It seems you can’t escape people posing for selfies wherever you go. Most selfies show a fish eye lens view of their subjects, often in carefully rehearsed poses. I have run into this celebration-of-self behavior at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. I even saw one mother trying to take one of herself and her child on top of a wild buffalo in South Dakota. The buffalo didn’t cooperate.
But my snobbishness was brought up short when I realized that artists have been producing selfies for centuries. They’re called self portraits. One of my favorites is by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, an 18th century French portrait painter. I love it because it is by a successful female artist from a time when such creatures were as rare as unicorns. Then there’s such panache in her hat, though her hair looks a bit unkempt. Finally, she proclaims her calling by showing her palette and brushes.
I am not someone who takes selfies, in part because I hate to have my picture taken even by myself, but I needed one for a Wanderlust class exercise. We were to paint self portraits using the three primary colors plus white. To give us a start, we were to take a selfie, posterize it to get the main blocks of values in our face, and trace the outline of our face onto paper or canvas.
At first I thought I’d skip this exercise, but then I changed my mind. It didn’t require butterflies, birds, or inspirational sayings, so it stood out from many other assignments. I duly took a selfie, posterized it in PhotoShop Elements, and transferred an outline to watercolor paper.
Then I began to mix skin tones from my four paint colors. My initial doubt turned to amazement when I saw how to do that thanks to teacher Christa Forrest. In fact, after a while my paint palette looked like I had been smearing it with makeup samples.
The first passes were crude, with uneven skin tones.
Once I was satisfied with my skin, I added collage paper to the page bottom and coated everything with clear gesso. After that dried I used colored pencils to fine tune details. The gesso gives enough tooth to grab the pencil lead and add texture.
I spent more time on this exercise than on any other ones to date, but the teacher broke down the process and made it doable. To judge from the work posted in the course forum, I don’t think as many students did this exercise compared with others. As was noted in last week’s discussion about classes, sometimes you learn more when you reach beyond just having fun.