The idea to try a self-portrait started brewing in March 2021. I had dabbled in the past but never really gave it the effort it deserved. It’s a main stay of the painting craft going way back and I decided it was high time to give it some attention.
The first self-portrait was straight up staring at myself. It started as a pencil sketch that I enhanced with colored pencil. I then went wild and loose with watercolors and ink for the hair. To be honest, I was surprised with how well the face turned out. To prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke, I tried another. Again, just my face. And again, used a loose abstraction around the face. That one turned out great too!
For the third one, I wanted to try a big expression – a scream. That gave me teeth and wrinkles to attempt for visual interest. Exploring the combining of abstraction and realism was also something that I was giving a lot attention to in these portrait experiments. I did five self-portraits in this series. I’m pleased with the way they turned out and now that I have some portraiture under my belt, I feel that much closer to being a “proper” painter. Through this work I also felt a strong pull toward the disrupted realism I’ve been experimenting with and it’s something that I plan to explore more.
After that original portrait series, I started working on representing other parts of the human form. In particular hands. Hands and feet are challenging. Though, like any craft, the more I practiced the better the results I got.
With all of this experimentation into portraiture, the art gods took notice and put an auspicious gift in my path. In September, I received an email that Michael Fuchs was giving an on-line course on fantastic portraiture. The synchronicity was not lost on me! In 2001, Michael was put in my path when I was ready to expand my painting skills. Exactly twenty years since, as I’m exploring and expanding my painting practice in this next phase of my art career, Michael was put in my path again. And it just so happened that I had sold a painting the week before I got the email notice and therefore, had the means to take the course. A culmination of fortunate serendipity!
The portrait series I had done earlier in the year was in colored pencil. For this course we were to create a portrait in oils – another first for me. We met every Saturday for several months and the portrait I decided to do for the course was of my son, Jackson. I chose him because we had just celebrated Michaelmas – a Waldorf tradition celebrating the story of St. George and the Dragon, and being that I have always seen Jackson as my brave little knight, starting with my him seemed perfect. Michaelmas also informed the fantastic part of the painting.
Jackson is fourteen years old. He is strong and sweet, kind, chivalrous, gallant, brave, and very handsome. He is still very much a boy, spending a lot of his time daydreaming, though he is also on the cusp of manhood. And, sooner than I’m willing to admit, he will be starting his adult life. I wanted his painting to capture all of the things I adore about him and also express all of the things I wish for his future. His portrait was to be my love letter to him.
I feel like I captured his current boyish, dreamy state and how handsome he is - even if that is my motherly bias. For the rest of the piece, I used a mix of symbols from Arthurian legends: The white stag symbolizes a call to quest. It is looking out, beckoning, but Jackson hasn’t taken notice yet. The stage is also considered a guide to wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. Two things I wish for Jackson to grow into along his path.
St. Michael appearing through the mist with his sword of justice and courage is another guide that I hope Jackson will remember to call upon when life becomes difficult. I can’t help but think of the verse that we recited every year at Michaelmas since he was a little boy:
“Brave true I will be.
Each good deed sets me free.
Each kind word makes me strong.
I will fight for the right.
I will conquer the wrong”.
I hope that Jackson will recall that simple circle time verse when he needs it the most, remember fondly all of the memories we created surrounding Michaelmas, and that both will give him comfort throughout his life.
The last symbol is the crest of St. George conquering the dragon on his collar. Symbolizing the inner courage to face his known and unknown fears. Along with St. Michael, the stories of St. George were a huge part of our homeschooling. One year we even did a knighting ceremony after the kid’s completed a squire’s challenge I created. The kids and I have a lot of fond memories around the theme of knights.
Creating the painting was a joy – part remembrance of Jackson’s childhood, part blessing for his man-hood. It was a challenge for me technically and I learned a lot. It also reconnected me with a teacher I love, who has had a huge impact on my development as an artist, and has reconnected me to the artist community that I had been a part of in my early art career. I think it is a beautiful reminder of this time and my little boy on the cusp of manhood. May he always be Brave and True - the title of the piece.
I’ve already started portraits of my daughters, both in oils. I intend to make portraits of all of my children. Like Jackson’s, they will be filled with a mother’s love and represent the unique, beautiful being they each are. And hopefully, when I am gone, they will look at their painting and be able to see just how much I adored them.
This is the second post of a six part series sharing the body of of work I have created over the last two years and my journey leading up to my solo show:
Opening April 8, 2022
Assemblage Contemporary Craftsman Gallery
306 S. Main Street, Suite 106