self, with red



One day I woke up with this idea for a self-portrait, on raw canvas, with pencil, and a solid red background. It was so clear in my head. And I just sat down and did it.

Why red? I have no idea. Like I said, it was just this idea that suddenly came into my head. Perhaps I had a dream the night before involving the colour red, but I don’t remember.

I think I look kind of afraid or concerned in the picture, which, apparently, is often how I look to other people. People would come up to me and say:

you look really concerned — don’t worry!”

Are you nervous? You look really nervous.”

Are you OK? You look worried.”

Then I would think to myself, am I worried? I don’t feel worried. Should I be worried?


Before this, making art feels somewhat like an obligation. I should make more art, since I graduated from art school and all. And I do enjoy the process once I get started. But then art school was what gave me the idea that what I make will never be considered art.

To my carefully soldered then painted glass pieces from broken bottles, my teacher said, “that’s really meditative and all, but I’m looking for more ideas, and I’m disappointed.”

So I tested out more ideas. I couldn’t find more glass to break at the moment, so I sketched on acetate. To that, a fellow classmate said during a critique, “I don’t care for these straight-out-of-the-tube colours and stuff.” 

And my teacher’s reasons for deducting marks on my final artist statement/thesis, “it’s well-written, but you should have referenced more artists who’ve done similar things as you, like so-and-so, or so-and-so.”

Yes, I need accomplished artists to validate what I make, because just on their own my art and my stories behind them aren’t good enough. I need to name-drop, that’s what it is.

Well, I don’t know how to name-drop. I only know what I like. I like to make things, but if that’s what the “art world” is like then I don’t like it and I don’t want to be part of it. So I still paint, less often than I’d like, because it remains a struggle, with the above comments plus many more coming back to me with every line and every brushstroke I make.

Maybe it’s true. I’m just not good enough to be an artist. And I don’t handle criticism very well. I know that about myself. I’m working on that.

(Now, that is not to say that I don’t enjoy any of the art school experience. There’re still lots of good memories and many valuable lessons learned. I met many good friends with whom I’m still in contact. And I met Mike. So I will always be thankful for those years.)

Then recently, through one of the blogs I read I came across the work of Barbara Cole, a Toronto-based, self-taught photographer. I was immediately drawn to the watery, painterly quality of her photographs. Then I looked through her Toronto Series and read the artist’s statement. And I cried. I was so moved. It was so honestly written. So plain, so unpretentious, and so beautiful. 

Somehow, reading that, made it OK to paint again. It was strange. But it was after reading that one statement that I painted the self-portrait. I mean, I didn’t make up excuses or find other things to do or put it off, I just went and painted it. 

Ideally, I would like it to be hung a bit away from the wall, so the fringed edges of the canvas cast a fringed shadow.


I stuck it on the thermostat to take the photo but I can’t leave it there permanently so the painting is stored between books on the bookshelf now. But I had some fun with it before putting it away :D

Should’ve stuck my hand out to take the picture… oh well.

So, is it art? Absolutely. But only recently have I come to that conclusion. I run art groups sometimes, and I always tell the participants that anyone can make art and everyone is creative in their own ways. So why can’t I believe that about myself? 

I realize that this post is less than cheerful, which is unusual, so thank you for bearing with me! It’s just one of those days. But at the end of the day I’m happy about what I made and I will find ways to do better.





8 thoughts on “self, with red

  1. I took a course on aesthetics once. The whole history of it is fascinating — one generations beauty is another’s trash. I suppose what I took away is that anything created with purpose can be art; the value of it is just subjective opinion, convention, and, often, pretension.

    I am happy you are painting again though! I am so honoured that we can have some of your art in our home — I honestly absolutely love everything you produce.

  2. Funny, I took it as a reflective post that had quite a positive conclusion — ah the wonders of interpretation!
    I love that you shared your process, and made your vision real — I always have such trouble with that second step, great job!

  3. I’ve found that in art school there’s two things: what you think works and how your teachers push buttons to make you go further. Sometimes that push can be in the right direction and you really get somewhere because of it. But other times, it’s best to just keep your feet tightly on the ground and stick with what your heart tells you. In the end, YOU have to be happy with how things went and what you came up with.

  4. i like your definition of “anything created with purpose can be art”. you should’ve been in my canadian contemporary art class when the class heatedly debated whether the seniors who take art classes and paint on the weekends should be called artists. *eye roll*

    and thank you, dan & beth, my only patrons of art! it means a lot that you’re willing to hang what i make on your wall :D

  5. thank you for your encouragement, kristi! i guess i thought the post had a bit of a negative tone because i made my teacher / classmate sound so mean. but i didn’t make that up, they really did say those things, but they probably didn’t mean to be negative, i just took it as such — the power of interpretation! ;)

  6. i absolutely agree. most of the times teachers make comments to push the process further. i’ve had teachers who just criticized all the time. but i’ve also had teachers who both encourage and push, and i think if i were to ever teach art i’m going to take the latter approach! :D

Comments are closed.