What kind of alive am I?
Each morning, nothing new:
I drink coffee, I drift into the usual black.
Can I change into colorful costumes? Can I?
Today a gypsy, perhaps a fortune teller too,
surprise myself and try something new,
an animal, a vegetable, an entire zoo:
I could become the old lady who
doesn’t care what other people think or do.
I could ignore them and be free
of any laughter or unkind words that come my way.
Can I sing and dance too?
Be the mask and have the mask be true?
Words have feelings,
and feelings have words:
but both need to sing
and both to begin
without self-censorship or fear.
Innocent joy: I want to
find that lost
forgotten what to do.
I’m not sure how
to make this change of black to red or blue.
Yet it’s false, not right
to pretend I couldn’t choose
if I wanted to.
I could give out rainbows;
I could create a few.
Today is selfie day, and not only have I channeled my inner Man Ray once again for self-portrait #14 in my 100 Self-Portraits series, I’ve channeled my inner Delmore Schwartz for a riff on his poem “I am Cherry Alive“. When I found the print out above from a long ago Illustrator class that used Schwartz’s work as a source , I knew where this selfie-with-poem was going.
Anyone who knows me is aware that 90% of my wardrobe is black. It wasn’t always that way though…
In this portrait I tried to give myself a little color, while also honoring the way I might have actually dressed back in the day. No, I don’t think I have the nerve now, but it’s a nice thought!
Delmore Schwartz, supposedly the model for Humboldt in Saul Bellow’s novel “Humboldt’s Gift”, was a gifted New York writer of short stories, poems, and essays, an editor, and also a witty conversationalist. He had early success, but like so many before and after, abused drugs and alcohol and suffered from mental illness in later life. You can read more about him, and read more of his poems, here.
can you see?
lost in the web of
white, a black
the surface, just a shimmer
of a lock and key
Once again Man Ray’s work is a photograph; the web is superimposed over the face. I stitched my web over a drawing, and I think perhaps I should have used either thread or one strand of embroidery floss instead of two. On the other hand, two strands makes it harder to see the drawing–the web becomes more like a mask than a veil, an effect which I also like.
At first I tried to create this self portrait by contorting myself in front of the bathroom mirror. Luckily, my daughter was home and agreed to taking some photos of me in a similar pose to Ray’s photograph, and that worked much better.
The poem was inspired by Weekly Writing Prompt #29 from The Secret Keeper. The words fit perfectly into my stitched drawing.
Not sure if we’re still doing selfie day on the 25th of the month, but here’s a quick sketch.
This is for my “100 self portrait” series, except it’s definitely not the final version. There will be changes and additions…stay tuned.
At one point Dumas gave in to her daughter Helena’s desire to draw and paint on top of her mother’s paintings. There were some very interesting results! My daughter Caroline gamely agreed to work on top of the painting I made of my 4 0r 5ish self, and I like her more subtle but colorful choices, above on the left. Of course Helena was 6 at the time, and Caroline is 21, but then I’m a lot older than Dumas was when she did her originals, so I think it balances out.
Here is the process for the painting before being colored: wet wash (left) and with added detailing.
And then I did a painting from a photo of Caroline at around the same age. I overworked it a bit, but I think it captures a spark of the child she was.
You can see all of the 100 Self Portrait series so far here.
Based on a childhood photo I have always loved. I’m not totally satisfied with either attempt, although I learned from doing both.
The one on the left was done without any pre-sketching, in a loose and quick way. It doesn’t look like me, but my chief dissatisfaction is that I colored in the bear. Maybe if I also colored in the pajamas it would work better. I’m still thinking about that.
The one on the right was sketched out in pencil first, and I carefully painted layers of grey. It looks more like me, but less like a child I think. And I got too heavy on the hair. But the coloring is more in the spirit of Dumas’ painting.
Dumas is a good exercise for me, because I’m still uncomfortable with watercolor. The only way to get better is to keep painting.
You can see the whole “100 self portraits” series (so far) here.
I’ve been looking at and admiring Dumas’ watercolors for awhile, and I finally got some books out of the library to explore in more detail. One in particular, “Wet Dreams”, describes her technique: very large wet paper, and she paints on the floor, moving the paper around so the paint moves in the water. She also works exclusively from secondhand materials: photos and reproductions. So I thought I would work from photos I had from my childhood.
The largest watercolor paper I had was 10 x 14, which I used it for a color attempt. I’ve never tried painting wet-on-wet, and it’s something I’ll have to get used to.
I then bought an 18 x 24 pad, although even that size is still small compared to Dumas’ giant heads. She does a lot of her work in black ink and wash, so I made a second attempt with that on the larger paper. It’s difficult for me to work on a head that large, plus I think I started out with the paper way too wet. “Interesting” is my conclusion at the result.
Neither one looks like my baby picture. But being as I’m in the standard Gerber Baby pose, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, especially since Dumas is less concerned with reproduction than interpretation, and she says she works big so she can make “big mistakes” rather than small ones.
And now that I’ve seen a fuller range of her painting, I have more to work with for my other childhood photos.
You can see all my self portraits in this series here.
I struggled with this one, but it turned out to be an interesting exercise, if not one of my favorite self-portraits in the end.
My first thought was to do the portrait in neo color crayons, as that was what I used in my long-ago and less colorful first attempt (below) at the style of this portrait used. But it seemed too timid. So then, borrowing from Cynthia at Sand Salt Moon and her photoshop renderings of her drawing and painting, I scanned in the portrait and tried a few filters on it. I intensified the colors and added brush strokes: better, but still not what I had in mind.
I had also wanted another focal point to the face (Matisse had his pipe), so I wore the hand amulet that Nina gave me. I did this first neo color version of #7 in my blue shirt and amulet totally in front of the mirror, as I had done with the original attempt above in 2014.
OK, I needed paint to get the effect I wanted. I did a pencil sketch in front of the mirror, and then painted it at my drawing table. Wow, I look like my mother in this one. One thing that really stands out for me in doing this project is the need to let go of some ideal image we need to reproduce. The mirror lies, photos distort, and we (and everything else) look different depending on time, place, and situation. So an “exact reproduction” is impossible.
I remembered that I had wanted to do a colored pencil drawing in front of the mirror and then paint over it, so that’s what I did for my final portrait based on this Matisse self portrait. Can you tell it was the end of a long day and I was tired and feeling somewhat down? But I think this technique works well for doing a painting, and I’ll definitely use it again.
I actually don’t know which version I like best. But it’s time for another painter. I have a few in mind for #8.
One of the aspects of the art of Matisse that I admire is the fact that he didn’t just do a variation on the same thing over and over. This portrait seemed to lend itself to a collage interpretation. I first tried to paint the lines in with ink, but the ink wouldn’t adhere to most of the magazine photos I used for the collage. So there’s a bit of an ink smear on the face. But a marker worked just fine.
You can see the whole series so far here.
And another self portrait. I did this without wearing glasses and am trying to smile. I asked my husband if it looked like me and he said “the expression is wrong”. Haha that’s because I’m just not a smiley person.
On the other hand we had dinner at Durgin Park. They were out of two pound lobsters but the waitress said I could have two one-pounders. Now that is something to smile about.