Self Portraiture and My Self…

Okay, so I decided a few years ago after finishing a Master’s Degree of Arts in Integrated Studies (MAIS) – a whole tangle of sociology and history and psychology and writing theory and cultural studies – that I needed to leave academia behind for a few years and focus on beautiful things for a while. I was tired of being such a thinker-analyzer-perfectionist; I wanted to be an experiencer, a dreamer, a journeyer.  I needed a new me. Or at least a renewed version of me.

So, I took all the photos and cards off my piano and had it tuned; bought some new sheet music; sat around plinking for a while. Didn’t grab me though. I bought a new iPod, downloaded all my tunes from the last 30 years and got a Bose Sound System and played it really loud for some time. Impressed a few guests (the sound system, I mean.  My music tastes appear to be uniquely my own!) and made me happy, but wasn’t what I was looking for. Took a Creative Writing Class with a wonderful teacher and some friends. That was great and led to my little Writers’ Group for which I’m eternally grateful and which has led to some wonderful other things, like this blog, for instance. But it wasn’t until I was cleaning out the basement and found a red box of pastel crayons, given to me by my mom years ago, that something went ‘click’. So I rummaged some more and dug out an old pad of drawing paper from my undergraduate days and started colouring.

Oh. Found it!  Found the thing my soul craved – something nonverbal, nonacademic, nontrained, nonadjudicated. Not judged. Just sit and draw and colour with no expectations of perfection or even a shred of aptitude! Happy me.

I bought a few other cheap supplies recommended by a kind stranger who saw me gazing perplexed at all the art stuffs at Walmart, and for Christmas hubby gave me a kit of paints and brushes, and crayons and other artsy stuff.  All set!!

And now, just last week, I stumbled across the 30 Day Drawing Challenge which I promptly printed off thinking, “This is just what I need!”


So, go check out the 30 Day Drawing Challenge list, if you haven’t already, from the link above.  There is a ton of good stuff there: I get to draw and colour my favourite fruit, something I love, a few things I’d never thought of drawing before.  Yay!  But what is this? What is the first thing on the list?  A self-portrait??

You*have*got*to*be*kidding*me! What kind of evil deviant would make a newbie do a self-portrait on the very first day?? Are you flippin’ kidding me?? Couldn’t we start with something more certain of success, like ‘draw a box’?

Okayokayokay. I said this was going to be all about just enjoying the experience and not judging the outcomes.  So I had to remind myself a couple of times to settle down and just try it. And, frankly, how can I go wrong? It’s me I’m drawing, and it’s coming out of me, and so if art theory is anything like writing theory (which posits that everything a writer writes reflects on and reveals the writer him/herself) then whatever ends up on that page is a part of me, or comes out of what is me, or something like that, and ergo, must be self-portraiture!  Right?

I took out a photo of me wearing a bright and happy sweater I bought in San Fransisco. That was a wonderful holiday – we went to the west coast to see friends and in a random shop there was this sweater hanging high up on the wall. It grabbed my attention and it was one of those ‘don’t need to think about it’ purchases. “Take that down! I’ll meet you at the till.” Weird that that‘s what I recall looking at that photo – images flashing backwards like a magnet to that fall-in-love moment. Weird how I can be that person in that image who has that memory.  Anyhow, so I took the photo off the wall and decided to use it for my very first ever self-portrait….


So this is, apparently, Me. It must be because I said so. Or, rather, I ‘drew’ so, I mean. But, er, just no.  Colouring too orange – I’m a bit more olive toned; eyes way too big – my cheeks should be pushed up against them making little wrinkles all over; nose far too regal – my nose is more like a lump on the end of a ramp. That little divit in my cheek is too high and should align with my mouth not my nose! Although, I did point out to a friend that the resulting jowls do sorta resemble the current me, getting jowlier by the year!  Mouth’s not too too bad, I guess. And the hair is pretty darn close.  The sweater, well, nothing could do that sweater justice – it was its own work of art!  That earring, though!  Ah!  A triumph!!

Nope. Reject. I denounced this version of me right away.  Actually I think I burst out laughing and said to Hubby, “Check this out!” and he grinned a big one as if to say, “Uh, I don’t wanna say too much…” Awesome. Totally had to revise myself. I couldn’t bring myself to accept this image – this person who emerged out of me, like I gave birth to a Me-Wanna-Be.

So, who do I want to be? Dunno. Question’s too big. Couldn’t tackle that. So, a few days later, I tackled Draft 2 of my Self instead. Sat down with the same photo, same pastels and went earnestly at it in a sunny spot off a bay window.  Lotsa light. Hubby was reading in his chair, cat curled in the sun. Good. All was going well.  Very well!  I thought I had a fabulously new and improved version of myself … until I stood back from it and checked it out at some distance….


Good lands!! Who on earth is this cadaver looking off the page all askance and askew?? Oh my, if that’s me I’m going to head straight to the nearest bridge and hurl myself off it! How could this twisted and disproportionate woman emerge out of my very self?  She’s all shadows and bruising, with eyes possessed of two different beings, angular and boney, with a mouth pouting and sulky? My sister commented that this woman is starving and is sick and is deserving of some medical treatment. I see a vampiress, anemic, hungry; a poser; a sham.


But I do often feel like a poser, a pretend being.  I flash right back to a writers’ retreat I was at a few years ago. I felt the whole time like I was pretending to have talent; worried that I was invited in perhaps because they had an open spot. I wore a mask to play the part but inside I was all insecurity and anxiety, wondering, “How am I supposed be?” The memories this woman invokes are all angst and worry and regret.

And some days, when I’m full of restlessness and impatience I put on compassion and gentleness and kindness, or try to, and wear it around like a cloak hiding my true self.  Like a vampire, I may look attractive on the outside, but inside is death, some days, and vileness.  Like there are two different beings in me, twisting and writhing for control of who I am.  Who I am. As though I is subjective; as though I is passive, waiting to be defined by the winner of this match.

I do often feel anemic, as though I’m lacking some vital component of my life, like some crucial part of me is sometimes being denied or subdued.  Like a life force that compels  me is outside of my Self, is a separate entity, a Being I must know, I must learn, I must become. Or become like. I feel as though my blood – my own existence – is insufficient for supplying my own vitality, maybe. Or maybe just that my life on its own lack lustre. I need others, or an Other, to give my life significance. There’s this hole, some days, that I cannot fill on my own.  I have a deeply buried need.

Okayokayokay.  Alright already.  Too much analysis! I was going to just draw and colour and be myself without having to scrutinize every detail!  Seesh.  Get a grip.  Little wonder this woman’s all warped and out of sorts!

So, … don’t like this version?  Redraw your Self!  On to Draft #3: I decided to take my time. To really look carefully at the photo of my Self. To focus on getting the details set properly within the overall being. To focus on the essence.  My sister suggested I turn the photo upsidedown to gain a new perspective, so I did that for a while. Having done a first draft of this third draft, I sent the pencil sketch off to her for her assessment. Longer chin, higher forehead, eyes too close together, mouth just about right…. I revised the sketch and sent it off again.  More of the same. More revisions. At this point I was beginning to think I could almost, sort of, maybe even recognize this person on the page! She was beginning to appear almost attractive! I kinda liked her. Something about her made me smile. I almost thought I’d like to have this woman for my friend!

And then I brought out the pastels.


Nope. Aside from this woman being cross-eyed once I’d coloured everything in, she’s too “nice”. Look at her! She practically oozes pleasantries! Here is a woman who would greet you with your favourite beverage at the door and take your coat while gushing about your lovely scarf. This woman would be naturally good, someone who clearly has never been me! She would never struggle with thoughts of selfishness or bouts of unreasonable grouchiness.  Too pure, too clean, too ingratiating. I don’t even flash back to a memory to connect to this version of my Self. Nope. I do not recognize her at all.

Being at the end of my Self, I put all three versions of Me up for discussion.  Sister, Hubby, Facebook friends – all agreed that although none of these really look like Me, my original version seems to best capture the essence of Me.  One friend very generously commented that version #1 had some Frida Kahlo-esque qualities!! There’s an unexpected nugget!

In the end, I agree. I think the original Me is the best I can do.  These other versions surely exist. There are versions of me with whom I don’t want to go out in public; and versions I wish would come out more often. But I’ll settle for the version I am in this moment.

And move on to the second of the 30 Day Drawing Challenges…..  hmmm…. my favourite animal!!

8 thoughts on “Self Portraiture and My Self…

  1. Wow. You started off all “I don’t want to think or analyze any more” and suddenly you psycho-analyzed three self portraits. Why not just be happy that you can actually draw a human that doesn’t look like a stick person? Breath! Breath! Breath! ❤

    That being said, I was fascinated and happily read it all. 🙂

    • I know!! That was the whole crazy point! I wanted something that would just shut up that yapping voice in my head and found a) all these other people who live in my head (though I always knew they were there, I just didn’t expect them to pop out onto the page like that), and b) that the yapping voice isn’t so easily hushed! But it was fun to do all the drawings and to colour everything in. And I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now, I’m waiting for you to start your blog…..

  2. I really like this entry. I think most of us have multiple selves that we try to sort out. Some we like. Some we really don’t. Funny what a pot of stew we all are. Perhaps your self-portraits are similar – each with characteristics that mirror different parts of your characteristics? Maybe you’ve really captured an aspect of ‘art’ in the interpretive sense — perhaps what is seen may affect what is felt about characteristics and the essence of something rather than the reflect, like a mirror, merely the physical aspects?

    I also like how you added photos to this entry! Some visual as well as the verbal.

    • See? This is why I like you so much! When you have something to say it’s of substance! I didn’t know what I thought about the three portraits until I started writing. I just knew there was something about having three different ‘mes’ emerge from ‘me’ and I needed to sort it out. Once I started writing, of course, all the thoughts started flooding about my feet kind of and then the only trick was to make sense of them. It is not just interpretation of the art, but also interpretation of mySelf as the artist. Weird psychological trickery!

  3. Oh my, I love it. I do agree with everyone else that the first painting is the best physical reflection of you – perhaps 10 years in the future but still a good representation. I love your description of your third you. Too funny. I have to say my favorite blog so far is the competitive one. For all the mocking I have received about being competetive it’s good to see you recognizing that quality in yourself.

    • Hey! Thanks for commenting! I’m not sure how I feel yet about any of the descriptions of me. Though I think there’s a little of each of them in every one of us, so I might have to just learn to live with myself after all!

      I’m still in denial about the competition thing. I’m not comfortable with it. It makes me angsty and uncomfortable. Way easier to just enjoy the journey. Though that artists’ colony – oh my!!

      And mocking? Me mocking you? ppsssshhhht! Nonsense!! 😀

  4. My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a different
    web page and thought I may as well check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to exploring your web page again.

    • This was a fun post! I enjoyed playing with pastels and it was fun exploring the identities I could find in each one. I haven’t been very faithful to my blog in the last few months – I’m glad you liked what you saw and I’ll be back blogging very soon! Take care!

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