The midterm for my life drawing class this semester was to create a full-body self portrait using charcoal. Because this is a life drawing class, photo reference is prohibited (you can imagine how difficult the right hand was to complete!).
Now, as those of you who have experience with self portraits from life will know, the simplest and most common method is to keep your face expressionless. This is because the best way to ensure that your features stay in the same relative positions (and your facial muscles don’t get sore). However, I had drawn so many self portraits this semester, I decided to make things more interesting (read: difficult).
The biggest mirror I currently have access to is in my parents’ room. With their permission, I set up a makeshift studio. The limited space did not allow room for an easel, and this paper is 42″ tall. My solution was to stack two bean bag chairs on my parents’ bed and lean the paper, which I had taped to a large piece of cardboard, against them. (Naturally, I was careful to put a cover over everything!)
Then there was the problem of lighting. My clip light was not nearly tall enough, but with the help of a fabric steamer and an extension cord, I was able to light myself from head to toe.
Now came the fun part: standing on one foot for hours on end! The most nerve-racking aspect of the whole undertaking was probably the threat of getting charcoal on my nice white button-up shirt. It took me about nine hours to nail down the body, and then I spent two hours working on my face. It’s a good thing I like to smile, because holding that wacky expression for so long might have otherwise driven me insane. It was a solid day or so before my cheek-muscles finally forgave me.
Next, it was time to draw the environment. I didn’t want to draw my parents’ room, but I was smart enough to draw the horizon line so it wouldn’t look too wonky when I changed rooms. I then set up shop in my own room and recreated the lighting as accurately as possible. For this part, I had a medium-sized mirror aimed at myself so I could see how everything in the room related to my body. I then proceeded to draw the room using the mirror as well as direct observation. This part of the drawing took only seven hours.
Overall, I’m very happy with the outcome of this project. It was a lot of fun to work on and it was very well received by the class. I set out to put a silly and original spin on a traditionally serious and dreary assignment, and I think I accomplished that. There is a minor issue with proportion (kudos if you can spot it!), which I think is partly because I had to stand so close to the mirror. I didn’t originally intend to include so many birds in the composition, but once the rolling duck and the quetzal (hanging from the ceiling) established a pattern, I ran with it. I never realized how many bird-related objects I owned prior to this drawing!
Dimensions: 32 x 38″
Total drawing time: 18 hours