When you get a bunch of painters together and start discussing favorite subjects it's unlikely a single one will mention they love to paint self-portraits. Yet probably three-fourth or more have done at least ONE, and several, no doubt quite a few more than that. In fact, it's somewhat startling to encounter an artist who has NOT done a self-portrait, even if it's perhaps the ONLY portrait they've ever done. I guess there is something irresistible about having at one's own face with pencil, paint, or pastels. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Chuck Close, Durer, Picasso--probably just about every famous artists there ever was has tried. Michelangelo even did one, portraying himself in his famous "Last Judgment" as the flayed, skinned-alive, St. Bartholomew. It's NOT a pretty picture, but then again, old Michelangelo was no raving beauty either.
The same goes for me. I did MY first self-portrait when I was about 13, from a wallet-size school picture, in oils on posterboard (my favorite medium at the time). I still have it. Frankly, the likeness ain't all that bad. A few years later, when I was about 17, I did a pencil drawing looking in the mirror (flattop with ducks and all). My next attempt was an oil on canvas profile, based upon a color, portrait-quality photo. I was 23. I gave it to my wife-to-be as a Christmas gift a few months before we became engaged. She married me anyway (I also did a less-successful companion piece of her). About 1975, I did a double portrait of the two of us, three-quarter length, on a toned canvas. In addition, I've done a line drawing self-portrait for my business card, plus the colored pencil version seen on my web site.
Perhaps my most unique self-portrait was one based upon an early computer-generated printout...I'm talking 1975 computer generated printout by the way...typewriter symbols only. It's about four feet tall and about three feet wide, on a stark, white canvas, each symbol about one-fourth inch square rendered using a pointillistic color scheme of cadmium red light, yellow ochre, cerulean blue, and acra violet. Up close, it's little more than an interesting broken-color texture. At a distance, the eye blends the symbols and colors into a surprisingly realistic likeness. More recently I painted my wife and I into a commemorative portrait montage of images from a cruise we took aboard the SS Norway in 1992-93 (New Year's week). And just this past year, came the Masonite, full-length, profile cutout which stands before the recent pantry painting. Last weekend, as I returned to Columbus to pick up those entries not chosen for display at the State Fair (the pantry ensemble was accepted), I was greeted at the door by the director saying, "Hey, I know this guy, we've had him standing around all week up here." It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. If you're one of the small minority of artists who have never painted your own face (on canvas I mean) by all means make the effort. No artist should be so selfish as to deprive future generations of his or her own impressive visage (nor the opportunity for a good laugh).