Many moons ago during art class at school we were asked to paint a self-portrait by a famous artist.
I decided on Vincent Van Gogh, as his works were the only ones remaining in the library but even with this limited choice I stood by my artist loyally. The colours he used were bold and his brush strokes were unique and this was something I was sure I could replicate, so set to work amongst the constant chatter, damaged brushes and shared paint water.
Obviously, Van Gogh never looked directly at me, and for every stroke I found it harder and harder to connect with him. He never smiled or appeared proud of his talent but then I guess, why would he? His passion absorbed him and as is the case with many famous artists/writers, he didn’t receive any real recognition until it was too late and he was gone. But being just a kid, I hastily recreated his masterpiece with little thought beyond the aesthetics. Until last week, this memory had been all but lost.
To coincide with my vintage venture becoming a reality, I thought it was about time I got myself in front of the lens for some website shots. As is becoming more common, I was kindly assisted by my creative partner in crime, Natasha Cadman, owner of Marguarita Photography. It’s essential to identify with a person when you’re getting to know their brand and their products, and although the thought of having my self-portrait taken turned my stomach, I wanted to fulfil my audience’s expectations. So round I went to Tasha’s with a bag full of vintage goodies and was thankful when she offered to paint my face/curl my hair! Look finished, we headed 30 seconds from her Headingley apartment block to a side street. Luckily, the sun was shining behind us and we managed to capture some natural shots, not someone who pouts (I do this very badly!) or tries to hide their discomfort with overacted stares and tippy-toe action! We only started to get these nicer shots when Tasha commented ‘these are good – these look like the real you.’ Up until then I was posing for the camera how I’d seen in magazines (oh dear!) but once I knew it was ok to be myself and that I was ‘worthy’ enough of the attention it became much easier.
Before the shoot I held the belief that having a self-portrait can, to some, appear quite self-absorbed and this held me back somewhat. I probably clung on to this irrational thought, mostly to avoid having my picture taken outside of a social environment and maybe because I wouldn’t like what I saw. We look at pictures of ourselves and always criticise. I do it all the time – I wish my nose was smaller, my waist was curvier, or my lips were bigger but we are who we are and having this experience gave me a small boost of self-belief and confidence, something I’ll throw into future blogs.
Laura 1 – Camera Anxiety 0!
So how is Van Gogh and his non-smiling self-portraits comparable to my own experience? Well on the surface of it, very little, but dig a little deeper and I can find lots of similarities. Many people comment on how poor he was, his mental illness and how unhappy he was not being able to find contentment in life. This could all be completely true, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t value his life or didn’t want it to be captured. He had an amazing self-taught skill that he developed late in life and although I can’t offer anything close to his talent, I can identify with his motivation to want more, and realise what we’re capable of. Van Gogh struggled to stick to one trade and this is something I’ve never been good at myself. Throughout my 20s, I’ve lacked opportunity and longevity within a specific vocation until I decided to establish Grandma Eileen’s.
Van Gogh painted his self-portraits within a 3 year period towards the end of his life. Why? I like to think it was to secure his existence in something worth keeping. He wanted to document his short life, its struggles and successes and hope that one day someone would identify with it. Van Gogh didn’t smile on this picture because he didn’t feel like doing so. So what?! Take the time to document your life, and be proud of what you’re trying to achieve, whatever the expression! Your children’s children will thank you for it!
If you’re interested in learning more about yourself in front of a camera, please give my lovely friend a shout to arrange your self-portrait. We all need a record of our life, just like Van Gogh! Details above.