Lonesome vs. Wild — a story of two self-portraits

Two summers ago I came across a photo (# 1) my dad took of me one fall when I was about 8 years old. I think we were visiting Doon Pioneer Village in Kitchener, Ontario, when this monarch landed on my finger.

In the spring of 2018, I decided to try making a 16″ x 12″ self-portrait of it. For my first attempt (#2), I used a style called “alla prima” or “premier coup” whereby the artist tries to complete a portrait in one sitting.  It’s a direct painting technique. There’s little or no underdrawing and no underpainting; no glazes or scumbles. All paints are applied opaquely. If done right, an entire painting can be completed wet-in-wet, from start to finish, with glowing colour and expressive paint strokes.

When it was finished and varnished, I decided the aesthetic isn’t one I prefer. I knew I could do a better job using the old fashioned Venetian or Flemish techniques (indirect painting).

My second effort is still in progress (#5).  I redrew the composition on a fresh 16″ x 12″ panel. Then I created an underpainting in some warm greys.  I simplified the jacket and decided on a limited palette for the background, coat, face and hair. The only exception is the shirt and butterfly. Like in my first version, I found that the blue shirt helps make the butterfly and hand stand out more.

Images #3 and #4 show a comparison of the second version (left) placed next to the first version (right).  The last image shows me today posing in front of the portrait.  I feel we’re one and the same, except for the mass of blond hair that I greatly miss.

Finally, I’ve included a short video that I created while working on the new portrait to give a better sense of detail up close.