SELF AT 78 — The year an old woman got into my mirror!

by Susan G Holland

At the end of a hard batch of years during which I had breast cancer surgery and a list of other tough losses that took the stuffings out of me, I began trying family portraits from photographs. Seemed, with the cancer thing, that it might be a good idea to document the family faces and I did some fairly good beginnings.

Some of the family photos I began with belong to little grand-kids and some are, by now, portraits of the same grown up grand-kids. They are all at least as tall as, and most are much taller than I ever was. There are an embarrassing number of unfinished works hanging around in the studio here.

Beginnings are always free and fun and spontaneous for me. In fact I like my beginnings more than most of my final paintings because the spirit is full when the motivation is fresh. But I am not very good at getting through the middle parts and the end parts of a painting. The “finished products” tend to get fussy and overworked, and sometimes really quite ugly, or so it seems to me.

A sort of Portrait-in-Progress Garden arranged on the studio floor — this is just part of the stack . These were painted from photographs of friends and family.

So, sometime in the year after my surgery I had the bright idea of doing some “finishing up” on some of these painting.

Everyone knows, don’t they, that when one starts up a pump, or machine, or exercise program, it is a good idea to prepare slowly and purposefully to get your atoms aligned to the task. And The Muse” must be in on it, whatever sort of muse the artist keeps!

And a good Muse should stick around while the work is done to keep the artist going.

But My Muse gets antsy and walks out somewhere in the middle, it seems.

Looking at my unfinished work I felt the Muse had taken a very long leave of absence.

So — I decided to do a selfie to warm up to portrait painting again. The process has been everything from the gross to the gratifying. And, of course, I’m still not done.
I really think I have to finish the selfie before I get into finishing the other portraits — just to practice “follow through.”

The ghoulish series below will show some of the intentional boldness with which I took on a not-very-well self who was, not many months ago, looking back at me from the mirror I set up on a table next to my easel.

I decided, with a sigh, to be as honest as the old aged Rembrandt dared to be with his self portraits.

No gilding of the lily.

Tell the truth, I said to myself.

Oh dear.

Four first stages of the life study of my own mirrored image done while Telling The Truth about the tired old lady I became that year This painting is from a live model: me.
The current status as of April 2017,

Here is today’s status which has been sitting around looking at me from various places in the studio for EIGHT months now. As usual, I like it in some important ways. But I have got to get my paints back out and my mirror back up. The sun has come back into the northern hemisphere and will illuminate more or less like this from the window again. And even though I am no longer 78, but am now 79, and have changed in some ways, I really owe it to this artist and this model to tell the truth again and get it over with.

ASIDE: Am I really that sour looking when I’m painting? How difficult for models who sit for painters, if all artists look like that when concentrating?
[Also I am happy to say that I seem not to be ill any more, just tired, and so the dolour is gone and big hurry about family portraits has settled down to a reasonable pace. maybe she’ll cheer up some when I get going on this painting again?]

Susan Holland

Originally published at by Susan G Holland
Developing painting is in oil on prepared board. © SGHolland

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