My biggest regret as a cartoonist and waster of art supplies is the fact that I am not the world’s best portrait artist. I can only rarely make a work of art look like a real person. Usually the subject has to to be a person I love or care deeply about. This 1983 picture of Ruben looks very like him to me, though he probably wouldn’t recognize himself here as the 8th grader who told me in the fall of 1981 that I was his favorite teacher. That admission on his part kept me from quitting and failing as a first year teacher overwhelmed by the challenges of a poor school district in deep South Texas.
My great grandmother on my mother’s side passed away as the 1970’s came to an end. I tried to immortalize her with a work of art. I drew the sketch above to make a painting of her. All my relatives were amazed at the picture. They loved it immensely. I gave the painting to my Grandma Aldrich, her second eldest daughter. And it got put away in a closet at the farmhouse. It made my grandma too sad to look at every day. So the actual painting is still in a closet in Iowa.
There were, of course, numerous students that made my life a living heck, especially during my early years as a teacher. But I was one of those unusual teachers (possibly insane teachers) who learned to love the bad kids. Love/hate relationships tend to endure in your memory almost as long as the loving ones. I was always able to pull the good out of certain kids… at least in portraits of them.
When kids pose for pictures, they are not usually patient enough to sit for a portrait artist. I learned early on to work from photographs, though it has the disadvantage of being only two-dimensional. Sometimes you have to cartoonify the subject to get the real essence of the person you are capturing in artiness.
But I can’t get to the point of this essay without acknowledging the fact that any artist who tries to make a portrait, is not a camera. The artist has to put down on paper or canvas what he sees in his own head. That means the work of art is filtered through the artist’s goofy brain and is transformed by all his quirks and abnormalities. Therefore any work of art, including a portrait that looks like its subject, is really a picture of the artist himself. So, I guess I owe you some self portraits to compare.