I cranked out No. 42 this afternoon, again in about 2 hours like I did with No. 40 yesterday afternoon. This was a drawing that practically drew itself. I felt really good about the work with the etching ink, so with the exacto knife and lithographic crayon it felt like everything just fell into place.
I’ve definitely developed a procedure for working on the drawings: starting with the eyes, working my way down to the nose, then the mouth and some finishing touches to the hair. I hate to be so predictable in terms of the order I do things, but it creates a structure and work rhythm for me that is consistent. I know from previous experience and from today’s drawing especially that the eyes really carry the piece, so it makes sense for me to tackle them first, when I’m at my sharpest. This portrait in particular really needed to have an intense stare, a look to kill, empowering the figure.
I finished no. 40 this afternoon which I consider to be an important milestone, it makes fifty feel like it’s actually in reach. I know I have a number of redos to do before I’m officially finished, but it still feels great to be able to say that I’ve hit forty.
Today’s portrait went by fairly quickly, I was finished with all of the exacto knife and lithographic crayon in just 2.5 hours. It’s a portrait that conveys the aftermath of the experience, when the face is completely lacking in facial expression and reads more like a hollow shell which has been through hell. The more time consuming portraits tend to be the ones when an eye or both eyes are squeezed shut or when the lips are doing something very dramatic, causing all sorts of tiny forms and wrinkles in the skin. Here the mouth simply hangs wearily, the eyes have a dead look to them, and the rest of the muscles in the face are completely flacid and passive.
I had twenty-five sheets of Dura-Lar arrive the other day, so it was wonderful to finally get back to work. Between yesterday and today, I was able to complete the etching ink work on no. 40, 41, and 42 and on my redo of no. 7. My plan is to blast through the etching ink part of the process on as many pieces as possible. The etching ink takes 1-2 weeks to dry, so it will be a little while before I can get into the drawings with the lithographic crayon and exacto knife.
I’ve also been trying to tell myself that the foundation of the drawing is actually in the vine charcoal drawing that is completed before the etching ink. (I discussed a few posts back that the “meat” of the drawing really is in the etching ink work and that the lithographic crayon and exacto knife are just there for cosmetic additions. )The vine charcoal part of the drawing feels free and flexible, and I enjoy the confidence that I can place behind every line knowing that nothing at that stage is permanent. I intentionally use only line with the vine charcoal; if I tone it actually makes it hard to apply the etching ink over it because the vine charcoal lifts so easily. I noticed especially today and yesterday that if things go well with the vine charcoal, they generally tend to go well with the etching ink.
I put the finishing touches to Self-Portrait No. 38 today, which means that I have eleven to go until I hit fifty. (No. 39 was already finished, I’ve been working out of order lately) There are still several re-dos to do after I hit fifty.
After doing many portraits which depict the extreme emotion, the next two portraits will show the aftermath of the experience; when the body has exhausted it’s physical limits. I feel like I’m in an odd place right now; I’ve run out of Dura-Lar and my new shipment is about to come any day now. I don’t really like being in a place where everything that can be done is done. In general I purposefully leave things unfinished so that when I come back to work I can pick up the momentum again and easily pick up from where I left off. So until that Dura-Lar arrives I’ll be taking a hiatus (hopefully a very short one).
I worked on No. 38 this afternoon, which felt easy and great the whole time. The work I did with the etching ink stage was really solid; the forms and structures were already in place and I didn’t need to reorganize anything. The work I did with the exacto knife and lithographic crayon felt like dusting a cupcake with sprinkles: the process was straightforward, and I got great visual results at the end with minimal effort on my part. I wish that every portrait I worked on was this fluid.
I’m waiting for my next shipment of Dura-Lar to arrive, and when it does, I’ll be able to start several portraits with the etching ink. I’m a little nervous because I know now how important it is that the etching ink stage goes well with each portrait. If the etching ink isn’t solid, I know from experience that there’s almost no chance that I can salvage a piece with the exacto knife and lithographic crayon. I think with these last eleven portraits, I’m going to ask much more of myself and demand that the etching ink work be strong before moving on. If the etching ink work isn’t up to where I want it to be, I’m thinking now that I won’t bother to continue the piece.
I finished up the final touches on No. 37 this afternoon. I was excited about the etching ink work I did on the hands, so I had fun articulating the knuckles and skin on the hands with the lithographic crayon and exacto knife.
I consider this piece finished, but I’m going to leave this piece alone for now and reserve my judgment for later. I had initially thought this piece was going to be a re-do, but now I’m not so certain. Anytime I have doubts I always put the piece away for several weeks and revisit it later so I can look at the work more objectively. In this project, I also have to look at this piece in the context of the others to determine whether it fits with the other pieces.
Yesterday I worked on the x-acto knife and lithographic crayon stage on No. 38. (detail above) I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled with the etching ink portion of this portrait; the photo reference I had was really lacking and was flat to begin with, so I felt like I was battling this portrait from the very beginning. I’m waiting for a large shipment of Dura-Lar to arrive, as well as another photo shoot with my model, so I figured I may as well use the time to give this piece a shot even though I wasn’t pleased with it. At the same time, I felt like I was kicking a dead horse with this piece and already I’m feeling like this piece is going to be a re-do.
I’m realizing more and more that I’ve become very reliant on the etching ink portion of the drawing to largely carry the weight of the piece. If the work I’m doing with the etching ink doesn’t come out well, I find it really challenging to move onto the lithographic crayon and x-acto knife. I see the lithographic crayon and x-acto knife work to be cosmetic, so if I have structural issues with the etching ink it’s nearly impossible to resolve at the second stage. When my next shipment of Dura-Lar arrives, I’m looking forward to getting some serious work done with the etching ink.
Lois Tarlow wrote an article about my work in the Sept./Oct. 2011 issue of Art New England. You can read the article here, and click on the images below to view images of the article.
I’ve been working on an exhibition I curated at the Jewett Gallery at Wellesley College for the past two weeks, so today was the first day I was back to these portraits. Every time that I’m away from the work for longer than two weeks I get anxious about returning to the work, worrying that I won’t know how to pick up from where I left off, or that I will have lost my momentum. This time I was really itching to get back to the work process, so working yesterday and today felt great.
I have three in progress right now, numbers 37, 38, and 39. I elected to go out of order and work on no. 39 because I knew it would be a challenging piece and a good way to whip myself back into shape. The photo reference I had for this portrait was less than ideal, so I had to really push myself to constantly think about the form as I was working on the drawing. When your initial reference is lacking you have to work so much harder to achieve the results you’re looking for, and sometimes the reference is so poor that you just can’t salvage it. In this case, I had just enough detail that I knew where to fill in the blanks. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this piece; I was initially intimidated by how critical the hands were to the composition, and I worried about whether I could pull off the effect of cast shadows on the forehead, but I think both areas ended up working just fine.