Self-Portrait , 2017, pastel, 16 3/4" x 21 1/2"

Musings on the Self-Portrait

Art, Blog, Creative, Creativity and Art, hilary zaloom, pastel, pastel art, pastel drawing, pastel painting

So the portrait is done and delivered to the gallery.  I find that I have a very different feeling about it than I would if it were a still-life, or a portrait of somebody else, or just about other subject matter. Part of that stems, I think,  from it feeling rather strange to portray myself. I have never taken or even thought about taking a “selfie”. It’s just not something that ever comes to mind. I guess it feels a bit narcissistic and that feeling flows into how I feel about this self-portrait, just a bit odd.

In some ways how I feel about it is similar to that feeling one has sometimes after a conversation, of wanting to say, “That’s not quite what I meant,” or “I’m not finished – I have more to say.”   I haven’t done a self-portrait before, so I don’t know if everyone feels that way.

Maybe one picture is just way too inadequate to say anything more than a tiny bit about someone.   I think about people known for their self-portraits, Frida Kahlo, Rembrandt, Jane Lund, and realize that all their portraits say different things about them, very different things in many cases.  So perhaps the answer is to get over my discomfort with the narcissistic angle and do several more to continue the conversation, to fill in some of what feels left out, to not have this one picture have to say everything about me.  Maybe it’s good that the invitation to this show made me do something I hadn’t thought of doing, a self-portrait, because the conversation doesn’t end until we die.  Perhaps it’s a good thing to document one’s journey.

What I adore about pastel, where I get a thrill every moment when I reach this point, is when it gets to where I can blend the layers of pastel with a Sennelier (so soft most people hate them, but my favorites), not just a Girault (harder but not too much, so I still like them) or a pastel pencil (very hard, but needed for very fine lines).  To me, unless you want a very smooth pastel finish (which can be lovely, but is not what I aspire to), getting to that thick, luscious pastel soup is mandatory because that’s when each inch of the pastel is beautiful like a tiny abstract.  (I used Wallis paper for this, which I think holds the bottom layers of the pastel strongly enough for me to stir the unattached soup of the upper layers.  My last big piece of Wallis, which effectively is no more.)  I did get to the soupy level in several places in this picture, so I am happy about that.  And I was able to keep the pastel application very loose in the areas where modeling was vital, the face and hands.  It took some restraint not to smooth it all out to have far more control over the modeling, but that wasn’t the final result that I wanted, so I resisted.

I am not at all in practice with doing portraits.  I did a couple of pastel portraits over ten years ago and occasionally do a charcoal drawing; so I am happy that the likeness is, I think, good, and that the anatomy of the hand feels right, and that it looks like my hand, specifically.  I like that especially because my dad used to sit me beside him and compare our hands, marveling at how alike they were.  He did this from when I was about twelve up until he died.  So I feel a bit like I have portrayed him a bit as well as myself, also from the fact that he took (and developed and printed) the photo of me that appears in the background.  I am happy about how that photo adds to the picture and glad that I included it.

The show is at the A. P. E. Gallery in Northampton, MA, from November 3 through December 3, with an opening reception on November 10, from 5-8 PM.  I am honored and excited to be in the company of so many wonderful local women artists.


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