Mixed Media Self-Portrait

This week’s Life Book lesson taught me that I need to be more patient and it reinforced that my creative nemesis is time.

The tutor for this week was Jeanne Oliver and the idea was to create a mixed media piece using an image of ourselves as the key piece of scaffolding for the art work that would emerge.  Her video tutorial was in-depth, detailed and crammed full of new techniques and approaches.  My first challenge, however, was just watching the videos: I have had such little free time this week that I had to watch the videos in bursts of five or ten minutes over the course of a few days.  It is difficult to feel immersed in inspiration and ideas when all the dipping in and out undermines the cohesion and flow of what the artist is demonstrating.  It was a definite test of my patience.

Another challenge I faced was that I did not have the materials required for some of the techniques, including the key technique of image transfer that Oliver demonstrated a few times in the course of the tutorial.  I, therefore, had to improvise with what I had in order to end up with the same sort of result.  Having figured out how I was going to approach the piece and even having an image of it in my mind’s eye, the snag of lack of time came to the fore again.  I had to mentally break down the piece I wanted to create into very many bite size stages.  I had five minutes to work on it here, ten minutes to work on it there, but I could not risk abandoning a stage part way through otherwise I would be risking the whole thing becoming disjointed.

Something I found interesting while creating this piece was that I realised – by virtue of having to improvise a bit – that I was pulling on learning from several Life Book lessons, not just Jeanne Oliver’s: the blending of collage and paint to create a figure was something I did for Jane Davenport’s lesson; I had learned some skills involved in painting portraits from the lesson with Jenny Wentworth; the use of metallics was something I learned from Mati Rose McDonough’s lesson and which I then incorporated into another painting I did; and there have been several lessons involving building up layers of collage and pigment that I borrowed from for this piece.  The process made me realise not only how much I am learning but how much I am absorbing.

As I built up the background and figure’s body using collaged papers, I contemplated not making it a self-portrait at all.  I would much rather paint someone either more aesthetically pleasing than myself or with a more characterful face than myself.  However, the whole idea of the lesson was to create a piece that was a reflection of self.  I, therefore, resolved to stick with the plan and paint my own face.  Ugh.

Week 22 - Reflections -1

Week 22 - Reflections -3

The resulting face looks like me and yet does not look like me.  I have a habit of making eyes too big – largely because of my usual drawing style – so in my attempts to ensure they did not end up too starey they have actually ended up looking like I am in some sort of stupor.  My eyes and eyebrows are one of my dominant features so the eyes not being large enough means the face does not really look like me.  The proportions of the forehead are correct (I have a five-head) but I painted my chin a bit too low in relation to my mouth (and my lips really are that big and pouty).  So if you squint your eyes just so the face looks like me.  Something I deliberately changed was the hair.  I have terrible hair.  It would not make for an interesting painting.  Since my collage and composition had taken me into a sort of Klimt or Mucha vibe, I felt like the figure needed full, thick hair – something I have never had.  The hair is actually collaged from a book.

Except for the face (ugh!) I am really pleased with how this piece turned out.  I like the palette of neutrals with the disc of gold behind the head and the metallic dots and gold splatter adding interest.  I like that the body is collaged out of an image of scrabble pieces since it relates to my love of words, literacy and literature.  I like the little bits of collage around the golden disc.  I can see me using the techniques I used in creating this piece again – just not with my mug – and at some point I would like to try the image transfer technique Oliver highlighted in her lesson too.


20 thoughts on “Mixed Media Self-Portrait

  1. Hi Laura, I’m on a road trip, hence, I don’t have pictures of my black and white contrast; nor have I started on Jeanne Oliver’s project. Can’t wait to go home and start painting and collaging. I did cut up my magazines, so I’m partly ready. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you did an awesome job combining the different lessons! I could tell right away it was you, even without squinting! I did get very inspired and I want to sketch and watercolor something because my daughter and I went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we saw so many abstract painting. Have an awesome time and talk to you later.

    • Thank you very much, Carmen. Have a wonderful road trip. I look forward to learning about all the inspirational things you saw and see how they’ve found their way into your art.

  2. I was thinking there was more than a hint of Klimt in there and then you said it. It’s always interesting how we don’t like painting our own image – picking out all that is wrong rather than all that is ‘right’. I think you did a remarkably good job! This is another lesson I haven’t even looked at yet. I think I will be working about a year in retrospect with this course 🙂

    • Thank you very much. I think partly it’s that I just don’t find my own face that pleasing but mostly that I’m obviously so familiar with my own face that the flaws are jarringly obvious in my painting. But I do like all the other elements so I’m considering this piece a success overall.

      I’m going to get way behind over the summer because of having my kids at home but it is what it is. I will just aim to catch up later in the year.

  3. I enjoy the way you draw us into the process, so that even though I’m not a visual artists (and a good portion of the detail goes over my head) I come away with an appreciation of what’s behind a piece of work. It’s not just an object–a finished piece–anymore, but a series of choices and challenges.

    • Thanks, Ellen. I very much appreciate that comment. I’m in no position to teach anyone art technique really but I do hope that sharing my thought process might be informative to either people who create art or who are viewing art and wish to interrogate it in that way.

      • Then I’m happy to help. My husband is the same way. He doesn’t have an artistic bone in his body but has always been keen to learn how to appreciate art in a more involved way. 20 years ago I taught him about the use of a colour to lead the viewer’s eye around a painting and he’s been obsessing over that one technique ever since, always looking for it.

  4. Laura, I am a Lifebooker also. I have never read such a wonderful detailed description of what we do. It so resonated with me. Yes! The process we are going through teaches us so much each week that we then combine in various ways to produce our pieces. BTW, this is one of my favorite pieces ever on Lifebook. And Laura, stop being so critical of your own image! Embrace your cute little self, girl! You are adorable.

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Janice. I definitely need to find a way to silence my inner critic or at least get it to quiet down.

      Its great to “meet” another Life Booker so thank you very much for visiting my blog.

  5. Great post! I have never been one to gravitate to self portraits, and when I have, I never see myself in what I have drawn. It is hard to step back and see what is there and not explode our perceived imperfections. I don’t actually know what you look like, but I really like this work as just that, a piece of art. I think it is also telling that the woman is not looking directly out at us….I feel I never look directly in the mirror or reflection either….

    • Thank you very much for your lovely comment, Rebecca. I do like the piece if I don’t regard it as being me it portrays. I’m just too familiar with my own face to not see the flaws. It’s definitely a technique and approach to figurative painting that I would use again, however – just not with my face. Thank you for visiting my blog.

  6. Thanks for dropping by my blog and deciding to follow me. I too look forward to follow you. Your blog is great lots of interesting things to read and this post is great.

    Warm Greetings form Magny

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