As I flip through my last few journals, I see that I am more and more drawn to drawing faces. Maybe that’s just a function of winter — when the weather is warm I can go out and plunk down on the sidewalk somewhere and draw landscapes, buildings, dogs being curbed. When the weather is inhospitable, I sit at my dining table and after I’ve drawn every object in the room, I flip through magazines and start drawing faces.
I tend to draw a lot of self-portraits — not become I am so fabulously handsome but because my face is always handy, right there, wrapped around my eyes. I’ve done hundreds, none of them even remotely alike. This winter, fiddling with my computer, I started taking distorted pictures of myself with my laptop’s built-in camera, then distorting them further with dip pens and brushes and sumi ink.
They’re part of my effort to do more than just draw exactly what I see but to add some feeling to the exercise. Of course, it’s impossible for me not to inject some subjectivity into any drawing. That’s enhanced when I keep it loose and free, the flaws enhancing my point of view. But I find that when I start with something that’s unfamiliar, like the bulges and twists the computer puts into my face, I tend to pay more careful attention, take nothing for granted, create something that looks like a photo in the degree of detail; and yet feel free to push the lines further and add more sweeping grotesqueries.
My father has been drawing self portraits every day for ages. He just sent me a day’s output, drawn looking down into a mirror lying flat on the table.
In the accompanying note, he says:
“Doing things in pen is very nerve wracking as if you get one line wrong the whole thing is ruined. This makes you concentrate so you tend to get a picture that is more accurate than otherwise. I n each case I started with the left eye which is the only one I can see out of (the other has been blind all my life), I did the last two in the afternoon, I had to wear my glasses (as you can see in the pics) because after lunch I am unable to see without them, (except all blurry).”
It is sad that I didn’t know about my father’s blindness until this letter. He sends these sorts of little packages to me every year or so. They are more or less the only contact I have with him any more. My parents were divorced when I was about three so I don’t know a lot about him.
His drawings are so similar. He has really developed his ability to draw himself down to an almost mechanical science.
He is pretty unflinching in his scrutiny too.
I decided to try my hand at the same experiment. It is a very unflattering, through-the-nose-hairs sort of perspective on oneself. The last time I saw my father, about three years ago for a couple of hours in London, we were walking down the street and he said to me, “Is that your stomach?” As a result, I made my head very thin in this first drawing.
More accurate, less paranoid view of self.
Third go: scary, pig-snoutish.
I tried a version with my glasses and could barely see my reflection through them. The resulting drawing looks a lot like Ozzie Osbourne’s loutish son, Jack.