On Self Portraits and Painting with Music


Self Portrait 2017 by Booker Howze Acrylic on Canvas

In this brief Q&A Booker Howze discusses his inspiration, the challenges of painting a self-portrait and the role of music in his artistic process.

What inspired you to paint the self portrait?
I’ve desired to do one for some time. So many artists have completed portraits of themselves, such as Vincent Van Gogh, whose self portraits I really enjoy. I wanted to capture my personality on canvas. I also wanted to explore the interest I have in anatomy, especially facial anatomy.

What surprised you about yourself during the process?
I am pretty confident in my ability to draw and communicate what I see, but I felt it was a challenge to study myself in a mirror and then transfer that to the canvas. In that regard, I was happy as I watched it develop. It wasn’t easy studying various aspects of my facial features, thinking about them and making that application in a way that displayed my mood, passion, personality and feeling toward people. It was challenging to capture those emotions in my natural expression, without smiling, but I was able to do it.

What is your favorite thing about painting faces?
I love positioning, aligning and finding the unique aspects of a person’s face. The shading, how the eyebrows go up, how the lips are formed, it’s very interesting. I find it exciting to take elements like the bridge of the nose and communicate it so the image reflects who that person is.


The many stages of the self portrait


How do you choose your background colors?
My palette is generally the same for most paintings. I use cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, raw umber, yellows and some reds (particularly alizarin crimson), and some dioxide violet. Many of the colors made today can match the tone you’re looking for straight out of the tube. I’ve always enjoyed blending and mixing to create a certain highlight or shadow. Introducing new colors to a canvas helps me broaden my perspective. I also allow the lighting and shadows to help dictate what colors would be effective in the painting.

How do you pace yourself? 
I painted a bit differently than I normally do, because portraits involve other elements: the structure beneath the painting and the perspective you use. I painted this portrait in a frontal perspective, because I didn’t have several mirrors to do a profile, but there’s no “hurry up and get this done” when I’m working on a portrait. I’m a little bit more methodical. It may seem quick for others, but I’m not seeking to paint fast. I’m usually painting to the music, every stroke has a sound to me. I try to make sure that sound is throughout the entire painting, from the background and face to the glasses and ears. I like that sound to vibrate in the eyes of the person when they see the whole composition finished.

What role does music play in your painting?
Music plays a wonderful role. Sometimes I paint in silence, but I like to paint with music. Music has a way of tapping into your heart, and it can become an extension of your paintbrush, which allows you to find the music at the tip of that brush. Ultimately, it enhances what you’re creating, from mixing the paint to applying it to the canvas. That extension of music in the painting is a very subtle artistic element that I tap into for most works I create.

Whats next?
I want to do more self portraits, not just a head and shoulder composition, but a full body portrait, and one from the waist up. I would also like to do self portraits in different environments that reflect some of my interests. I won’t leave the other work I’m doing, but I think the self portrait is something I’m going to invoke a lot more.

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