I spent most of the lockdown this year drawing faces. (I worked as well, but you know how many hours there were.) I’m pretty pleased with what I learned in the process and I’ll make another post with some of the faces I’m most satisfied with, but in between, these staring faces kept appearing. Pretty much every time I sat down to draw without thinking much, and just started sketching, the faces that emerged had this rather fixed stare – not panicked, not horrified, just stunned into silence.
I guess they sum up my reaction rather well. Surprised. Amazed. Dumbfounded. Disbelieving. And, eventually, patient. Even curious.
Some looked a bit more anxious. I guess that anxiety was a big part of it too. I am (still) a (very large) continent away from my family.
These were all drawn from my imagination, but the same look crept into pictures that were based on other sources too. Somehow, that same sense of surprise and disbelief showed through.
But then, looking back through my sketches, I found that this same look appeared before COVID. These two pictures I drew in February and November last year.
Back in February, the face on the left appeared in response to a surprising, weird and quite hard to believe family situation. I called it Watching because I felt so helpless. All I could do was watch what was unfolding.
Even that was preceded by the face on the right, which I drew back in November last year. Did I somehow know what was coming in 2020?
Well I managed to complete 31 days of drawings. It was actually rather fun. Some evenings I only got to my studio after 8pm, and feeling rather uninspired, but the muse was there, every day. It’s a good discipline, but if I did it again, I’d make it a first-thing-in-the-morning priority, like meditating before breakfast.
During these five days I found myself busy and sitting in meetings. It was easier to fit Inktober in by drawing the people around me. So portraits came to the fore. It turned out to be quite a lot of fun, reminding me of why I set out to work on portraits this year.
This face was inspired by a picture in Germaine Greer’s wonderful book, The Boy. The Boy is well worth a read, especially for mothers of sons in a world where there is so much focus on daughters. The beautiful illustrations (paintings and photographs) are a wonderful source of inspiration.
I liked the picture for its combination of angelic beauty with a direct challenge. I call the painting Sullen because it is a look I have seen on so many young men at that point where they stake a claim for independence. It seems to say “I am not who you want me to be; I will be my own person.” The refusal to participate comes across as sullen.
This picture combines reds and blues to create the pinky-purple tones with a little yellow and sienna for warmth.
It is painted in acrylic on a gallery wrapped canvas and is finished in a matt acrylic varnish. At 40cm x 40cm it is a little smaller than others in this series. It is ready to hang.
The new year has been busy. I am in the process of opening Better, a physical place for creative makers to hang out, and that has kept me from this blog. But there is lots to share.
Those of you who talk with me about my art know that I’ve been saying for a while that I want to paint portraits. I think that portraits are about the highest art form there is. To try and animate a human face has to be the ultimate creative challenge.
Last year I played with painting mandalas because I wanted something easy to practice with, but I’ve decided that if I really want to paint portraits, I need to practice on those.
So I have been sketching faces.
It’s interesting how compelling faces can be. I find myself staring at people in the street and tracing the lines of their faces in my mind. When I find an interesting face, I want to draw it over and over.
I’ve been sketching with watercolour too, as this forces me to work more intuitively and to focus less on accuracy.
So far, I’ve discovered that faces are fun to draw, once you get over the terror of how difficult it is. Sketching faces is far more about line and shadows than it is about colour, which is a bit of a new space for me to play in.
I’ve started work on some paintings of faces too and will share those in my next post.