Having decided I wish to become a more venal and self centered person I decided it was high time I did a self portrait and decided to do not one, but two. There is a feeble justification to this which I shall come onto shortly. The first stage is to take a terrible photo from which to work (again there is a reason for this). I chose this shot:
I have managed to misplace the original. Anyway, the plan was to do two versions, one girding up the picture and the canvas and sketching out the picture using the grid. The other one would be done more free-style and see what happens. Other than this they both use the same method, a pencil sketch followed by painting with oil paint. I use only five paints, titanium white, lamp black, lemon yellow, ultramarine blue and red.
Can you tell which is which? Well the one on the left is the free style one and the one on the right is the girded patterns. I like when starting these things to fill the canvas with paint as quickly as possible. It is very satisfying to do this and helps give me a sense of where I am going. I made the decision with both paintings to leave out the DVDs on the top shelf but with the free hand one I was instantly drawn to the idea of making the bust (my bust) more prominent in the picture. I guess this is what happens when you indulge your ego.
Then it is just a question of adding more paint, and more paint. Basically the same procedure was used with each one. Starting from the background and moving forward. Portraits are really tricky, particularly self portraits. The things I found most difficult are the nose, the eyes, the mouth and the chin. So basically the face, it is the face that I found most difficult. What I enjoyed though was developing the skin tones to give contrast to the face.
It is interesting to see them side by side at this stage. With the free style one I decided to even up the background and make the shelves straight instead of the slight angle they are in the photo. You can tell, I think, that they are the same person but they have very different characters.
Then it was a question of adding more paint, and details such as toggles, and adding more detail to the nose and eyes. Adding the glasses made a significant difference as they help to frame the face. I though some time about whether I should add the shadow of the glasses as they could be distracting but decided to add them in. The eyes were a challenge as they are actually quite dark in the picture
The final touches included extending the chin on both pictures, and touching up the ears. The chin was too small on both pictures. On the free style picture the background stood out to much so I knocked it back with a light brown wash and then put some squiggles to denote the titles etc. I decided not to do this with the left one. The face is generally darker so stands out better and I quite liked the effect of the blocks of colour. Other changes included highlighting the shadows at various points and putting in colour contrasts in the hair.
Generally I prefer the free style one. It is also the one I enjoyed painting more. What is interesting though is seeing their relationship to each other. You switch them around on the wall and they look different. I am pleased with the result, the both, I think, look like me.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.