It can’t be uncommon for other artists to often begin a project with specific inspirations only to find by the end of the process that they strayed from their original intentions. Early this year, I was especially drawn to the underpainting technique in fine art, where a wash of colour is laid down and a painting is created on top. In master paintings like Titian’s, my biggest inspiration for a period of months, the under-paint creates depth and informs the rest of the painting. Paintings with looser, sketchier application allow flecks of the original wash of colour to peek through the finished painting.
My plan to simulate the first step of this technique with an airbrush gun on a group of faces was scrapped when I realized I didn’t actually own an airbrush gun. I pivoted and decided that instead, I would lay down a motif of temporary tattoos on the faces and then paint in surrounding colour. This was the moment I chose to stray from the underpainting technique.
With my first face in the chair and temporary tattoos cut out and ready for application, I ran into a technical difficulty; the temporary tattoos wouldn’t adhere to the skin, something I’ve never dealt with in all my years of using this particular medium. After three failed attempts and an overwhelming nervousness born from things not going to plan, I changed course again and began free-hand painting motifs on the face to look like tattoos. The wash of colour came next and I was so pleasantly surprised with the result that I repeated the same process on five other faces.
There’s so much talk and expectation around where an artist’s ideas come from and how they fully realize those ideas. I love the evolution of the process, it’s my favourite part of creating something, and the finality of delivering a finished product always makes me feel sad and suddenly disconnected from it. As interesting as it may be for the viewer to hear about where the artist’s inspiration came from and how they made their way through the process of creating, it isn’t always easy for the artist to share these details. This is where we wrestle and struggle with our own ideas and tools, where we doubt everything, where we sometimes have to fight for something tangible by the end.
This time, I wanted so equally to keep the process and struggle for myself, and to share it far and wide. This story, in the end, shot as classic, straightforward portraits, reminds me of updated passport pictures. A passport photo is a single image that stays with us for years. In the time that we have it, we live through a massive chunk of life that we choose to share some of, while we keep other details to ourselves. Then, we take a new picture, and repeat the whole process.