"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Portraiture

If I could draw to satisfaction, I would draw portraits.

I think it would be a wonderful challenge to try to capture someone’s essence on canvas. So many fascinating questions present themselves! If I were to go about drawing (enter name here), how would I do it? Where would I place them? What colors would dominate the interpretation? What would the lighting be like? What of their posture? How would I dress them? Would they be looking out, staring off, or intently studying something? 

Lately I have been pondering portraiture of a different sort. I have been contemplating a self-portrait. My medium is perhaps slightly unconventional, however.
I have attempted to draw myself using the colors of literary heroines.

The project is a very confusing one. Of the many characters I am drawn toward, how many do I sympathize with because we share similar characteristics? And which do I admire because I earnestly wish I were more like them? Tricky, tricky.

I have two “hues” (maintaining this artistic metaphor may prove tricky…) which I deem fairly reliable for the project. They are strikingly different. One would probably be something of a forest green; the other… perhaps a soft lilac. But as I stand poised before the canvas, all sorts of unforeseen complications arise, and I can’t seem to figure out where to put the strokes.

At first, I believe the matter is a fairly simple one. I feel like I have a Kel-ish exterior (allusion to Tamora Pierce’s ridiculously amazing Protector of the Small series. Go read her books!) and an Anne-ish interior (Anne of Green Gables. Do it!).

Kel is my exterior. My reserve. We present ourselves to strangers in the same way- with blank faces. I recall my many moments of fear and awkwardness, of feeling out of place or unwanted or like I simply don’t quite belong. I remember trying to find strength in Kel’s manner: the blankness of an unrippled lake or a flat stone. Remain neutral. Do not betray yourself. Do not overreact.
I slip out of rooms to shed tears. I reserve turmoil for the private lines of handwritten pages.

Sometimes I find it a bit…amusing when I realize that I have been standing in line somewhere for a large period of time, appearing very neutral, when inside my mind have been raging all sorts of passionate arguments, comical debates, or wild daydreams.
Sometimes it surprises me when my closest friends remark they have no idea what’s going through my head. I have to remind myself that however noisy the internal dialogue may be, there is silence on the outside.

So perhaps I have some of Kel’s reserve… but what else do I have of her? The question seemed simple enough when first picking out my tools, but suddenly it seems nearly impossible. Kel is a doer. She has a strong sense of justice, and she acts upon it with resolution. She doesn’t overthink things.
I don’t think I can say the same for myself. I love ideas. I like working with abstract things. I often find myself wishing I did more.

And how exactly does Anne-ishness comes in?
Hmm. Well. Anne is associated with lovely flowers and daydreams… wonderful, light things. Anne is poetry and dandelion-wishes. So… perhaps I am Anne-like when… When I am perfectly at ease? When I am alone? When I am with my dearest friends? When I dream? When I gaze upon pretty things or bask in golden happiness?

What of idealism? Am I idealistic in a Kel-like or an Anne-like way?
I share Anne’s desire for loveliness, but I want Kel’s sturdiness. Sometimes I am as sentimental as ever the kindred-spirit-seeking redhead can be, and at others I am sensible in the way that only Kel can be. Wait. Sensible? Hmm. Am I sure it’s Kel I want, or would I do better with Austen’s Elinor? Now that I think of it, am I not perhaps more of a Jane Eyre? Plain and reserved, but nonetheless filled with a passion that is not immediately apparent...

The more I ponder the issue, the more all sorts of pesky questions and suspicions begin to crop up, and, soon enough, I find myself sitting before a blank canvas with a very bemused expression on my face. The problem seemed clear-cut to begin with, but at every step I find myself wandering uncertainly or running into dead-ends.

Perhaps instead of drawing a single portrait to capture someone’s essence, I would like to draw various snapshots.
Perhaps I would draw them amongst a group of strangers. Sitting in a classroom. Engaging in their favorite pastime. Puzzling over a problem.
Perhaps I would capture their expression when they feel alone.  When speaking about their innermost dreams. When looking at someone they love.

Would I ever produce a single image to encapsulate the spirit of the whole? Or would it be best to stroll through an endless gallery of snapshot paintings?

I think I would enjoy the stroll.   


  1. Writing, photographing, painting, or using literature - portraits of any description are intriguing. Beautiful piece.

  2. Thank you so much, Megan! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
    I certainly agree that portraits are intriguing!