How to Make a Portrait — An Essay

This is a humorous, but very serious look at the emotional hills and valleys of being an artist. At least being this artist…

I see a face and am enamored by it.  It is not a glamorous face, but it is remarkably interesting and beautiful to my artist’s eye.  In my mind, I am in my studio working blissfully and oh so easily.  When my body is at last able to be in my actual studio, I stumble around and struggle to get started.  Now, for some reason, I am not as enamored, and the face is not really as beautiful as I thought.  This is work.  Hard work.

I start on the eyes.  If I can just get the eyes, the life, then it will all fall into place.  I push and pull.  I make marks and erase them.  I place the eyes and then realize that they are not in the right place and obliterate all the hard work that I have done thus far.  Come on.  Just get the eyes and it will be alright.

I get the eyes.  I put in the little glint and life begins.  The love returns and flows out of my fingertips.  The work smooths and there is peace and wonder.  Such beauty.

No, the nose is wrong and there is no likeness.  What made me think that I was an artist?!  Why am I doing this?  I cannot do this.  I am so stupid!

Ah, the nose falls into place right where it should be on top of the beautiful mouth.  This is a gift from God, this capturing of the faces of the humanity which was made in His image.  What a magnificent privilege is mine!  Thank you, Lord!

The work continues to flow, smoothly and wonderfully.  It is so easy, why doesn’t everyone do this?  What a beautiful day.  What a beautiful world.  What a beautiful life.

This hair!  Why do people have to have hair?  Maybe I could make the artistic decision to make her bald.  Why does hair have to be so difficult?  How can I claim to be an artist when I cannot even draw hair?  Okay, slow down.  Breathe.  Pray.  “Lord, thank you for your love and patience with me.  Please help me to become an artist.  Help me to relax in you and do my work as unto you.  Help me to glorify you in what I do and say and think.  In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

Okay, I will rest from my labors and come back to it tomorrow.

A new day and the livin’ is easy!  My work does not look as bad as it did yesterday.  I sit and joyfully draw hair.  So nice.  So lovely.  Hair is incredibly beautiful.  Who would want her to be bald?  So good.  So peaceful.  I love being an artist.

The hours pass and the face is done.  I get the likeness and I am giddy with the joy of it.  What wonder!  What awe!  Thank you, Lord.

Then I start contemplating the drapery, the clothing, that she must wear.  What if I ruin the entire thing with this last bit?  Oh, I don’t know if I can do this!  No, I can’t!  It will ruin my beautiful portrait.  I love this portrait!  Drapery is too hard!  Maybe…  No, she needs clothing.  I do not do nudes.  How about just a floating head?  No.  That would not work.  Why did I ever think that I could be an artist?  A real artist would not have these problems.  I am sick to my stomach.  I am going to have to abort this mission.  I am a failure!  I am going to bed.

What a beautiful morning!  I love to wake to the robins singing.  I wonder what is in my studio today.  Oh, that is wonderful!  She needs a body for her head to sit on.  Let’s see what we can do.  This pencil is working so well.  The work is flowing, and her clothing is coming along nicely.  So, a shadow goes there.  A highlight goes here.  Oh, that came together very well.  I love being an artist!  Thank you, Lord!

After many hours of work, I sign it and post it to the world.  Then, after it is out there for all the world to see, I notice that one eye is lighter than the other one!  The smile is lopsided in the wrong way and the composition is off just a smidge, but I will never be able to unsee it.  People are telling me how perfect it is, but I am silently wondering what is wrong with them.  Do they not see how horrible it is?  I wonder about the sanity and the visual ability of the people who think I do good work.  If they look carefully, they will discover that I am no artist.  It is arrogant to think that I am!  Oh, how stupid of me!  I cannot keep up this deception any longer.  I will have to expose myself for the fraud that I am.  But first I will go to bed.  After huddling in my bed, perhaps shedding some tears of humiliation, I sleep.

Oh, what a beautiful morning!  The sun is slanting through those trees and tempting me to paint it onto a poor helpless canvas.  Thank you, Lord, for making me an artist.  How wonderful to be a creator enabled by the Heavenly Creator, the One True Artist!  Oh, what a wonderful day to be alive!

Oh, wow!  Look at that face!  I would love to make a portrait of that person.  I get a photo and happily make my preparations.  Then, I begin the portrait.  No!  Why is this not working?!  What is the matter with me?!  Can I not do this?  Have I lost it?  Oh, woe is me!  I am not really an artist…

My beloved husband heads for the hills.