First Self Portrait!

detail of self portrait with Serdar's scarf 9-20-18 web
‘Self portrait with Emily’s scarf’ (detail) watercolor pencil and gouache on paper © J.Hart

I have done very few self portrait in my career: never thought that my face was so interesting. However, while researching portraits, I looked at various artists’ self portraits and was encouraged to do one of myself. Not sure how good a likeness this is, but I feel that it is a good drawing.

 

 

Live vs. Photo (2)

These portraits are again from a photo and from a live sitting (the one on the left from a photo) of a friend who was visiting from Berlin. The one done from life is a better drawing capturing as it does a certain intelligence and characteristic expression of the sitter. However, as Mirka remarked (and she was right!) the drawing makes the width of her face too narrow.

Interestingly, it took me three tries to get close to a resemblance when working from the photo. Mirka’s face is asymmetrical ( actually all of our faces are, but some people are more asymmetrical than others), which I got in the sketch, but struggled with when using the photo. And again, as a drawing, the one done from the photo has an overworked quality which I don’t like.

I’m going to do one or two more drawings of Mirka, this time working from the drawings rather than the photo. Let’s see what happens!

Live vs. Photo

Many (most?) artists work with photos when they do portraits. The advantages are clear: the sitter is not forced into hours of boredom; the artist can draw and redraw the face in her own time; the hard work of going from 3D to 2D has been done by an apparatus. The problem, I find, however, is that there is a tendency for the portrait done in close dependence on a photo to often look “frozen”, stiff, and inhuman!

There is something in the drawing using stereoscopic vision with the breathing model in front of me, that captures the energy and reality of the living person better than a drawing done from a photo. The downside is that sometimes the resemblance slips away (and that can happen, maddeningly, with a slight mistake in the distance between the eyes or the length of the chin or the shape of an eyebrow!).

In previous centuries, the best artists could not only get a resemblance, but they also (amazingly) could retain the image of the person and repeat it from memory! However, part of this skill came about because artists redid work: redrew, repainted, reconceptualized the image, as can be seen in many Degas studies. I was not trained to do this, but I am going to be working this way for awhile to see what I can learn from it. The trick, I think, is to reverse engineer the image in the photo to recapture the vitality of the living model.

My friend Val was kind enough to sit for me recently for the drawings at the top of this post. I usually draw for about 1/2 an hour then take photos of my model. The drawing on the right was done from life; the one on the left from the photo I took during the same sitting. The drawings are, as always, watercolor pencil on paper.

The Daily Practice of Portraiture

Chris with Bonchat
‘Chris with Bonchat’ watercolor pencil on paper 11″ x 15″ © J.Hart

I am going to take a suggestion from Seth Godin and start a daily blog of my portraiture work. I am practicing doing portraits in order to become as skilled as possible so that I can work with live models as well as photos. Also, doing this practice in public will keep me honest and on task!

Today’s drawing is of my neighbor Chris with his very ironically named cat, Bonchat sitting on our balcony in late summer. This portrait got to the heart of their relationship: undemonstrative cat, very loving master!

Although I did this from a photo, I worked to get some of the more interesting and less definitive marks of unmediated seeing. It is also fun to do portraits of friends and family that I know well. The portrait is more likely to be an authentic representation of the person.

More on the difference between working from life and from photos tomorrow!

 

‘The Blame of Portraits’

Martin eyes closed 2-16-15
‘Martin with eyes closed’ oil pastel on board 11″ x 14″ © J. Hart

“For the image of the sitter on the artist’s retina is passed on its way to the canvas through a mind chock full of other images; and is transferred-Heaven knows how changed already-by processes of line and curve, of blots of colour, and juxtaposition of light and shade belonging not merely to the artist himself, but to the artist’s whole school…and, in truth, a portrait gives the sitter’s temperament merged in the temperament of the painter.”    from Vernon Lee’s Hortus Vitae: Essays on the Gardening of Life (1904)

Vernon Lee was the nom de plume of Violet Paget, a good friend of John Singer Sargent, who painted a lovely portrait of her that can be found online. She was an art historian, feminist, and pacifist (1856-1935).

Gilles Deleuze also noted, in his wonderful book on Francis Bacon, that the problem with beginning a painting is not that the canvas is blank, but that it is too full of everything that the artist has seen, which must be let go to begin a new piece.