Drawing this self portrait was a fascinating experience.
Before I ever start a drawing, I spend a lot of time analyzing the face in the reference photo, observing the technical aspects of facial proportions and composition and contrast, and figuring out how to capture the emotion in their expression. It’s an intellectual and artistic analysis done from a detached, non-judgmental, keenly observant, and empathetic perspective. This process has completely changed the way I see my own face in the mirror. Now I see my face with so much more interest – what’s unique about her face? how would I capture her expression there? – now I see my face with so much more compassion.
Drawing my self portrait (titled #1 because I think there will be more!) was very strange at first, like an out-of-body experience, similar to my mirror experiments but more prolonged and more precise. I deliberately drew all the facial imperfections that have long been a source of self-consciousness for me: acne scars on my left cheek, the vein that so prominently traverses my left temple, right iris heterochromia.
After I finished the sketch, I realized that I actually like my eyes – they are very big, very expressive, and asymmetrically colourful. I also like my collarbones and the upper pectoral definition on my chest, the hard-earned result of thousands of pushups. And I’ve always loved my short, messy hair.
I never thought I would be capable of drawing my own face. My self portrait took six hours to complete… six hours staring at my face, after six years of showering in the dark and avoiding mirrors with pathological self-loathing.
Materials: ballpoint pen (black) + black fine-point Sharpie marker + Staedtler colored pencils
Time: 6 hours
Reference: photo of myself taken July 16, 2016 on the stairs at a city train station. I chose that photo because the lighting provided good contrast and the cautious, wary facial expression is characteristic of my chronic skepticism.
Comments: I sign most of my drawings as TM. But I have as many names as I do clothes, so when I started drawing again, I was initially unsure what my signature should be. Most commonly I go by Thomas or by my given name (which starts with J), so I decided to sign with a provisional TM. I can turn the T into a capital J with a single curved stroke of the pen if I want. I signed this self portrait with JM because my given name and the face I drew have been mine my whole life. Thomas is a newer addition.
Irene Adler: Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.
Sherlock Holmes: You think I’m a vicar with a bleeding face?
Irene Adler: No, I think you’re damaged, delusional and believe in a higher power. In your case, it’s yourself. And somebody loves you.
– BBC Sherlock (S02, E01 – A Scandal in Belgravia)