Meredith Moss Art

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A “Hand Made” Self-Portrait

written by Meredith

February 21, 2024

Inspiration

“Hand Made” was inspired by a call for art from the Crossroads Arts Alliance. The theme was self-portraits. As I don’t particularly like being photographed or looking at my face, I approached the topic more unconventionally by choosing to focus on what I create. And I create with my hands. M.C. Escher’s “Drawing Hands” came to mind. (If you like stuff like this, also look at JD Hillberry and Robin Lauersdorf.)

Materials

Escher’s piece was created in graphite (regular pencils). Although I considered other media, I felt color could be distracting. There are many graphite pencils from which to choose. Like any artist, I have favorites. For this drawing, I chose Faber Castell Pitt Graphite Matte Pencils and Mars Lumograph Black.

Knowing both the medium and subject leads to the next major decision which is the surface and in this case, paper. I chose Fabriano Artistico Extra White Paper. This is one of my favorites for graphite work because it has enough texture to hold onto the media (graphite) but still appears quite smooth. As the name indicates, it is also bright white which is an asset when the whites in your image are based on the color of the paper.

When drawing in graphite, removing it is often as much a part of the process as putting it down. For this reason, you’ll find graphite artists use a variety of other tools as well. For this drawing, I used various erasers, a chamois cloth, and a partial glove (which prevents my hand from depositing oil onto the paper.

Composition of a Self-Portrait

The most critical decision was what my hands would do. My current work in drawing and painting naturally came to mind. My previous career in fashion design brought to mind the familiar activities of cutting fabric and sewing.

When designing concepts, I prefer to manipulate photos in PhotoShop. While sketching is an option, the software provides greater flexibility in arranging and rearranging the images — in both major and minor ways. So, I took photos of my hands doing each of these activities. Because it was only my right hand, it was important to show different perspectives of that hand.

Compositionally, I liked the concept of a diagonal piece of paper. However, it didn’t make much sense for the sewing, so I decided to have the paper transition into fabric. Also, the texture would provide additional visual interest — rather than a blank, white page. The seam in the fabric also provided a way for the scissors to connect to other parts of the drawing.

In the “sewing section” (the upper part of the drawing), the hands were interacting with the surface. So, replicating that on the lower half of the page would balance it. Since my signature mark would be at the lower right of the paper where the pencil was, I had the hand with the pencil simply continue up from the signature. For the remaining hand with the paintbrush, I decided to have it paint the hand with the pencil. This decision meant a lot was going on in that area which created a natural focal point.

Another consequence was that it broke the fourth wall. I chose to emphasize that by confining the hand with the pencil to the paper as if it were actually being painted.

A Handmade Process

Once I determined the composition, I sketched the major shapes onto the paper and began drawing. Traditionally, artists are taught to work in graphite by starting with the lightest layers using harder pencils and gradually transitioning to darker values with softer pencils. I researched and tried out a different approach of starting with the softer pencils to first lay down the darker values. It worked extremely well.

While I used the Photoshop image as my reference, the photos were taken under lighting conditions that would be unrealistic in the composition. So, shapes were drawn but I had to reconsider where lights and darks were placed.

Looking back at the reference photo, you’ll see there are no shadows cast onto other surfaces. What I ended up doing here was to imagine a light source and draw the lights and darks accordingly. However, for the drawing of the pencil (you’ll recall this hand was being painted) I decided to create a cast shadow as if to say, “How can a painted hand hold a real pencil?”

Another area not depicted in the reference was the texture of the fabric. This part was a definite challenge, and research was done. Simply creating a cross-weave of pencil lines would not convey fabric — it would just look messy. Up close, too, the viewers needed to understand the thickness of the fabric threads. Ultimately, the process was that I laid down graphite without visible stroke lines. Then, I used a small eraser to create the weave. From there, I picked up my pencil again to darken the shadows that would occur between the threads. This was one of the final steps in the drawing before reviewing, checking the details, and cleaning up smudges.

Framing

The framing started even before the drawing was finished. Sometimes, I need to do this to make a deadline. What I do is visit my local framing shop (Carter Framing in Manassas, VA) where Susie and I choose the materials (molding, mats, and glass), and she measures the artwork. This gives her time to order the materials while I finish the drawing. Then when I have the drawing done, they have the materials and can fairly quickly assemble the frame.

For this piece, we selected a very classic look. The top mat is white (selected to match the white of the paper), and the inner/lower mat is a dark grey appropriately named “graphite.” The frame is stained black wood with a simple profile.

What do you think of this concept for a self-portrait? Do you find it too non-traditional? If you were doing a portrait of yourself that wasn’t your face, what would it look like? Let me know in the comments below.


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