It’s been years, decades maybe – since I’ve painted a self portrait. I recall completing one in college somewhere around my second year while taking a drawing class. It was a non-expressive version of me staring at a goldfish bowl.
I don’t remember exactly what was happening in my life while drawing this image of myself but it’s likely a psych major would have eagerly volunteered to write a paper on it. In fact, nearly every attempt to do a self portrait has produced an expression of, at the very least – a sense of awkwardness. The unveiling of a self portrait in high school prompted my art teacher to suggest that I perhaps needed to ‘seek a bit of psychotherapy.’ I’ve always chuckled at that statement. The art student is called out because she has bravely bared her soul for all to see when, if forced, wouldn’t nearly every other 17 year old high school student produce a familiar representation of his or herself? I mean, what teenager doesn’t feel uncomfortable in their own skin?
A few weeks ago I filled the background of an 18×24 watercolor block with brilliant colors of wash not really knowing what would come next. I let it sit while on vacation and when I returned it became clear as rain water that a portrait was waiting for me.
I didn’t give any thought to what would transpire; I just worked; and worked, and worked. In fact I was so transfixed, I couldn’t take myself away from it. I have never enjoyed the process of a painting as much as I did this.
When I was younger I looked into continuing my education by becoming an art therapist. Part of me wishes that I’d taken that route; such insight can be gathered by looking at a painting, like stealing a glimpse into the pages of someone’s diary.
The long, flowing hair – certainly not my hair at the present moment. But does the hair really represent a secret desire for corkscrew curls? Or, is it that the hair represents a feeling of Growth in the artist’s life, and the beauty of what’s to come?
The eyelashes might not initially cause one to take pause until further study reveals that they were not painted on but carefully cut from paper and detailed with dozens of fuchsia beads. Added so they’re noticed, hoping not to be forgotten – not unlike me when I force myself to wear bright red lipstick, challenging the inner wallflower to use color to peel herself away from the background and into sight.
The most obvious difference in this portrait is of course, the facial expression. She is smiling perhaps because she is surrounded by vibrant and thrilling color, symbolizing life and all it has to offer. Or because the little things in life are what makes her happiest: butterflies, hummingbirds, chickadees.
…maybe other things, too.
A quote will accompany this piece, something written to complete the visual representation of this painting:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson