A Series of Quick Self Portraits

For this exercise I was asked to produce 20 self portraits using black ink. The ink was separated into three cups, one with ink only, another with diluted ink solution and one with water. I could spend no longer than one minute on each portrait. Before beginning the exercise, as advised I took a look at the portrait work of artist Marlene Dumas.

Marlene Dumas. Chlorosis (Love sick). 1994

In this work Dumas produced this series of paintings in response to reading about ‘Chlorosis’ which is derived from the greek word ‘light green’. In nineteenth century literature, heroines would often die from tuberculosis, but now this isn’t thought to be the cause of death, and actually love sickness could be the reason, so one would turn light green and then die from lovesickness. An unusual story but this piqued Dumas’ interest and prompted her to produce the above series, in which she used various photographs and images to try and recreate these portraits conveying that feeling of lovesickness. Dumas uses a range of materials including, ink, watercolour and acrylic paint. Each painting appears quite different, with different poses, styles and use of material, but all share this eery quality of longing and sadness.

For this exercise I was allowed only one minute to spend on each portrait which felt incredibly quick and actually quite stressful to try and paint under this time constraint. I decided to play around with different positions so produced 5 different poses and then repeated these four times to produce the required twenty portraits. I sat in front of a mirror with a large window to the right of me, on an overcast day.These are the first 5 paintings showing: face on, turned to the right, looking up, looking down and turned to the left.

I purposefully decided to not include any hair or detail other than the individual faces, as I had done so previously in Yuko Nasu and Eleanor Moreton. I felt it was extremely difficult to capture the portraits in one minute although I did try to keep to this time and used a timer to ensure this. This round is quite reserved, and some of the portraits even look angry, perhaps I was quite angry at the one minute time constraint and this translated into the work. Here is a look at the second round.

I think this group was more successful than the last. For the last two paintings, and subsequent rounds, I had to change which type of paper I was using from Hot Pressed to Cold Pressed water colour paper, as this was all I had. I haven’t used Cold Pressed water colour paper before but discovered that I needed to load the brush with more water/ink solution, although in so doing this created some quite nice interactions on the page between the ink and the paper. It’s difficult to see from the above images but in real life you can see where some of the ink has seeped out into watered down solutions of ink. It was unexpected, and I’d like to experiment a little more with this. I like the first and third paintings from this particular selection most, both are much improved in comparison to the first round. Below is the third round of paintings.

For this round I particularly like both of the side posed paintings (two and five), the angles feel right. Sadly in the third painting there was slightly too much diluted solution on the page so as I added more ink, facial features have become quite blurred. I don’t particularly like the outcome of the fourth composition the eye positioning isn’t quite right here. Below is the final round of paintings

I think this final round of paintings shows how my brush strokes have become a little looser and more confident. The fourth painting is still not quite right but I think it is quite difficult to depict this pose given that I could only work for one minute on each painting. Compared to the previous rounds of paintings this selection of 5 feels the most coherent. Below is the final selection in it’s entirety.

Comparing the first painting with the last row they look entirely different, and I think you can see the progression of each painting as you look vertically down the grid at the poses. It’s a shame that the digitally scanned images don’t necessarily show the details, there is some really quite beautiful pooling and spreading of ink on the page. Particularly on the last round where I have posed looking up, the pupils have melted into the under eye shadow beneath. This was a fun exercise to carry out and demonstrates the importance of exercises such as this, for me to become looser in my painting and more confident before tackling final assignments. It’s also made me realise that I find it particularly difficult to paint quickly and don’t enjoy time constraints. I prefer to paint at leisure on my own terms, but I can see the benefit in quick exercises such as this.

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