The Challenge of the Self-Portrait

Distorted Selves by collage artist Megan Coyle
Megan Coyle. Distorted Selves.
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A self-portrait is an artistic rendering that the artist makes of him or herself. Throughout art history, artists have created self-portraits with whatever medium they’re working in.

Why are self-portraits so common? Well first off, by using one’s self as the model, artists don’t have to hire a model. They can simply look in the mirror whenever need be. This is appealing because there isn’t a more reliable model than yourself.

There are a few issues that can occur when using yourself as the subject for your artwork. First off, you’re limited to certain angles of your face and body for the composition. If you wish to break away from the limitations that can occur when studying yourself in the mirror, you can always have someone take pictures of you. Then you can use the photos as a guide for your composition.

Megan Coyle has created several self-portraits. She’s found that it’s always a struggle when it comes to depicting herself.

Self Portrait on Map by collage artist Megan Coyle
Megan Coyle. Self-Portrait on Map. Click for more info.

“I think the issue occurs because I’m so used to looking in the mirror and seeing myself. Thus when I start drawing a self-portrait, I assume that I know what I look like. As a result, I find myself not scrutinizing and studying my features as much as I should. When it comes to creating portraits of other people, it’s much easier for me. I don’t assume that I know every area of what another person’s face looks like, and thus I focus more on studying every feature of the person I’m collaging. I’m well aware that I make this mistake when working on self-portraits. I’m still learning how to get over my habit of assuming I know what I look like – when in actuality, I haven’t memorized the shapes of all my features.”

– Megan Coyle

Coyle has also noticed that a lot of her self-portraits don’t necessarily look exactly like her:

Three Faces by collage artist Megan Coyle
Megan Coyle. Three Faces.
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“I’m unable to create an exact likeness of myself, but instead, I can render versions of myself. What I mean by this is that the self-portraits become a blend of assumptions of what I think I look like and the way I actually look. Often times I’ll think that a self-portrait I’ve completed looks nothing like myself, although often enough perfect strangers come up to me and ask me if the portrait is a self-portrait because I look so much like the sitter.”

– Megan Coyle

Have you ever tried making a self-portrait? What challenges did you experience? After making a collage self-portrait, think about the experience you went through to create that finished work of art. What did you notice about your process? Did you study yourself closely in the mirror? Or did you also assume you knew what you looked like and merely glanced at yourself in the mirror occasionally as you worked?

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