This birthday card by Dumas seemed to call out for my high school graduation photo.
According to Wikipedia, the San Francisco psychedelic poster art style flourished from about 1966 to 1972. I graduated in 1970, but the photo was taken in 1969, just a few months after Woodstock.
“We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden”
–Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”
“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”
–Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco”, 1967
“Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere”
–The Cowsills, “The Flower Girl Song”, 1967
OK, so I was in Maryland, did not go to Woodstock, and had never been to San Francisco. But the musical spirit was everywhere.
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.