Painting with a plein air group made me realize what things really looked like. If you have never painted outdoors, what are you waiting for? What we see and what a camera sees (reference photos) are two very different things. My painting changed becoming more and more realistic. In fact, the more I tried a looser style, the more realistic they became!!! It wasn't in the plan, it just happened. My teacher and I soon parted ways. I then went from one style to another. Flowers, landscapes, more flowers, a few interesting and not so interesting landscapes all so realistic people thought they were photographs. That was NOT the goal. I would look at them and just shake my head. Finally I just went with the flow.
Anyone who has studied great artists knows that not one of them stayed in one single style during their careers. Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso even Vermeer worked and refined their styles so that it evolved during their lifetimes.
In my own way I seemed stuck in a rut. I did paint a white fence covered with flowers, a lovely Chinese river scene and managed a popular view of succulent flowers along a garden path. But nothing new, startling. I really wasn't sure where to go next.
A friend sent me a distorted photo of himself and challenged me to paint that. He said I was on the cusp, that I was near a breakthrough. Paint what you feel, not reality. So I did. It was fun. Just SOOOO much fun. The bigger surprise were the comments by those who saw it. They loved it.
Ironically I was reading a bit about the German Expressionists and had just signed up to take the class I took last Saturday at LACMA. My appreciation for them was definitely enhanced and while I had started my own self portrait, I was frozen and not sure what to do. After the lecture, I came home and began to work on my portrait and finished it the next day.
Is it me? Is that how I see myself? They say you are the only one who doesn't see the real you. God knows just about every artist for centuries has painted themselves. After visiting the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam last year, there was no lack of Rembrandts giving it a go! In fact, between the Getty and LACMA here in the Los Angeles area, we have a few as well.
How does one go about this kind of painting? Taking a blank canvas I sketched, with a pencil, the raw outlines of my head. Following (freely I might add) the photo I was given, I sketched in the various background spaces. It was all very rough. I painted the background first using the blue shirt as the counterpoint for the background colors.
Then came the face. I used colors of what I felt reflected my moods...cool and blue, red and excited with yellow the contemplative. The eyes, the nose, and all the other parts of my face came slowly. Is it me? I think it is. I kept adding subtle things. Shading the nose, adding eyebrows, shading even reflecting the missing tooth. It is me, or at least the me that day, paint brush in hand, paint tubes spread around and being deeply contemplative.
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