The Challenges of painting a self portrait

self portrait
Sun Gems
Self Portrait of Paula Mayer at Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA

Always up for a challenge

I’m never one to turn down a challenge, especially when it’s a skill I’m new to. So when I learned about Jerry’s Artarama Ninth Annual Self Portrait contest, I knew I wanted to enter.

Vote here through June 17, 2021

How it all began

I spent the better part of my life (the best is yet to come) doing hair and makeup on lots and lots of beautiful faces. Some famous and some just really nice people that wanted to look their best for whatever they had planned. You can learn more about me here.

When my husband and I decided to move our business from San Diego, CA to Colorado Springs, CO I decided this would be a good time to make a full-on career shift. I had been dabbling in Watercolor for a couple of years and was ready for a new challenge. Making a career change and starting a new business is one of the biggest challenges anyone can face. But after 30 years in the same industry I was ready for a change and a new challenge.

While I’m still painting faces I no longer paint directly on faces. Instead I paint 3 dimensional faces and sometimes objects, houses and landscapes on paper. My medium of choice is Watercolor.

My painting style is photo realistic

While I’ve heard some artists say “why paint photo realistic when you have a photo?” A painting never looks the same as a photo and it’s special in it’s own right because it has been hand painted with time, patience and attention to detail. A beautiful portrait is an art as well; I know because I’m married to a “people” photographer, among his many other subjects, and understand the attention to detail photography requires as well. I love detail though and can fuss over getting an expression or shape of a nose or pout just right for hours. It’s my jam! And while I absolutely LOVE a loose Watercolor painting, I prefer to paint realistically.

Painting “Me”

Generally I’ll begin a painting with skin tone after carefully penciling in a very detailed drawing of my subject. In this case -me. Then the layering and feature definition begins. A shadow here, a highlight there and the next thing I know, I’m staring at myself. This is where honesty comes into play. It would be easy to “pretty” myself up on the canvas just for the sake of it. But in reality I have a gummy smile and so the end result wouldn’t have captured my essence had I tried to disguise this feature.

My temporary studio

Temporary studio during renovations of our new home in Colorado Springs

Working in my somewhat cramped temporary studio presents a few problems but I can typically find a spot to prop up a painting in the interim for careful study.

Often times I will put a piece aside to study from a distance while I work on another painting. Allowing myself to get a different perspective or to come back to it later with fresh eyes. This enables me to see relationships to elements I may miss when I’m right on top of the painting.

Sun Gems Self Portrait will be one of likely many self portraits. I may not take home any prizes for this one but in my perspective it’s all about the experience, learning and progressing and that is the biggest prize of all!

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