The definition of 'self' is "a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others". So surely the easiest portrait for an artist to produce is a self portrait. After all, who knows what they look like, and who they are more than the person themselves. This is what I thought when I first started venturing into portraiture and figurative art, however, I very quickly realised I was very wrong.
When you first start drawing in school the first lesson you learn is to 'draw what you see, not what you think you see'. When I look at the face of someone I paint, I look at them completely objectively. When I paint everything becomes shapes and colour, instead of a big nose, or perfect teeth you just see what 'is'... without having a subjective view on it. That all seems to change when you look in the mirror at yourself. Suddenly you see imperfect skin or different shaped eyes, and you're not so keen to put it all on paper. So then one of two things happens... you either draw what you want to see; you give yourself natural eyeliner and a perfectly v shaped lip, create an avatar of yourself rather than be true to every shape and colour you actually see.
Or you do a Frida Khalo.
Frida Khalo was an artist renowned for making herself look 'ugly' in her portraits. As you can see above, she was a strong woman with strong features to her face. She also prided herself on being very natural. She didn't remove facial hair that some would deem 'unattractive', instead she stayed true to her natuaral form and face. However, despite this, she still had real beauty, but in her self portraits she emphasised her more unattractive features. She made her face less shapely and much rounder than it actually was. She made her facial hair a lot darker and more harsh than in real life.
When I was younger I used to go with the prettier option. You find yourself seeing a portrait like you see a photograph. You want to show your best, demostrate who you want to be, maybe instead of who you are. Then as you get older you start to find Fridah, you start to care less about what others see, and you start to showcase your differences, your imperfections, and owning them. I went through a stage where I made my features a lot stronger and masculine than they actually were.
So my personal challenge now is to find a happy medium. Not to pretty myself up, or accentuate my flaws, but to find my true likeness. To draw what I see completely objectively like I would any other portrait of figurative image. To start off my challenge I have just completed a figurative image of myself I have named 'silent'. This is the first time I have done a nude self portrait that wasn't anonymous, and I felt 'silent' was a really fitting name for the piece. Instead of listening to the insecurities in my head and either accentuating them or ignoring them, I chose to be silent. I shut off that part of my brain and simply tried to paint what I saw, achieving likeness, instead of a statement piece about what I want to be, or what I feel I am.
The silence was refreshing. I relaxed into my painting like I do normally, instead of overthinking every line and shape. I still don't think i'm quite there yet, it's hard to stay silent for long, but over time, with practise silence might dominate, and I may be happy just painting me as me.