Defining where I am as an artist, I must tell you that I have been frustrated lately with my paintings. A fellow artist suggested that I do self portraits. I easily blew off that suggestion, “sorry, I don’t like standing in the bathroom for hours painting.” And then I realized what I’d done, once again, someone gave me good advice and I shut it down with a dumb excuse. So on the first day of January, I went to Goodwill and bought a mirror. I hung it on my wall and began to paint.
I would like to include the words of another painter here sorry, it’s anonymous:
How do you know what you look like? You think washing your face, brushing your teeth and putting on make-up before a mirror all these years tells you? Only others know what you look like. Photos of yourself are even less indicative, when they are not appalling. Remember the shock of hearing your voice the first time on a tape recorder? To further confound the issue, understand once and for all that your image in a mirror is the reverse of what others see when they look at your lovely face.
To the nitty gritty. I have done dozens of mirror portraits, and there is no better way to learn portraiture. The model is the cheapest in town, and tireless and ever accommodating. The first thing you learn, to begin learning anything, is the mug in the mirror starring back at you is a perfect stranger. With no beauty whatsoever. So paint that stranger, with the most intense scrutiny of parts, proportion, spacing, contours, line, light and shadow – the most intense scrutiny you have ever given anything. That is the only purpose of doing mirror portraits. The intent stare is a given and may never be enlivened. So what? How do you separate intent stare from intense scrutiny of your reflection in a mirror?
“Why do your self-portraits look so grim? Is it impossible for you to smile?”
“Well, dammit, you try to hold a wide toothy smile for six or eight hours and see how long you last…”