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Sunday, 11 October 2015





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 Painting 101:

Creating self-portraits

Artists always reflect themselves in their paintings if not in self-portraits, then in the mood and colour schemes of their work. Self-portraiture has existed at least since the ancient Egyptians, when a few artists in the middle of the second millennium BC were sculpting narrative reliefs on tomb walls and adding their self-portraits to the carvings, some of which were later painted. Much later, Roman artists were painting portraits on to wood panels, canvas and walls. Although no identifiable self-portraits remain, undoubtedly some were painted.

A self-portrait in watercolour

During the European Dark Ages, the light of culture was shining bright in the East. In China Wang a calligrapher is documented as having painted his portrait with the aid of a mirror. But secular paintings were frequently destroyed by succeeding dynasties and unfortunately this self portrait no longer exists. However later self-portraits exist, many of them painted in water colour and ink on silk. In England, there were no great English-born portrait painters until the 1740s.

Among the Expressionists self-portraiture was the ideal medium for their painting philosophy.

For artists, the attraction of the self-portrait include the fact that it enables them to paint from life without hiring a model or being limited by time other than their own. Self-portraiture is also the best way of learning how to depict the human face, and in a range of media and styles. Self-portraits could be done in any medium and the artist should be honest in his or her vision. Only by being objective will you understand how to depict yourself. This will also enable you, later, to paint the portraits of other people convincingly. Self-portraits could be painted in any medium.

Ink and wash

There is a large variety of links in on the market from Sepia to coloured, ink, from water-proof Indian ink to water soluble inks, and they vary from brand to brand. Some inks, for example, are not colourful and some can be diluted with water more easily than others.

So it is worth your while to try out several kinds before making your final choice. You can use a wide range of implements to apply ink a brush, a mapping pen or dip pen or a knife or a palette knife. With a brush you can create a line or a wash, whereas most other tools produce only a line.

Try out different kinds of paper, too, because the surface of the paper directly affects the kind of line you will get. If you are using a watercolour paper, especially a rough one, the nib of a pen will scratch and drag on the paper so that you do not get a fluid line. A not-pressed or smooth paper is therefore, better with a pen. However, if you are using a brush, you can draw on a rough paper, dragging the brush across it. First, practice your strokes on the edge of your paper, because once you have committed a mark on the paper, it is difficult to remove. You can use masking fluid to touch out mistakes, but this tends to spoil the spontaneity of the medium.

To make easier to avoid mistakes, some people like to sketch a drawing on the paper first. Pen and ink can be combined with many other media; you could cover the surface of your paper with chalk, for example and then draw on it with pen and ink, or you could make a pen and ink drawing and then apply a wash or series of washes over it.

Using pencil, crayon and charcoal

Point media, or pencils, crayons, are charcoal, are attractive to work with, partly because of the multitude of colours and tones available, but also because they have great variety of strength.

In pencils you have a range from the delicacy of a draftsman's pencil to the heaviness of 6B.

A fine, hard pencil will ripple and jump over a heavily textured surface but will produce a fine line on a smooth paper. You have to choose both pencil and paper according to the end result you want to achieve. There are various drawing paper to give different effects and techniques in pencil drawing as well as crayon. Working on cartridge drawing paper, the flow of the pencil and the broadness will show the effects of shading without much effort. Any drawing done on sketch book paper using a 2 B pencil gives a pattern and texture of the whole drawing.

To strengthen its strokes perhaps it would be necessary to use a 4 B or a 6B pencil. Charcoal and Crayon come in great big thick pieces or fine sticks. Crayon can be hard or soft and waxy, and some are even water soluble.

The fluidity and the best results of your drawing will depend on the paper you use. Manipulating light and understanding colour are important. The strength of colour gives the painting secret quality.

Self-portrait in water colour

It is really only in the past 150 years or so that watercolour has come to be regarded as an art from its own right. Water-colour come in pans, half-pans, tubes, and boxes. If you want good results, don't use cheap paints. Students-grade pigments may be less expensive than artist's quality paint, but inferiority shows. You also need to select your brushes and paper quite carefully. There are so many ways of treating watercolour. It can be made to look detailed and tight, or loose, it can be built up in washes. A self-portrait is an exercise in using your eyes with detachment. It's an interesting exercise to paint a self-portrait at regular intervals, since one's own appearance is often unexpected. A self-portrait invites you to be ruthlessly honest, even though the process is slightly painful.

When you're getting ready to paint a portrait, think of the view you want to present. Consider the lighting too - whether to have one or more sources of light, and how to direct them because your head and face will either be enhanced by the different ways the light strikes them or be hidden by the shadow it creates. You should have all your brushes and materials, and enough clean water, close at hand so that you have to move as little as possible from your position. When setting yourself up to paint a self-portrait, think of how you want to compose the picture. Often this can be suggested by your position in relation to the mirror, or by the shape of the mirror itself.


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