I find self portraits a real challenge. The most difficult subject matter. I painted one last year and it took ages. I did loads and loads of drawings. It bothered me that I couldn't get a likeness. I wanted to get a likeness in my sketchbook before I got a canvas out, and it just wasn't happening. In the end I decided to just get on with it, put the sketchbook to one side and painted what I saw. To complete a self portrait felt like such a breakthrough.
This week, on a bit of a whim, I decided to do another. I had made a loose vow to myself that I would try and paint one a year. I would like to understand what my difficulty with self portraits is! I am reading Martin Gayford's 'A Bigger Message' - conversations with David Hockney, and there is a lot of discussion about the difference between photography and painting. A photograph is a snapshot in time, a capturing of a split second. A painting is a much slower recording. It is more thorough and heartfelt. And it has emotion.
I also love my friend and colleague Julie Caves' hashtag that she puts on her Instagram posts. It says #paintingisaverb. When I saw that I thought 'Oh yeah!' I am painting because I want to experience the act of painting. I love to slow down and look, and respond. It's a love that has grown significantly deeper since I moved to Bishop's Hull and have had greater opportunity to go out and paint on the hills.
Another thought that impacted upon me at just the right time was a reading given at the yoga class I went to 2 days ago. I don't have it to hand, but roughly, it was about having an intention, and then surrendering control. It applies perfectly to observational painting too (maybe all painting). You have an intention, you set everything up, and then you relax into the moment and let what happens happen.
My intention was to treat this painting of myself like any other observational painting. I would lay in an underpainting, select the colours I wanted to work with, mix a few combinations on my palette, then pretty much paint the whole thing 'alla prima'.
Largely this all went to plan, although I still found myself obsessing about whether there was a likeness there. I think I worry that people will always look for a likeness with faces, whereas they tend to look for an atmosphere with landscapes. Annoyingly the 'control' bit of me struggled to surrender completely. Next time I try a self portrait I kind of hope that i'm hardly there, so that the picture exists as a painting, and not a portrait.