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

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