Winter’s Mirror – Selfie Portrait

Selfie portrait
Selfie taken with phone, sketched on newsprint

It has been awhile since I posted anything, but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy. This time of year in Minnesota, the dark winter days are dragging on and each week brings a fresh few inches of snow, which now is melting into deep black pools of chilled, creeping mud. The last several weeks have been cold enough that it’s not worth leaving one’s apartment save for the most obligatory of activities. The Midwestern cabin fever has certainly set in.

These days of cramped hibernation beget the motivation to turn inward and find projects within the walls of home. I build lists of household and creative goals I can accomplish in the lethargic hours spent between my work and studies. It’s like my apartment has become an enclosed workshop of sorts, generating work and ideas that will finally burst out once the cold season cracks and resplendent springtime unrolls over the city. In this way, my thoughts and motivations are similar to a seed – dormant for now but buzzing with an eager, inner potential.

On my first-quarter-of-2014 bucket list is an entry: three new paintings, ten new drawings.

I remember in elementary, middle, and high school how often I zoned out, the teachers’ lessons muting to white noise, while I worked on margin doodles ranging from complex patterns to manga characters. If my hand had a pencil in it, it was moving, making a stroke, laying down some whimsical outline and connecting them all together. More than once, I was reprimanded for filling my worksheets more with art than with the given subject matter. Only my art professor and some other insightful teachers recognized my “doodles” as a unique aptitude rather than a liability to learning. I’m grateful for those in my past who encouraged me to draw as much as I did.

These days, however, drawing has gotten away from me. My shelves are littered with sketchbooks that are only partially filled. Countless resolutions to sketch more and develop that foundation are crumpled in the imaginary wastebasket of my creative menagerie. My artistic pursuits have been nearly exclusively dominated by complex paintings, heady and slow in growing. I’d like to rediscover the enjoyment of sketching and all it offers – I owe a great deal to the fundamental skills the drafting practice builds in any artist.

Graphite sketch, feeling out the space
Graphite sketch, feeling out the space

“I have never seen you more seriously focused,” a comment from a posing ex-boyfriend as he considered me, sketching him in his bedroom.

Is it possible that the act of stimulating one part of the brain, the parts associated with spatial and fine motor coordination, can activate deeper levels of cognition and self-awareness? For the first of the ten drawings I have promised myself, I figured a self-portrait would be appropriate. What better subject to consider than a mirror image of myself, in this season bleak in light and ripe for introspection? It may sound cheesy, but I do believe that working meticulously on an image of oneself forces the artist to consider her- or himself more deeply. It was impossible for me to focus detachedly on the precise shadow above my upper lip or the shocking cycles under my own now twenty-eight year old eyes. Instead, I found myself pondering bigger struggles I have with myself. A surprise to me – as I worked at my own image, I arrived at a surprising amount of shame. I’m wondering now if it’s possible to draw lessons from this experience. As I searched for an image, I was also searching for myself, and comparing that self with the person I see in my own, internal mirror.

Before this, I think I must have made only two other self-portraits. I saved neither. It seems perhaps abnormal as I look back on it … shouldn’t I have made more? Have I been avoiding depicting myself? Maybe working more on this piece can help me answer those questions.

But for now, my portrait is going to talk to the wall. I’m sticky-tacking it.

3 thoughts on “Winter’s Mirror – Selfie Portrait

  1. Dear Zach. A very insightful piece. I think our own thinking of who we are and what we are changes with age. I love the selfie of you Zach. I wish that your art had taken off but don’t give up. A lot of people don’t understand me either but as I age I have stopped caring what they think of me and who I am. I try to do the next best thing. I love you always, Grandma T

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