For the third assignment of the year, we were tasked with creating a self-portrait that conveyed our digital identity. I initially played around with the idea of not doing a literal portrait of myself, but decided to go for it because I haven’t painted a person, let alone myself, in quite a few years. I tend to stray away from portraits because I like textured details more than I like smooth details, and so painting flat skin and the wrinkles of clothing isn’t my favorite. However, I came up with an idea for this piece that I really liked, so I made up my mind to try it out and I ended up being very satisfied with the result.
My overall idea for this piece was to portray my digital identity as myself in a very natural space–I mostly use my digital presence as a creative outlet for my writing and character development work, and it is a very comfortable space for me. It’s not at all a “digital” experience made of data and technicolor, but a very flowing and homey world at my fingertips. I grew up with technology integrated into my creative and outdoor spaces, going on long walks through the woods with my phone and taking a breather in the meadows near my hometown with an iPod full of digital music. The most natural thing in the world is for me to be laying somewhere outside with my phone, texting my best friend about writing ideas or relaxing on the Internet while listening to music–so that’s what I decided to paint.
The painting ended up literally being just that: me, laying on a tree trunk across a stream in the woods, working on book ideas with my phone in hand. I wanted to emphasize the creative brightness I find in my digital space, which led to oversaturated colors in the plants and in my hair, and I tried to show the digital world blending with the natural one by having my “texts” drip out of my hand and downstream as literal letters. At first, the background was going to be simple and a little blurred, focusing mostly on tree trunks, but once I had those painted in, it just didn’t seem lush and inviting the way I wanted it to.
With that, I decided to really charge ahead at full speed with the background, making it more of a focal point than I had originally intended. The trees got filled in with leaves and vines and moss, and the details in the wood became more prominent and vivid. I find the texture in the plants to be one of the most successful parts of this painting simply because it is one of the areas I am most comfortable with in my work. I haven’t gotten a chance to paint landscape in a few years, and I am extremely happy with the way this one turned out.
I was a little worried about the self-portrait figure itself, as I often find it hard to paint facial features with a small brush, but I wanted to paint on this size of a canvas to test my time budgeting since I want my final paintings to all be on this size of a canvas with intricate details as well. Surprisingly, I am fairly satisfied with the way the details in the face and clothing turned out, although I wish I had been able to make the hair and shirt wrinkle and flow a little more realistically. Nevertheless, I feel alright about this piece after not having done human figures or landscapes since high school.
Ultimately, I think this piece succeeded in showing off what my digital identity is like–it’s not much different from who I am normally, but it allows me to express myself and my full creativity in any physical place I choose. And being a lover of the outdoors, there is nothing I’d rather do than combine the two opposing spheres of digital and natural into a space that is uniquely my own.