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a resource about art and its making

Self Portrait as . . .

By Sue McNally
  • RISDM 2013-9-1
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Sue McNally, Hmm, 2009. Museum purchase in honor of Judith Tannenbaum, Gift of Dr. Joseph A. Chazan.

Artist Questionnaire
Many of the artists included in Locally Made responded to a series of questions about their materials and process. A selected response follows.

Title: Hmm, 2009
Ink on paper

Self Portrait as Pete Converse, 2012
Ink, watercolor, and charcoal on paper

Red Head 3, 2012
Ink on paper

Tank Top, 2010
Ink and gesso on paper

Scarf Head, 2012
Charcoal on paper

Purple Sweater, 2011
Ink on paper

Stare, 2009
Ink and watercolor on paper

Lips, 2010
Ink on paper

Untitled, 2011
Ink on paper

From the series Self Portrait as …

Date: Ongoing project

Media: Ink, gouache, watercolor, charcoal, and gesso on watercolor paper. All or some of these materials is used in each self-portrait that makes up the continuous project.

Location of residence: Newport, Rhode Island

Location of work (studio/office): Newport, Rhode Island

Process: I sit in front of a mirror (I have the same two mirrors I have been using for years) with a stack of watercolor paper that is approximately 11 inches by 15 inches. I tear standard-size sheets, 22 inches by 30 inches, into 4 sheets. I generally prepare a large stack, somewhere around 100 sheets.

I have a small wooden, orange box that I keep watercolor tubes, gouache tubes, a large container of black ink, charcoal, erasers, pencils (I rarely use), and a small folding traveling kit with watercolor blocks. The box also contains a razor, Conté crayon in black and red, and any other materials for drawing that I collect. I also carry a gallon of acrylic gesso. I have many shapes, sizes, and styles of watercolor brushes, but generally use the same 3.

My consistent pattern is to sit in front of the mirror with my orange box open and the materials splayed around in a specific orderly fashion. I am right-handed and I organize accordingly. I have folded paper towels to wipe and blot my brush, a few small containers of water so that I may clean completely or use dirty water.

Once I am all set up, I make paintings of my face, head, and gesture very quickly, one after the other, without really looking at the finished product. I make a drawing, and then put it aside, moving directly into the next drawing. I feel like I am making gestural figure drawings like I did in my very early drawing classes, where the goal was to capture the essence of the form and the shape and gesture of that form.” I am now bringing the concept of self-reflection into the process. Although each drawing is done in quick succession, as an isolated event, each is part of a whole which makes up *Self Portrait as . . *. . This continuous project is a form of self-reflection as well as a form of physical discipline within the confines of my craft. I am connecting to ideas of drawing, both physically and intellectually.