jeudi 27 décembre 2007


Rembrandt created eighty-odd self-portraits. Looking through my file of drawings and paintings I was only able to come up with about six self-portraits. Of these, a charcoal drawing done around 1975 for a University drawing course has obvious proportion flaws, but there is a slight resemblance. The 1990 color pastel was drawn from a photo during a pastel workshop. It has some redeeming qualities but it is definitely not one of my best works.

The first of three portraits labeled 2007 was done a few days ago looking in a mirror. I painted on No. 79 Peterboro illustration board. It was the first time I tried this type of board. Essentially it is an acid-free Cold Press watercolour paper mounted on board. Sold in a 30” x 40” format, the board can easily be cut with an exacto knife.

I drew the main shapes with a 2B graphite pencil and painted the initial washes with a No. 12 Isabey petit gris brush, the largest in the family. Wetting the right-hand side of the face in shadow with clear water, I dipped this generous brush into a mixture of Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna. The paint flowed easily over the board and I immediately noticed that the paint was not being absorbed quickly. This gave me ample time to go back into the wash and adjust the values.

Adding a little Ultramarine Deep into the mixture I then painted the blocked out shapes on the left-hand side of the face. Next, I grayed the mixture a bit more and painted in the hair. The lighted side of the face at this point was still paper white and contrasted well with the dark shapes. I should have stopped immediately but instead wet the untouched white area and the gray bled into it. I was able to quickly remove some of the colour but the beautiful stark contrast was lost except for some highlights on the nose, lips and chin.

That is the risk one takes when trying out a new paper or board, but I feel that jumping in and painting a subject is more stimulating and profitable than painting little color swatches on unfamiliar paper. Anyway, I still have eight boards left, cut to approximately 10” x 13” to try out. What is important is that I had fun and learned while trying out a new brand of paper and a new brush. Then, I promised myself to do one self-portrait a day for 30 days using various mediums.

So, I painted a second time on Peterboro board. The resulting painting outlined in ink produced a brighter more colorful rendition but a less successful resemblance than the first attempt. The third in the proposed series of 30 was done with 2B and 4B graphite pencil on paper.

Although at first it might seem boring to draw oneself often, it has so far been very interesting. I am learning something every time and honing my skills. Foremost is the fact that your model is always available. Vary the medium used, the lighting and the approach. It is not necessary, for example to draw or paint the whole face.

If you are interested in the subject of portraits, here are the titles of a couple of recommended books and one magazine article : Rembrandt’s Nose by Michael Taylor is a well-written insightful book about how the artist painted portraits. Visages des voyageurs is mainly a flip through picture book of Martine Le Coz’s creative renditions of writers of the XXth century. Yvon Masse’s article Portrait, portrait, in L’aquarelliste, Août 2006 explains how to organize a portrait night. In Harley Brown’s Eternal truths for every artist, the most important words in the book are: “I, ________________, do hereby declare that, from this day forward, I will do a drawing, from life, for a half hour every day, for the rest of my life. So help me Harley.”

That being said, I must go draw my fourth self-portrait of the proposed series.

Raynald Murphy sca

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