Assignment 4: Abstract Self-Portrait

Life in Red, White and Black

Note: In process. this is a project still in process. I need a break and get feedback from people around me – do the images mean anything to them, without all my backstory?. And learn more about Drypoint technique at a workshop mid August.

Overview and Assessment

This project evolved somewhat from what may have been the original brief. As I started to think of myself in the abstract I focused on internal emotions, and their changeability and how my sense of self is constantly changing, switching between layers of experience. I have just started to do meditation and yoga following a long period of stress and depression. As I was working on this assignment I was able to better observe how my mood and feelings changed. Many of these feelings have colours, and are associated with memories that go round in a loop. One approach would have been to go to complete abstraction and try to capture these moods as for example in Project 2.2, but letting my emotions guide how I interacted with the materials.

The assignment also asked me to think of objects that are important to me. I am not particularly attached to things as such. But I travel a lot for work and have a lot of different cultural artefacts. These do not generally in themselves have particular associations for me. But have interesting symbolic meanings that could reveal more about my emotions.

So the assignment evolved into something that built more on my work in Assignment 3 Mushrooms where objects themselves are abstracted and take on a life. Influenced by the biomorphic abstraction of Picasso and particularly the drypoints of Louise Bourgeois. In  style  and approach I was also influenced by the intensely personal traced monoprints of Tracy Emin.

The images started off as somewhat random – starting with Guitar as the most intense experience. But as I thought about new objects the feelings they suggested evolved into more of a narrative series of abstracted events that have shaped my sense of self over time. I also selected media, ink, paper and colours that fitted the abstract mood and/or had symbolic meaning.

Following Louise Bourgeois I decided to use Drypoint –  because I really like the variety of expressive line and shading that can be produced. This has been quite a learning curve as it is a technique I had not yet really explored in depth. I chose to use plastic because the resistance of the plastic makes the line sharp and jagged and somewhat unpredictable – like my life.  It has to be gouged and scratched. Unlike zinc and copper that produce much smoother lines, and card where the needle glides along.

I wanted to do a series of small prints because I feel rather small and insignificant – unlike the self-portraits where I was very self-obsessed. I experimented with different types of paper – tissue paper, Bristol board, cartridge paper and newsprint. All of these produce different types of line because of the thickness and absorption capacity. In the end I decided to use just one type of paper for consistency, and chose newsprint partly because of the grungy line and partly because it is cheap and throw away – again how I feel at the moment.

I use oil-based etching inks because they are sticky and tacky. My other possibility for Drypoint would have been Akua ink. But I find this a bit waxy.


Do I like them?

1: Fetish Speak No Evil

Started off as two images, but then combined into one.

Nicaraguan ceramics and an African statue. I see and hear many things….But often dangerous to speak out. This creates an anger inside me. Feeling very small and powerless against forces in the world.



First proofs

Prints and plates

Do with card?

2:  Spider

Also Louise Bourgeois. Mother and home maker.


The spider is my icon for work. Building webs. But beware! The females are strong. Spawn many offspring.

And I like them in the house. But also slightly scared of them.


Sketches and first proofs

Spinning a neat web. But the big black hairy spider – also me – coming or going.

Plates and prints

The print is clean and tidy.

3: Mask

African mask. Split apart. Being bullied at work.

Louise Bourgeois Sainte Sebastienne



Prints and plates

4: Guitar

This was the first abstract image I had of myself – possibly influenced by looking at Picasso’s abstraction and the exhibition ….

The guitar represents my body shape since having children. But then it became an abstracted image of the end of music (the guitar has no strings) and descent into depression. From being a teenager I have played a lot of music. But then in 1994 I had to stop playing music because I got severe RSI, and have never been able to start again for the same reason. The guitar then became more and more distorted in my mind – the mouth with its mix of strings. In 2009 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy so the soundhole became a breast. I then took some more photos of the guitar from different angles and noticed its slim form sideways on. That became the ‘ideal’ reflection in the mirror on my bedroom wall.


Sketches and first proofs


5: Bottles

Alcohol and depression issues. Relationship issues.

Collection of bottles. Look like people.

Photos and sketches

Prints and plates

7:  Bonzai

Bonzai is a clipped tree where the root is restricted so it does not grow.

Bonzai and Buddhism. But not a panacea. The world is still out there. And very unsure.

Started out as two images


Sketches and first proofs

Prints and plates

First spread

Printed back to fron. But does not really hang together as a series. Image balance is wrong.


For this assignment you are again going to develop a self portrait. However, this time you are asked to think back to the previous projects in which you were asked to simplify and formalise your image into an abstract or semi-abstract work. You can work on a facial close up, head and shoulders, a half or full body portrait.
It is more of a challenge to think of yourself in the abstract, so add a few objects that have some symbolic meaning to you or capture what is important to you. Do sketches of these objects and work out ways of incorporating them into your composition.
You then need to decide on the printmaking method and colour scheme for this project.
You may make more than six prints for this assignment but however many you make aim for the best possible quality in design, technique and consistency of process. Your tutor will be looking for a well balanced design, good printed surface quality with neat edges and borders.