Slides: 2012-2013 G10 L1: Line, Shape, Value, Texture – Self-Portrait
Xavier School | Grade 10 | by Josiah Gosingtian
One of the things I noticed during my classes was that most of my students were not sure where to start when I asked them to tell me what they could glean from the self-portraits in the slides. I remembered my younger brother during a trip to Musee d’Orsay, who asked me what I look at when I look at paintings. He didn’t seem to be very interested or excited by the prospect of staying in a museum — which is fine, I’d say — but I gave him an answer that could be compressed into one statement: I look at artworks part by part.
Most of the time, I look at the image as a whole, then I move to what my eyes are attracted to first. It could be a specific subject on the image, or colors, or brush strokes (texture), and as I move from one part to the next, my interpretation / opinion is slowly built.
In class, I often stress the importance of doing things step-by-step. We learn the most from the process, but most of us have been trained to value only the end product, be it one’s grades at the end of a year or a finished painting. Each step is loaded with information that becomes ignored when we’re too focused on the end. Pardon the cliche, but it’s about the journey, not the destination.
What kind of expression does the artist have in his self-portrait, and what might this say about him? What about his clothing, or objects he’s interacting with? Even the background can give us a lot of information regarding the artist; it’s not “just clouds” there. In this sequence of questions, you might have noticed how someone’s eyes might have moved to search for answers. From the face, we moved to the rest of the body, then to objects that might be in front of the subject, then to the back. Part by part.
As you go through the slides, ask yourself why an artist might make a self-portrait. You’ll have a bunch of answers; try to see how these connect with the answers you had to the questions above. For example, if you answered “vanity”, how do you think that would affect how the artist portrays himself? He might paint himself wearing better clothing, or remove a few blemishes. Consider: Durer was an artist whose self-portraits were like advertisements showing his skill and success.
The activity emphasizes the importance of taking things step-by-step. If you make a mistake with the shape or position of your jaw, all of the guide lines will be skewed and the portrait will look odd. Relax. Again, don’t think about how it might turn out. Focus on how you’re drawing each step. Does it look right? How does it make you feel, and why do you think you feel that way?
A good tip: the nose is a major feature of the face, and its position allows it to be a “visual anchor” for all the other parts of the face. Even if you don’t use the guides, you can estimate the distances between parts in relation to the nose.
You may have noticed that I made my students use iPads. The original plan was to have them use pocket mirrors, but the order didn’t arrive. I had to improvise. If you want to try the activity, I’d suggest that you use a mirror, too.