Why not draw yourself ?

5 minutes read —

You might have noticed I’ve done a fair amount of personal paintings wherein I have represented myself as a character. I’m afraid this trend is likely to continue. You might be left wondering if my ego is in check and whether or not I’ve turned into a narcissist. I guess this is a legit concern. But believe it or not, I have some reasoning to back it up. Maybe, after I’m done exposing my logic, you might want to give it a shot yourself.

It all rolls back to a video done by youtuber Struthless in January 2020. It was titled “the drawing advice that changed my life.” Turns out that video left quite an impression on my slightly younger and more impressionable mind as well. Funny how this works huh ; the ball gets passed along from artist to artist with no end in sight. Who knows how far in the past those things trace back. This giant, collective, relay race running across generations is something to reckon with isn’t it ? But I digress. What Struthless was talking about —if I was to paraphrase while at the same time stripping all the story telling and life out of it— was that there is far more power in cumulative actions than we realize. What is often wrong with us and the reason we are not seeing the progress we are after is simply that our brains are too damned scattered, to put it bluntly. We sit on mountains of unfinished projects and unrelated ideas that do not build-up to anything. So the question becomes, what if we were to draw the same thing again and again over a very long period of time ? What would happen then ?

Well, I know a gal who have been drawing the same original character for well over a decade. Maybe even two at this stage. For me, such a feat is absolutely mind boggling. What it did for her was two folds. First, it made her come back to drawing again and again to the point where she has now made a career out of it ; and all her progress over the years is reflected in the way her original design evolved and got refined to the beauty it now is. That mysterious story of her that she has always wanted to tell and that she grew in her mind gave her a sense of direction to pour her efforts into. She’s fueled herself all the motivation she needed through this story and has grown along with it.

But then I thought, well, why haven’t I been able to sustain a story and characters for this long myself ? I have had a bunch of those over time, but they never led to anywhere. They wouldn’t stick. I would forget about them altogether. They soon enough became inert ideas in my mind, quickly replaced by new more shiny ideas. Yet I wanted those cumulative benefits I keep talking about. So an idea started to grow in my mind. What is the one character I have no choice but to not get bored with ? The one character that I am going to have to live with no matter what happens next ? That character I can’t get rid off. That character that would stick to me as closely as my own shadow.
Well it’s me, isn’t it ?

I get it, it sounds dumb enough right off the bat, but then comes Eminem. The guy wrote and recorded rap albums for over 3 decades already. All of his songs are autobiographical in nature. There’s a whole lore behind his name at this point, its a complete mythology. And, what’s more, I like it. A lot in fact ; I find the whole thing quite fascinating. Why ? Well it feels real. It feels personal. No wonder he was able to stick with it for so long. There is weight to every word. And why wouldn’t there be ? When you are working with a raw material that you know in such an intimate way and that is made of truth to such an extent, isn’t it less likely that you will end up producing an uni-dimensional rendition of a character ? In fact, I remember an exercise proposed by artist Steven Zapata for interior design ; which was to draw your own room from memory. Because it is your own room you will value every little detail that’s in it and that understanding is crucial to later draw believable and life-like interiors. We need that realness as fuel (especially if like me you are a bit lacking in imagination).

But then you ask, wouldn’t it have turned out just as good had Eminem chosen to depict a fictional character instead ? Well, maybe, but then I believe that what he would have done behind the scene in this case would still be to pull out from his personal experience. In fact you would find this is a common trait among artists. I remember while I was studying in Paris, teacher and other students would often comment to each other how much of a likeness there is between their characters and themselves. It is like we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t help putting pieces of ourselves in our creations. When it was not the character, it was the story that accompanied him that hit uncannily close to home. And so, in a way, drawing oneself is just about removing an extra layer and being honest about the whole thing.

About Eminem, you know what I didn’t give a damn about ? Whether Eminem is or isn’t narcissistic or self-centered or else. I do not know the guy personally, so to me, as a viewer, it is as much a character as any other character. Fictional or not make very little difference in the way I receive it. In fact, if anything the realness and authenticity that came with it make it all feel relatable, which means there was a sense of connection there. And that sense of connection being there means the net effect of this whole operation is quite the opposite from an isolating action. That’s the thing, sharing one’s own experience, passions, obsessions and else, if done right isn’t such a special thing. We are all way more similar than we are dissimilar and thus even when talking about oneself, we end up talking about everyone else. The real subject, at the end of the day, is the human experience.

Okay, well, I’m derailing. The question was about drawing oneself and the reasons to do so. Well, I’m telling you ; there is a net positive cumulative effect of sticking to a subject over a long period of time. Plus, the one subject that you have no choice but to stick with for the rest of your life is yourself. Plus representing yourself is ultimately representing about everyone else, the same way we use any other character as proxy for the general idea of the human spirit.

So why not give it a try and see where it leads after-all !