a cup of tea.  She was aware that I wasn’t trying to create a portrait there and then but gathering information to try to produce one at a later date.

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: Portrait from Memory Sketches and notes 1 Liner pen, 4B pencil and water soluble pencil in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: Portrait from Memory
Sketches and notes 1
Liner pen, 4B pencil and water-soluble pencil in A4 sketchbook

Linda is one of my neighbours, I see her fairly often when walking my dog and we occasionally meet up for tea and a chat and the odd neighbourhood party.  My impression of Linda is a positive, smiley person with a hint of mischievousness.

The sketches left are not overly representative and seem generalised apart from the profile, which is definitely her.

 

 

 

 

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: Portrait from Memory Sketches and notes 2 Liner pen and 4B pencil  in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: Portrait from Memory
Sketches and notes 2
Liner pen and 4B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Notes made:
High arch to the eye brows; Small round, smiley eyes; Appley cheeks; Green/hazel eyes; Upright stance – good posture; Slim mouth but bow-shaped.

The sketches (right) are fairly true, although Linda said when she looks in the mirror, she thinks the eyes drawn in pencil (on the right) are more like hers.

I hope she won’t mind me saying but I know she had her 60th birthday a couple of years ago but her outlook is very youthful.  She’s had some major losses fairly recently but keeps her positivity and pushes herself to try new things.

 

We spent about an hour together that afternoon, knowing that I was going on holiday at the end of the week and wouldn’t be able to complete my portrait attempt until I got back, I felt that would be a good test of my sketches and notes.

16/09/14

Drawing One

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: Portrait from Memory Drawing One 6B pencil  in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: Portrait from Memory
Drawing One
6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

When I came to revisit this exercise, I referred back to my notes and was quietly confident I could make a reasonable job.  Typically, although the front facing or 3/4 view sketches were life-like, they were only partial renderings.  The complete profile sketch, was definitely as I see Linda.  However, I thought that would make it too easy on myself just to reproduce the profile.

This first attempt was very frustrating – the eyes are odd ie they don’t go together.  Having not looked at this for a few days, I think the eye brows are right, and the mouth is not too bad.  The face seems too large and there is no spark of Linda at all.

I decided to try once more.

 

 

 

18/09/14

Drawing Two

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: Portrait from Memory Drawing Two 6B pencil  in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: Portrait from Memory
Drawing Two
6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Second attempt in retrospect is just as far off but for different reasons.

The shape of the lower face is better, but I think the mouth in the first drawing is more like her.
The nose this time is better positioned and less bulbous which is a bonus – surprisingly, I referred more to the profile sketch for this drawing as it made me think of the face as a whole and as three-dimensional. The area of frustration was the eyes and it suddenly struck me that I always see Linda wearing glasses, however, she didn’t want to be drawn wearing them. I mildly protested but was grateful for her sparing the time, so that’s why I sketched her eyes a couple of times.  I think this maybe the reason why I struggled because when I recall her, she is definitely wearing glasses. I tried a pair on the drawing and, although it is better, it’s still not right.

This exercise brought home that a portrait is not just about features being right but about the whole image, and the personality needs to come through too.  It was almost as if my approach was too clinical and would only ever come up with a poor facsimile of the person.

Project: Self Portrait – Exercise: A Self Portrait

13/08/14

A Self Portrait

Draw the overall egg shape of the head and divide the facial plane into sections as described before.  Now start to build in the overall shape of the features on the facial plane.  Keep it simple – don’t get caught up in small details. Don’t worry about a likeness at this stage… Consider the hair as another shape… basic shapes and angles influenced by the bone and muscle structures beneath the skin… Use tonal gradation to indicate the three-dimensionality of the face… Take a break, change position and drawing medium and do another portrait.

A Self Portrait – One

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: A Self Portrait First attempt 6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: A Self Portrait
First attempt
6B pencil in A4 sketchbook

Using a mirror and the guidance given ie drawing the face shape, dividing the face as per classic proportions, building from a line drawing, introducing tone.

I really don’t know who this is – definitely not me.  However, am pleased with the tone and solidity of the face.  I did enjoy drawing it as I don’t think I’ve done a lot of pencil portraits before.  I attend a portrait class and have used, pastel, oils and watercolour but not such a complete image in pencil.

Next day ( 14/08/14), I held this up to a mirror next to my face and think the main problem is the eyes, plus I have shortened the top of the head quiet a lot – if I cover this it look a little more successful.  So the actual structure of the head appears crucial to helping achieve a likeness.

 

 

A Self Portrait – Two (Preparatory Sketches and Notes)
I made a lot of notes in my sketchbook but they may not be legible in the photo so will transcribe them here.

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: A Self Portrait Second attempt - Preparatory Sketches Line pen in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: A Self Portrait
Second attempt – Preparatory Sketches
Line pen in A4 sketchbook

Photo 1:
Sketch 1 – Experiment: Tried drawing my left eye first – I’ve noticed some portrait artists start with an eye then work the rest of the face around that.  I usually start with shapes and planes of the head so thought it interesting to try something different.  The first eye (left) although quite accurate in itself became far too small in comparison to the second.  I worked down the left of the features first then back up from the mouth and across to the right side.
Observations:  This was interesting as the face is not often, if ever, absolutely symmetrical and working the features like this actually makes it more of a likeness as it’s taking one side at a time (not withstanding the different eye sizes), and working round the inside of the face.
Sketch 2:  Concentrated on face shape and planes of the face first – marked out placing of brows, nose and mouth and the centre line.  Used the ears as landmarks.
Observations:  Less of a likeness, features became too big in relation to the face shape and size.  Eyes were totally the incorrect shape.  What went wrong?

 

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: A Self Portrait Second attempt - Preparatory Sketches Line pen in A4 sketchbook

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: A Self Portrait
Second attempt – Preparatory Sketches
Line pen in A4 sketchbook

Photo 2:
This time:
Instructions to self:
1.  Define face shape and planes
2.  Mark placing of features
3.  Use ears as landmarks
4.  Work down from left eye to nose, mouth, chin and then back up to the right eye.
Results:-  I think this approach has helped with the likeness.  Features are more in proportion, not only to each other but to the face shape.  I’ve noticed I tend to make the irises of the eyes too large which results in the likeness being lost from them in particular.  Taking each side of the face on its own merit has removed the false symmetry that I think in hind sight, stopped the likeness coming through on the first self-portrait.  I think this method is particularly helpful in a self portrait as we may not know our own faces as well as we think, or conversely, we know them too well to be objective.

A Self Portrait – Two

The previous preliminary sketches were useful and I was going to attempt a colour version, however, I decided to change to a three-quarter view rather than another face on.
Materials use:
25x32cm fine pastel sand paper in a neutral green mid tone.
Soft pastels, hard pastels and pastel pencils for underpainting.
I set up 2 mirrors to get an angle I don’t usually see of my own face with a light illuminating one side.  Also, have windows in front and to my left side.

Project: Self Portrait Exercise: A Self Portrait Second attempt Pastel, pastel pencil, coloured pencil on 25x32cm pastel sanded paper

Project: Self Portrait
Exercise: A Self Portrait
Second attempt
Pastel, pastel pencil, coloured pencil on 25x32cm pastel sanded paper

Method:
Blocked in with mid tone pastel to attain rough shape and planes of face and head. Added planes of nose and chin, hair-line, neck and shoulders.  Continued with pastel until more accurate drawing required use of pastel pencils in first instance.  Built on foundations with coloured pencils for the features.  In retrospect, it would have been interesting to take photographs along the way.
Results 1:  Checked result by standing back and could see something was not right – initially thought it was the nose and mouth but in reality it was the chin.  Interestingly, I could see my mother in the drawing.
Results 2:   Adjusted the chin and was about to call it complete, but from a distance the tones needed work.
Results 3:  Refined the chin and tones – stood the drawing up and could see where more work was needed – by the time adjustments had been made, I could see my brother in the drawing!  This wasn’t a complete disaster, however, although the family resemblance was there – it still wasn’t me.  I think I had drawn my brother in drag!  So, I set about feminising the drawing – refining features, emphasising eye lashes etc.  Again I was going to call it a day but, it still wasn’t me.  The nose was quite different.
Results 4:  Worked on the nose specifically, really observing  the shapes, nostrils and nuances that was MY nose – which I have to say, is a very specific and difficult shape!  Finally, pleased with that, I stood back and the mouth and chin were wrong.  I scrubbed through these and gave up for the night.
Next day:- Sat down again in front of the mirrors and worked on the mouth and chin.  Try as I might, I could not get it.  I realised that the reason the chin was wrong was because I had changed my position.  It had become more profile that 3/4 view.  Rectifying this made a huge difference.  I could reshape the chin with tone rather than line as the side of my face further away from me (?) helped define the shape.  So I was then left with the mouth problem – I was sure I’d noticed and drawn all the subtleties in the mouth but still wasn’t right.  I hatched right across it with a paler colour and it became obvious when the problem was – it was too defined.  I decided to use the pencils in a more painterly manner rather than drawing definite lines – the main tone was where the upper and lower lips met, so I purposely left that as the focus and muted the outer shape – this worked so much better.  I can now see myself – even though the nose still isn’t quite right.  I decided to quit while I was ahead.

 

Project: Self Portrait – Exercise: Drawing Your Face

13/08/14

Exercise: Drawing Your Face

Look at yourself in the mirror and, using your sketchbook draw several five-minute sketches of our face describing different angles of your face and head.

Exercise: Drawing Your Face

Exercise: Drawing Your Face
8B Pencil – 5 minutes
Straight on view

Exercise: Drawing Your Face 8B Pencil - 5 minutes

Exercise: Drawing Your Face
8B Pencil – 5 minutes
Skewed three-quarter view

All the facial sketches are on A4 paper in my sketchbook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise: Drawing Your Face 8B Pencil - 5 minutes

Exercise: Drawing Your Face
8B Pencil – 5 minutes
Head tilted up, looking down

Exercise: Drawing Your Face 8B Pencil - 5 minutes

Exercise: Drawing Your Face
8B Pencil – 5 minutes
Three Quarter View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise: Drawing Your Face 8B Pencil - 5 minutes

Exercise: Drawing Your Face
8B Pencil – 5 minutes Head tilted down and looking up

Draw five more quick sketches concentrating on the overall shape of the head without the neck.  Decide what basic shape it might represent and draw the shape across the page until you think the shape has a sense of rightness.

Depicting the Shape of my Head

Depicting the Shape of my Head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For both of these one page studies I tied my hair back out of the way so I could really see the shapes of both head and neck.

Draw the shape of your neck repeatedly in your sketchbook.

Depicting the shape of my neck

Depicting the shape of my neck

Notes made on this page relating to the accepted proportional positioning of facial features:

“Tested my facial proportions against those outlined on page 128 of the course notes.

Noted: top forehead/hair-line to centre of eyes does not equate to the halfway point of my face, mine = halfway down my nose.
My ears span the bottom of my eyes to the top of my mouth.

These proportions are approximate not set in stone but the landmarks are useful to judge against one another.”