A Better Self Portrait

Tonight I did a much better self portrait than my previous three attempts throughout the week. I’m sure that the reason for the improvement had nothing to do with materials but everything to do with focus, pace and time.

a better self portrait
Self portrait

I took my time with this better self portrait tonight. I started by drawing out my head carefully in paint then before refining the drawing more accurately I abandoned the drawing and started working methodically with direct paint.

I have become increasingly aware of which processes of working produce the best work, interestingly enough a lot of my best paintings and drawings come from a process much different than what I see taught. Most progressions of a painting start with a careful drawing, then a rendering from dark to light, and then repeating the rendering from dark to light with gradually more detail. Of course not all artists work this way but in most of the books I’ve seen this is the basic process repeated.

I’ve enjoyed, and have found much success in working quite differently. I will start with some drawing, mostly a general placement of the subject on the canvas, then almost immediately I’ll move to rendering my center of interest. In this case I started rendering my nose and eyes on the light side of the face. I work carefully in an area getting the color value and drawing down as accurately as possible then build upon that by working outward from it, always comparing my new strokes with what I’ve previously done.

Richard Schmid works this way and I find that in drawing and in painting that it works well for me. Like Schmid though, I do place down some local color or similar value in an area before I move into it with greater detail. I’m not a machine and I need some preperation of an area before I can get the color and value correct. But, there is at least one issue with this process…

The biggest issue with working this way, and it can be seen clearly in this latest “better self portrait”, is placement. When working in detail right away you don’t get a clear idea of where the major subject is going to be placed on page so there is a great tendency for the subject to shoot off the canvas or just end up in an odd composition on the surface. I would have liked this self portrait better if my ear didn’t end up off the side of the panel but that was due to pour planning.

A better self portrait, comparison with previous self portrait
A comparison with a previous self portrait of the same size

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