Reflections on my Self Portrait Challenge

09/15/16

{Once a week for 10 weeks I drew my self portrait; this is a slideshow of all 10, in order}

This past June I was in London for a speaking engagement. I hadn’t been to London since 1998, so I took a week to explore the city for the first time in 18 years. I love museums and I love portraits, so naturally one of the first places I visited was the National Portrait Gallery. While I walked the different rooms of the Gallery, I noticed how many of the portraits were artists’ self portraits. I’ve been an artist for almost 20 years and a working artist for 10, and I realized that day that I’d only drawn a portrait of myself maybe two times in the past 17 years, and the last time was many years ago. I couldn’t stop thinking about that fact for the rest of the day.

Part of how I make my living is drawing other people’s portraits — mostly for books. But the idea of drawing myself filled me with anxiety. I try to look at my anxiety as something calling my attention, so later that day I asked myself: What was I afraid of? What if I attempted to draw a self portrait a week for several weeks in a row? How hard could that be?

I went back to the apartment where I was staying that evening and began drawing the first of the series of self portraits in my sketchbook (it’s the first in the video above). Each week for the 10 weeks that followed, I made 10 self portraits (all of them in my sketchbook) and posted them on Instagram. People were instantly curious about my process: was I looking in a mirror? Was I drawing from memory?

The first thing to know is that I cannot draw myself from memory! At least not accurately. I am someone who can draw a likeness, but only from looking at reference. In this case, I took a picture of myself with my iPhone each week and looked at that while I made each portrait. Some weeks I attempted an accurate, proportioned portrait, and some weeks I focused more on my feelings, and one week I allowed myself to go super messy and almost abstracted. I created the least technically correct portrait the week after I returned from two weeks in France in early August, when I was hit with the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced. It might be the most accurate portrait I drew the entire series! One week I even drew myself as Marie Antoinette after visiting Versailles in France. I was traveling a lot this summer, and so there are portraits from London, Austin (Texas), Paris France, Antibes France and Rock Hill (New York); and of course, my home, Portland, Oregon.

The best part of the experiment (which is now officially over; I feel done) was pushing myself to do this thing that previously scared me. I learned that I could do it, not once or twice, but many times over. And each time the result looked different! In the end, the drawing part ended up being fairly easy for me. The hardest part was actually posting the photos of the portraits on Instagram. It felt incredibly vulnerable to both draw myself and then to share those drawings with my 115,000 followers. “Wow, so interesting how you see yourself!” people would comment. What does that mean??, I’d think to myself.  And then one week, something like “Maybe next time you could smile.” Maybe this isn’t about posing for the camera, I thought. Somehow sharing my self portraits felt like the most vulnerable thing I had ever done on the internet (and I’ve shared some pretty vulnerable things on the internet, including writing some very personal essays on this blog). It was like every week I said, Hey, everyone, look at me! And look at how I see myself! And look at how badly I draw myself! And that felt so raw. Of course, many of my followers instantly understood the rawness of the project and were enormously supportive and encouraging. Many of them acknowledged that this is not something they could ever do, or that they’d be scared to try.

I have always liked the saying, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” (no one really knows who said this, but it’s widely attributed to the great Eleanor Roosevelt). Thank you to everyone who followed along and engaged with my project. You made it less scary.

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Experiments in Blue // Week 35

08/30/16

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I was away again this past weekend, so this week’s Experiment in Blue happened inside my sketchbook, as it often does when I am traveling!

This past weekend I went to a summer camp for adults in New York State, and I had a lot of down time to draw (which was AH-MAZING!). The spread above, which is drawn in a large A4 Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, took about five hours total to create (not all at once, though!). Making spreads like this is a really meditative process for me. I love the repetition, layering linework on top of watercolor (in this case I used a watercolor marker by Windsor Newton), and creating a sense of balance and composition as I work my way across the spread. It completely relaxes me!

I talk about all of these things in my two Sketchbook Classes over at Creativebug, which you can view for here (and you can also sign up for Creativebug via that link).

Happy sketch-booking!

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Sketchbook Roundup: France Edition!

08/18/16

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{PS: I learned after I drew this that the wording above should be La Chèvre, not Le Chèvre! My apologies!}

One of my favorite times to draw in my sketchbook is while I am traveling, especially when I am traveling alone (by the way, if you are interested, I wrote an essay on traveling alone which you can read here).

Last month I traveled in France for two weeks (to Paris, Nice and Antibes), and I drew several spreads while I meandered through these cities (though truthfully I don’t draw WHILE I am meandering). I love observing what is around me — architecture, animals, plant life, people, the general vibe of a place — and then drawing my interpretation. Here are some of the spreads I made on this trip:

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Do you dream of keeping a sketchbook but don’t know where to start? I offer two different sketchbook classes to give you a jumpstart. You can take Sketchbook Explorations here or More Sketchbook Explorations here (both via Creativebug, which is a subscription online class platform for only a few dollars a month). I also teach several other classes at Creativebug. You can see all of my offerings here.

Happy sketchbooking!

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Experiments in Blue // Week 24

06/13/16

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Hey guess what? I’m traveling in Europe right now! Hello from Iceland! This week’s Experiment in Blue was drawn yesterday on a bus as I traversed the Icelandic countryside. This is my second trip to Iceland (I came the first time in September of 2012 — if you scroll back in this blog, you’ll find many posts about that trip!). I love this place so much.

Tomorrow I head to London for another week of adventure. And on Saturday I deliver the opening keynote address at Blogtacular. You can follow along on all of my adventures here on Instagram.

More about this week’s Experiment: It’s based on a dream I had about a tiny lion with a pink mane. Weird, I know! And it’s drawn with watercolor and gel pens.

And another thing while I’ve got you here: I am devastated by the mass shooting in my home country at a gay bar on Sunday. I am deeply, deeply sad and it’s tough being away from home and my loved ones right now (I am traveling alone). May we all live in a world where love prevails!!

I’ll be back later this week with more photos from my travels. Stay tuned.

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Sketchbook Roundup & Sketchbook Classes!

05/20/16

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{A recent spread from my MESSY SKETCHBOOK, which is basically an old book that I use as my place to get loose and messy}

Recently I was traveling for a book tour for my latest book, The Joy of Swimming. At my Creative Mornings Talk in Minneapolis, one woman asked me during the Q&A: “How do you make time for personal work?” I paused for what seemed like a long time. I was about to say, “I don’t!” And then I remembered that I spend at least a few hours each week (sometimes several) drawing and painting in my various sketchbooks. Lately, while my day-to-day illustration and writing career has kept me busy during workdays with little time for personal work, I manage to sneak it in at night while I’m watching TV or on the weekends out at my painting table — in my sketchbooks! I’ve been chronicling my sketchbook spreads on Instagram and here on my blog for many moons. Here are some of the most recent.

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I find drawing and painting in my sketchbooks enormously relaxing. For one, what I make here is not for sale or for a client or for any one but me. Here, I get to play with shapes and colors, markings and materials. Sometimes the result is beautiful. Sometimes it’s a hot mess. But it’s mostly always really relaxing and fun for me. In fact, I can’t wait to dig into my sketchbooks this weekend.

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Part of how I approach my sketchbooks is with the idea of using the space to create an all-over design or pattern. This approach is extremely meditative! If this sounds like fun to you but you aren’t sure how you’d get started, I teach two classes over on Creativebug where I teach the process of starting this kind of sketchbook practice. The first is called Sketchbook Explorations. The second is called More Sketchbook Explorations. There is no requirement to take the first before the second! If you are interested in getting some drawing practice, I also teach Basic Line Drawing and offer a 31 Day Drawing Challenge. You can purchase a subscription to Creativebug for less than $5 USD a month and view all of my classes (and many more).

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As you can see, there are so many ways to approach a sketchbook. And when you are finished, you have a book filled with your markings.

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Wondering about materials? I wrote a post with links here.

Have a great weekend, friends!

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