The final assignment in Eli’s class was to create a self-portrait by erasing charcoal away from a large sheet of paper. The class was given approximately 2.5 weeks to complete the portrait, after which a final critique would follow.
Each student first covered an entire sheet of paper, measuring about 2.5′ x 1.5′, in charcoal dust. Using a kneaded eraser, students first began forming the shape of the nose in the center of the paper; the main stipulation was that students could not work on something not analogous to whatever they currently had on the paper. Thus, once work had begun on the nose, students had to expand outward from there.
Eli quickly took advantage of the toilet paper that was originally used to apply the charcoal, and created tiny points with which to reapply charcoal to erasures that were not satisfactory, effectively erasing the…..erasing. This method led to Eli’s workspace being far cleaner than the other students’ areas, although it was far more time-consuming. The lamps used to create a more direct light source were only as effective as the ambient lighting; while the art building is beautifully illuminated with natural light from large windows on the front of the building, on days when the weather was dreary or after sundown the lighting became inconsistent.
Initial work on the portrait was slow, and Eli began smaller than the other students, meaning that he would eventually end up doing far more of his face, including his jawline, neck, and some hair, than the rest of the students. He was most afraid of how his mouth would turn out, and even after finishing, he was unsatisfied with how pursed his lips appeared. He also made his eyes slightly bigger than they should have been in proportion to the rest of his face – as the professor would say, Eli had some difficulty ‘seeing’. The entire purpose of working at such a large scale was to reduce the tendency of symbolizing the features of the face, and instead to concentrate solely on forming the shapes of light and dark on the face.
Eli is particularly proud of the skin tone that he managed to portray in his piece, as well as the detail in the eyes. Other students, and the professor, made note of how intense Eli’s expression is in his portrait, and Eli agrees that his dead-eyed stare is rather unnerving. The eyes and eyebrows, which Eli spent a great deal of time perfecting, certainly add a touch of realism to the portrait that make it appear to stare directly back at the viewers.
The most unsatisfying part of the portrait is that Eli’s features appear far more ‘chiseled’ or contrasted than in reality; Eli’s face is softer and has gradual changes between light and dark that aren’t properly represented in his portrait. However, after all of the work dedicated to it, and the emotional attachment that he formed (seeing as it was his own face that he was creating), Eli is proud to claim the portrait as his.
To view an animation documenting the progress of the portrait, click here.