The importance of a good reference photo can’t be ignored when working representationally (even when working from life, most artists still take photos.) Once the painting is done, though, the reference photos may seem kinda useless. But, I’ve found new ways to make use of these photos by utilizing them for cyanotypes!
I’ve used some of my barbie pictures, to some cool results. I like how the cyanotype kind of blurs the sense of size and depth to the point that the final images almost look like human portraits. Well, not all of them…
I’ve also made use of my sheet mask reference photos (along with some experimenting with the plate):
I’m really loving exploring literally the exact same subject matter in two completely different mediums (photography and painting.) It gives me the chance to explore a subject in both a more labored process, as well as a very immediate one. After agonizing over one painting for 10 hours, sometimes being able to make 10 prints in one morning is the perfect palette cleanser.
Sheet Mask: Gel I | oil on canvas| 12×16″
I thought I’d show a little progression for one of my newer “Mask” pieces (I’m wearing a “gel” mask used for skincare.) I always find it interesting to look at any artists process like this- to see the little tweaks or even grand gestures gradually build up to eventually create a finished painting. This piece was actually one of those rare birds where things just went smoothly (for the most part.) Isn’t that awesome, when that happens? Certainly, there are those tortured paintings that really test you- where you’re pulling your hair out over how everything you do seems to look stupid and you don’t know how you’ll ever get it to not look terrible. And those moments are good to have, as it’s a reminder that we’re pushing and challenging ourselves as artists. And the struggle just makes it that much sweeter when we finally resolve the composition. But… it’s nice to get one of those slam dunks every once in a while, eh?
Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!
Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.
Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.
Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014.
Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!
However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.
Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur
It doesn’t happen very often that I use an art material I’ve never heard of before. However, I recently was introduced to yupo paper. There are plenty of fancy papers out there, but this one is pretty unique: it’s made out of plastic. Yupo watercolor paper is made of polypropylene, is water resistant, and very durable.
This is a quick self-portrait I did on the stuff. I used watercolor and acrylic, and as you can see, the paper retains the integrity of your brushstrokes sharply. The paper, before being sealed with a sealant, can also be wiped clean as many times as you want. It makes painting something like a self-portrait, something we have the tendency to nitpick over, with watercolor a little less daunting
I think Yupo is great because it combines the need for intelligent working with materials/decision making with the option of completely erasing what you’ve done and starting over. A great way to practice with watercolor! Although, the paper isn’t absorbent AT ALL. The paint just lies on the surface. But, for all you paper fetishists out there, or water media aficionados, it’s definitely worth trying out.