Self Portrait, or I Am Made of Lessons
gesso, torn vintage book pages with drawings, acrylic paint, moleskine notebook
Yesterday, while dinner was cooking, after blogging and browsing pinterest and planning and organizing, I had the sudden urge to paint. And then I laid out my stuff and painted. Just painted. No fuss, no talking, no worries, no self doubt, no questions. I just painted.
I had an idea, which bubbled up after looking at this and this, after many weeks of thinking I wanted to give some interest to my grounds, but not really knowing what to do. After many weeks of letting the desire to take up painting again simmer on the back burner while I lived my life and went on organizing my thoughts and my work space and my supplies.
I grabbed an old moleskine notebook, and opened, not to a blank page, but to one that had already been prepped with a wash of blue. Then I went to my collection of scrap papers and found an old Alice in Wonderland page that I'd already started to draw on but had never been satisfied with. Then I gessoed the painted page, and I ripped up the Alice in Wonderland altered page and fixed it to the gessoed, painted page, then I gessoed that.
And then I took a quick snapshot of my face... which is often much easier than using a mirror... and started painting, quickly, almost carelessly. First the eye, then the other eye, then the hairline swooping around to the cheekbone, jaw, the other cheekbone. Place the nose, the lips, the hair. Adjust the eyes. Add some pink, some warmer colors, shadows, hilights. Touch ups. Done.
It went so fast and so easily that I never even thought to take process photos. It was done before dinner was ready. And voila. Almost effortless. As if it came out of nowhere. But that is an illusion.
I'm really happy with this painting and I impressed myself with the way it came out. Paying attention to only those few minutes when I was painting makes it look like magic. Looking at the end point only, as we do so often with things that are successful, makes it seem like these accomplishments are miraculous, the gift of genius, something that is unreachable for us lowly people here on the ground.
But the truth is, I didn't just paint this in 15 minutes. The act of painting, took 15 minutes, but so much went into this painting, it was actually 40 years in the making. Without even considering my last few weeks of thought and organizing and browsing and intending and wishing, there are years of observing and practicing and failures and struggles and art classes and photography and playing and doodling and self assessing and museum going and reading and sketching and finding out what I like and color matching and collaging and journaling and so on and so on.
Anyone who achieves at anything has been working on it for a very long thing and putting into it the result of many different lessons learned. No one starts out knowing how to be a great artist or a great anything.
You just keep at it and you get better and better the more you are willing to fail.
I show you this one successful painting, but you do not see the pages that failed, the sketches that were covered over, the drawings hidden in folders or deep in journals from years ago. You don't see the 10 years of self portrait practice in my twenties, where I could often be found with a mirror and some drawing tools. You don't see the other pages in that same moleskine where self portraits hide because they're just not right. Actually... sometimes you do see those, because I have a tendency to show even some of my failures here on my blog, because I believe in showing the man behind the curtain of the wizardry. I believe in transparency and process. I believe it helps us to know that no one is perfect and failure and struggle is part of the process... not just of art, but also of life.
We fall down. We make mistakes. We get up and keep trying until we figure it out. Until it starts to make sense. Until we start moving forward. Until we find success.
Just like this painting, we are made of the failures and successes that came before. The stories read, the extra paint that we didn't know what to do with. The discards and the yucks. They make us what we are. Just like this painting, you almost can't see what was on the original ground. You almost can't see what was behind the painting.... but it's there.