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The evolution of a self portrait during a pandemic

I've used my facial features as reference for a few of my paintings over the years, but this is only one of two self-portraits I've ever completed throughout my art career. Finishing this painting also happens to coincide with my life after 365 days of lockdown and isolation during a pandemic.

I never intended on painting a snapshot of my life through these times; it has taken a great deal of determination and will to live through them. But when my creative muses tap me on the shoulder, I've learned that it's best to heed their call.

Like human beings in general, this portrait has many layers, and if I merely shared the finished image with no explanation or guidance, I feel I'd be doing a great disservice to you, the viewer. So, let's start at the beginning.....

I started with a 16x24 inch canvas. After layering the surface with white gesso, I used the back of a small, round paintbrush and began infusing the painting with intention. I scrawled the words 'love', 'present moment', and 'patience' among others, into the gesso and let it dry. Afterward, I randomly reached for some of my favorite colors and covered the whole canvas using a palette knife, leaving texture and randomly sharp lines on the surface. Next, I used a stencil to create a bit of pattern in the lower right hand corner, then began to sketch and block out my image.

Here, I continued to block in color with either a palette knife or a long-handled paintbrush so that I could keep the painting feeling loose and semi abstract.

Here I'm playing with skin tone and attempting to tighten up my features a bit. I'm also narrowing down the final choice of colors I want to use.

And here is the finished painting.

Deeper Meaning

At first glance, one might assume that this is a woman at ease and without a worry in the world. Maybe she likes wearing hats; perhaps her favorite flower is the poppy. While all of these things are true, there is a good deal of symbolism within this painting as well.

The sharp contrast between blue and peach, (dark and light) on the skin represents my attempt to maintain a healthy balance of my emotions throughout the last year. I am reminded of a saying that reads: "You can appreciate the light, but before that you have to know the darkness.”

The light source is coming from the east, just as the sun rises from the east. There is also light rising from below, all symbols that tomorrow is a new day and with it, another opportunity to not only see the good, but to be the good. I contemplated sanding down the harsh edges from the palette knife that you see across the face, but in the end, decided to leave them. These 'scars' symbolize what it means to be human.

The color red symbolizes energy, creativity, survival. This is a woman who is ready to break free and take the world by storm.

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