It all started Sunday when my dear friend Alice, who has always been ridiculously self-deprecating when it comes to her own artsy-craftsy skills, pulled out a self-portrait. And not just any self-portrait. An innovative, emotive, and above all, completely gorgeous close-up of one side of her face, most prominently a spectacular eye, using a variety of materials and some serious skills.
And then she craft challenged Gertrude, Rapunzel, and I. Self portraits. Any medium. Next time we meet.
I was excited, at first. Because the natural high of a craft challenge is a savory thing. And then I realized I was a bit… Scared? Apprehensive? I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was feeling, or why.
I peeled back the surface confusion to discover my own fear of inadequacy, my own seething self-deprecation. This was a call for artistry. I am at home in my musical pond, and have paid frequent visits to the realms adjacent, but have not touched ground in the sacred land of visual fine art.
It’s been about a decade since I last drew something in earnest, something that wasn’t a quick, lopsided cartoon of an animal by child request (as Owlet was prone to suggest during her early-mid crayon period of 2012-13).
Also, I didn’t feel like a worthy subject, which surprised me, because in the past year or so I have finally gotten the hang of honestly loving the beauty I see in the mirror most days. But then, I do not always love the me that is captured in photographs. So that apprehension is entwined in this package as well.
I tried to visualize it. I tried a word-based brainstorm. I even tried a google search of how to brainstorm for a self-portrait. I even drew a cello bridge, thinking perhaps I could hide most of an image of myself behind it.
Ah, there it is. The second leaf.
Hiding under the fear of lacking skill is an irrational panic of impending exposure. A good self-portrait is unflinching. Vulnerable. Utterly without pretense.
Even if everyone around me loved it, I would know whether it was genuine or a gimmick. Whether I had arrived at my core or fudged around the edges.
Oddly, once I figured my own self out, I didn’t feel the need to mull it over any further. Instead, I sat down in front of the mirror, late though it was, and cranked out a passible sketch. Without the weight of it being my “official” self-portrait, it was easy to fall into the zone of assessing shapes and shadows, using a slightly dull number two pencil, my daughter’s sketch pad, and my best composer’s eraser.
Here it is. I grow increasingly dissatisfied with it every time I see it, but at the time was quite happy to be able to approximate my own face.
And it has proven to be addicting. I have drawn something every day since. Here is my second, during which I realized even when I think I am holding very still, I am not:
During my third drawing I learned something amazing. My children will willingly and easily fall asleep. While I draw.
Life-altering news. Mostly Owlet drops off while nursing in less than the time it takes to sing ten lullabies. Platypup is more variable, but often within the time it takes to sing, say, forty lullabies. (Yes. I have counted. But only because they each have a set of bedtime songs I have been singing them almost every night since their early days.) But when they have both napped long or late, it can be any maddening length of time, while I slowly slither from Glenda to Scrooge.
Deciding to try something new, I got up after they had both had their milk, sat at the foot of the bed, comfortably visible, and proceeded to draw. I had to shush Platypup twice (far less than the usual for a long late nap day) and they both settled in and drifted off at some point while I was engrossed in depicting the sleeping face of one-year-old Platypup from a post-birthday-party photo:
It was blissful and will work as long as the days are long (literally — no idea whether this will work in winter if I have to turn on a lamp, but for now, we are golden, and by that point, perhaps Platypup will have dropped his nap and be as easy as Owlet!)
My fourth was Owlet on her third birthday:
And last night I decided to take a break from people and do some ginkgo leaves (and realized I really need to get my own real art supplies and stop this number two pencil business):
It is delightful when things turn out ok, but even in the middle when they are at best seriously awkward and at worst threatening to self-destruct, I am loving the mental jacuzzi this sketchpad provides.
Music still houses my soul. But it is also my livelihood. It is so relaxing to get to be an amateur at something, to have no weight resting on mastery save my own enjoyment.
Here’s a bonus self-portrait, not necessarily the “official” one, either, since a photo seems too easy, but still, one that feels like me: