I was going to say I’ve never personally painted a portrait before, but realise that’s not quite true.
One of our projects in art class at school forty-something years ago was to sit in front of a mirror and draw ourselves in pencil. I didn’t really do all that well with that task, I looked serious and uncomfortable and my face turned out a bit wonky, especially my eyes. And once later on as an adult I tried to draw myself from a photograph, and admittedly that one turned out a little better, but it was still not a great likeness.
Recently I’ve been dipping in and out of re-runs of an hour-long TV programme on Sky Arts called ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ that seems to cover random episodes of the competition over several different years, and I’ve found it really fascinating to watch.
The basic premise of each show seems to be that nine individual artists produce a self-portrait beforehand in their own time, and then all together in real time each produce a portrait drawn from a previously unidentified life model in only four hours. There are three celebrity sitters for each show, so three of the nine artists each create a portrait of one of the three sitters.
At the end of the four hours, each sitter views the three portraits of themselves and chooses their favourite to take home with them. Most of the portraits are very different in composition and style, some are more realisitic and others more abstract, some are rather standard in their view and some are spectacular in their unusual approach to colour and technique.
To my surprise, oftentimes the sitter chooses not the most obviously realistic photographic representation of self, but instead they prefer those portraits that seem to spark an alternative vision of the sitter, or manage to capture something more than the general public view hidden within their personality.
Afterwards, and independently of the sitters’ preferences, the judges shortlist three out of the nine artists, and by the end of the programme finally whittle it down to only one artists to go forward in the competition. The judges look at both the artist’s self-portrait and also the newly-completed portrait of the celebrity life sitter before deciding on who should be the winner on the day.
There are eight heats each series, the winners of which go forward to the semi-final where it seems they all paint the same sitter at the same time. From the semi-final three artists go forward to the final, where each are given a commissioned painting to produce. The overall winner for that year then receives a paid commission to paint a well-known figure for a well-known public space.
Anyway, the point of explaining all of this is that I’ve become really intrigued over the last few weeks by watching the many different ways all the different artists approach completing their portraits – they all use different sized paper, board or canvas, all prefer different mediums, and have different ways of working, and all produce very different results.
Some I liked very much, and some I thought were pretty disappointing on the day – but it’s got me thinking, if I were to try to do a self portrait now, how would that experience be for me? Where would I start? What medium would I use? How would I choose to portray myself, and how could I go about capturing that feeling on paper?
I’ve actually had my portrait painted before, in oils a good fifty years ago – by my mum, who used to be an art teacher before she got married. I still have it here in the house, a head and shoulders portrait showing a serious-looking seven-year old in a scratchy yellow dress. I remember sitting for the painting, perched on a high stool in the kitchen, trying hard not to fidget too much and failing miserably…
I recently, tentatively, took up painting again (only in August this year) so am still on a very steep learning-curve and am still struggling with it all, but I’m wondering if I might try a proper self-portrait now just to see how I get on?
Start with a drawing or two at different angles, then maybe experiment with a colour study or two in different styles – I mean, if I’m painting myself and mess it up, at least there’s nobody else to offend or upset. And I’ll always be around to try again, no matter how many times I fail – a constant and familiar muse, I suppose?
But the thing is, watching these multiple artists as they decide how to make their mark on portraiture has really inspired me to give it a go myself. It’s really helping me to understand in a way I haven’t really seen before that painting is not at all like representational photography, it really is a completely different kind of artistic creative story-telling that can be as fantastical and magical as you choose it to be…
What can I say… Watch this space, and sooner or later I might just surprise us all! 🙂
Ragtag Daily Prompt: Spectacular