back at school, fall 2022: reconstructing a self; drawing with ice; melting glaciers; environmental concerns; self-portrait; greyscale

sorry about all the words…

I’m back at school, working on the second year of a two year diploma program, and although I hadn’t originally intended to be a full time art student thinking about my “art future”, I do find myself in the odd place of doing just that.

At the beginning of the summer break, I asked myself what it would be like to put my “self” as the subject of a design brief, a planning document that could guide my work, my material investigations, my material practice. So I created an extensive document that laid out what might well be a life’s work; or at least work for the next several years.

I spent the summer launching myself into the project, and as I’m working on my coursework, I am attempting to both meet the criteria of the course requirements and the goal of my self-oriented design brief.

In the design brief, I ask the question: how can a person deliberately change the self, as if the self were a living sculpture that is open to, or vulnerable to, deliberate change. I lay out several categories that comprise a self: physical, emotional, psychological, political, environmental, familial, cultural, and spiritual. My intention and plan is to take unflinching look at my self as it manifests each of those areas, and while taking this unflinching look and possible unflinching responses to changes that I see I would like to make, I will document how I see and experience my changing self through writing, drawing, photography, and painting.

The pastel drawings I did this summer were the beginning of that, a way to keep myself focused on the project, but before I began in earnest.

The following pieces are a subset of what I am working on in the classes I am taking, first and second year college courses in which I’m still learning.

Having lost thirty pounds, I am able to fit into the $6 rain suit I found at Dollarama because my hips are less intrusive. I need a rainsuit so that I can continue to ride my bicycle throughout the winter.
In painting, we are working with greyscale and painting self-portraits without using brushes. These four here are studies in which I am experimenting with grey tones and using mostly my fingers and rags to make marks. The next step is to paint a self portrait in greyscale.
This is the photograph I’m using to paint the greyscale self-portrait.

On October 1, I spent the morning at the studio at the college, where I prefer painting, especially with acrylics. I’m a pretty messy painter (well, I’m pretty messy at just about everything). Below is where I left off at the end of the session. Total hours = 5. So much further to go until I no longer look like a ghost.

Self portrait in greyscale (unfinished)
In drawing, we are working with melting ice. Through the material investigations both in the studio at school and at home, I came to see my self as melting, just as glaciers are melting, and the frame of my larger project helped me to conceptualize the shrinking self as a metaphor for the shrinking glaciers. This is one of 9 drawings that I did in class using a block of ice, charcoal powder, and burnt umber charcoal stick to make a melting ice field seen from a distance, where the fact of its melting is not immediately obvious.
In this photograph, a block of ice into which I have frozen a small doll, is melting onto a sheet of watercolor paper onto which I have sprinkled some powdered charcoal. The intention is to see the patterns the water creates in and with the charcoal.
The patterns change as the water becomes heavier and pushes across the paper, carrying the charcoal powder with it. The purpose of this practice is to get a close up view of melting ice. This close up view is created by the melting block of ice into which the doll has been frozen. As the layers of ice melt away from the doll, she is released from that prison.
This is one of my selves, emerging as the ice melts. I think she must be responsible for all the messiness.

and here are some photographs from the second ice melt session:

I wrapped the block of ice in string and suspended it over a sheet of watercolour paper sprinkled with powdered charcoal.
I set up a video camera so I could capture some of the action; the cat watched, too. I haven’t processed the video yet.
Out of the hundreds of photographs I took, occasionally I managed to capture something interesting. This shows a string a water falling from the bottom of the melting ice block.
Sometimes I managed to capture the surface of the water as it responded to a new drip.
This photograph shows the rounded edge of the water as it advances across the paper.
downloading a couple of hundred photos at a time. I went through them later and deleted most of the duplicates.
many of the photographs look like landscapes. barren landscapes. which is appropriate, seeing as how I’m trying to capture something of the feeling of melting glaciers…

cutting down the melting ice block. it eventually became too dark and the video camera battery was down to 5% and the memory card was full.

I’m excited to get to the video editing to see if the camera captured anything not captured by the camera or by my eyes.

So, yeah, I go into the zone when I do these multiple hour sessions, and for now I think I'll take these photographs of myself to see if I can capture the zoned-out look.
So, yeah, I go into the zone when I do these multiple hour sessions, and for now I think I’ll take these photographs of myself to see if I can capture the zoned-out look. Maybe I’ll start to think I’m being too narcissistic, but for now it feels okay.

Woman with Pink Scarf PLUS Too Soon PLUS Woman with Blue Scarf PLUS Softly, Softly

Trying to draw self-portraits seems to be important to me. I’ve never known what I look like, so drawing focuses my attention on the details that I can’t see on my own. I sit at my easel and look into a mirror propped up to the right, so it feels as if I’m always looking back at myself. I don’t feel as haunted as these self-portraits suggest. I like looking back at self-portraits I tried when I first started art school, and will continue to do self-portraits from time to time as a way to gauge what is important to me at any given time.

There’s something else I like about drawing real people, including but not limited to my self. When I take a photograph of someone, a photograph of my self, I have captured the image at a particular point in time. The picture is taken, and then it is over. When I draw myself, I do this over an extended period of time, making observations of my face, which may be affected in microcosmic ways by what I may be thinking about throughout the drawing process, so I feel as if, unlike a photograph, a drawing is a reflection of the changes that can impact a face over the time of the sitting.

Different micro expressions show up in different parts of the face at different times. So the drawing of a face is a composite of those expressions over the time that the face was observed, not a “moment in time” expression of a photograph. It might be interesting to animate a drawn portrait.

Here is a link to a website that discusses micro expressions. https://www.paulekman.com/resources/micro-expressions/

Woman With Pink Scarf (S.P. #13); 22″ x 30″ charcoal, pastel.

After sitting with the self-portrait #13 for a day, I made some changes, reflected below. It still doesn’t really look like me, but I’m keeping both up here so I have a record on my blog, and a reminder not to jump the gun, so to speak, but to let things settle in for a while before I declare them finished. In the next iteration, I fixed the jaw line; toned down the ear by making it smaller and lighter; added some light blue in the background; darkened the sweater collar and shoulders.

Woman With Pink Scarf, s.p. #13 (revised); 22″ x 30″, charcoal and pastel.

Next, I want to try a self-portrait using only shades of blue. And in the next version, I’ll work on getting the eyes smaller and farther apart.

Woman with Blue Scarf, s.p. #14, 22″ x 30″. Pastel. Version 1
Woman With Blue Scarf (revised). S.P. # 14. 22 x 30. Pastel.
Softly, Softly. S.P. #15. 24″ x 28″. Pastel and charcoal on brown paper.