By Clara Lieu
We’ve gotten lots of submissions to our September Art Dare on our Instagram! We’ve been very excited to see all of the unique ways that everyone has approached our prompt of drawing a self-portrait from life using charcoal. In many ways, the Art Dare is a virtual version of what I do in my classes at RISD, where everyone is asked to respond to the same prompt. That’s one of my favorite aspects of being in a class-you get to see all of the diverse creative solutions created by several people. Many of my students have told me that they learn just as much from seeing each other’s work, as they do from me.
One part of the Art Dare that has been really fun to watch is everyone’s works in progress. Below you can see Lucy Springall’s progress on her self-portrait. Lucy has been following my charcoal drawing tutorial on the Art Prof Youtube channel. She did a terrific job making thumbnail sketches to plan out her composition, (below photo, upper left) and implementing cross-hatching marks in with an eraser stick and charcoal pencil.
Remember, you get brownie points for using the techniques in our charcoal drawing tutorial! If you tag your Art Dare with #artprofwip, Prof Clara Lieu just might stop by and provide some feedback! More info on Art Dare guidelines/prizes/tips are here.
For fun, I decided that I would do the Art Dare myself! I drew and painted a ridiculous number of self-portraits as an undergraduate student at RISD, largely because I only wanted to work from life and I was the most convenient subject. The last time I did an assignment, or drew a self-portrait was back in 1998. Of course, so much has happened since then, and I was curious to know how I would respond to this prompt.
I think for many people self-portraits are a tough subject. The process of creating a self-portrait demands that you look at yourself for an unusually long period of time. This deep observation of your own physical features also tends to prompt thinking about identity.
I figure out a lot of my ideas when I’m running on the treadmill, and this drawing was no exception. My thoughts meandered for a while, and for the first few concepts tended to revert back to themes I had worked with in my last studio project, Falling. Most of my projects take 2-4 years to create, so it felt strange to brainstorm what I knew would be a stand alone piece that wouldn’t be seen in the context of a large body of work. I needed an idea that was simple enough to be contained in a single artwork, but that also had enough depth that there would be plenty to explore.
My thumbnail sketches
I settled on the idea that in recent years, my life has felt very fragmented. Before I became a parent, I always had the luxury of long periods of time to myself, and to work on my artwork. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I get even 2 hours at a time to create artwork, much less think focus. I see my life today as a series of constant interruptions, it’s rare that I will sit down to do a task, and be able to comfortably complete what I set out to do. I fell that I live in a constant state of distraction, making it incredibly difficult to think clearly most of the time.
In my initial thumbnail sketches, I explored compositions which emphasized faces that tilted away from the center of the page, and eyes with pupils that wandered to the side. decided that I would have one face that would make eye contact with the viewer, to represent those rare moments of clarity that I experience. The rest of the faces would be distracted and looking away.
I set up a mirror and sketched myself from life, to make sure that I was using views that would be possible for me to pose for as I few. As I sketched though, I realized that features like the neck and the shoulders weren’t necessary, so I reduced the composition to just facial features so that the eyes would be more prominent. I didn’t want to just sit down and draw myself, because even though our physical appearance is a big part of who we are, it’s certainly not everything. I’m still staying within the prompt, which was to simply draw a self-portrait from life in charcoal. I’ve heard many people complain that drawing from life is to limited, and that there’s “nothing to draw.” I’d like to show in my self-portrait that if you really think about what you want to do and work thoroughly on your thumbnail sketches, the visual possibilities when working from life are endless.
My reference thumbnail for the final drawing