Can you describe your approach to long-term art projects, such as your senior portrait?
Elena: It depends on what the project is, but for the Senior Portrait, I have been thinking about it since ninth grade and have been looking forward to it. Listening to music and on long car rides, I would just think. The first ideas that really struck me that I worked with were on the themes of journey and transformation. I wanted to do something representing what I had been through in high school.
The first idea hit me on the Max. I spent two hours a day on the train for the first two years of high school. The idea was to show my own reflection in the window of a Max train – creating a sense of journey with the travel of the train. I was very much inside myself during this time and so being in the reflection and in the train was part of that picture. The portrait was initially planned as a landscape, featuring myself very little becauseI felt like I was separated from everything else and kind of isolated. I would have been in the foreground, and the focus would have been on the surrounding background. My reflection would have been faint. The idea was to capture how I felt at the time – everything else was moving and I was just along for the ride.
If that was the initial plan, what did you end up doing?
The first stage included the imagery from the train.
The second stage wasn’t so much about physical imagery of me. Since my zodiac sign is Scorpio, and I connect with that, I thought I would instead work with the symbolism of Scorpio, which is the only sign represented by four forms. The forms represent the scorpios’ life: scorpion (undeveloped, secretive and dark form), then snake, dove, and phoenix or eagle. I planned to create a bottom to top transition from scorpion, snake, dove, to phoenix — maybe incorporating my face.
I thought about those two options for a very long time. Once I started the process of actually painting at the beginning of the year with Ms. Churchill, she and I talked about it, and I knew I wanted to focus on the idea of a journey/transformation. I thought about creating either one very big painting or a number of separate paintings incorporating a cave. The picture or pictures would show me in three different stages in the cave: in the entrance, in the depths, and in a portion that had no ceiling, but in which the sun came through.
Ms. Churchill encouraged me to put myself more in the portrait rather than a focus on my surroundings. I decided to do three close ups still using the idea of three stages, but now the focus would be my face. At this point I started to think about colors. In Waldorf, the ninth grade art curriculum begins with black and white, so for the first painting (me just entering the cave) I created a close-up and all in black and white.
The second was going to be the darkest of the three, but I still wanted to have color to express that I was open to learning more as I grew more comfortable being in the dark and being able to find beauty in it. For that one I chose to use red and purple because, to me, they are dark colors, but are still very bright and clear when you’re in the dark. Also I wanted to use them to represent the feeling of anger and sadness. (I chose purple instead of blue because I wasn’t that sad.) It was an angry, but also passionate time for me.
For the third I used 3⁄4 view and am looking down with my eyes closed to show I have come to a comfortable space. I am at peace with everything that has happened and don’t regret entering the cave at all.
In terms of organizing a project of this size, what helped to keep you on-track?
Elena: I really enjoy art, so I really wanted to work on it. For me it was quite easy to keep on track. For the second one, especially, I kept repainting over the face because I wasn’t satisfied. It was Ms. Churchill who encouraged me to leave it and move on, saying that I could always come back to it. I started off the year with senior portrait exploration as my first of the three trimesters of art. Had I started with the art elective rather than my senior portrait, I would not have finished because I ended up using my art elective time to finish my senior portrait. Ms. Churchill was fine with that because I was doing more than one. I also focused on going with the flow rather than over-planning. When I over-plan, I usually end up disappointed. So I just started painting, and that worked really well.
What advice would you give to other students, who are about to embark on this process, in regards to finding creative inspiration?
Elena: For the self-portrait, I would encourage reflecting on yourself, because it is meant to be a portrait of YOU. You don’t have to be in the picture, but it is a portrait of you. You need to look at yourself and see if anything is there that you wish to express emotionally, mentally, or physically. I would also encourage spending time thinking about it, like I did with music and long car rides. That sounds like generic advice, but pick a time that is right, find a place where you’re comfortable and really think about it. It might also be valuable to be spontaneous. Watch out for planning when to think about it. I know for me that stops me from feeling creative. But if it pops into your mind, you should think about it for a while.
Also, if you’re looking for inspiration from outside, simply Google art of people. You can find some truly inspiring things that way. Or watch videos of people painting–that really made me want to go paint.
If you’re still having trouble finding inspiration, Google places and things you feel connected to like I did with my zodiac sign. If you have a lake that you feel connected to, Google it or go there and see if you can find something that you feel connected to. I would also suggest looking at different types of media you enjoy, like a favorite movie or book. Find a scene or quote you like that you can bring to life in a picture — I think that really helps.
It’s important when you’re painting your senior portrait to take breaks from it and to do other art. When I finished each of the three portraits, I had leftover colors that I splatted from the palette onto the canvas. Then I drew the constellation of Scorpio on it.
That’s another thing to do if you don’t have other ideas, just throw pieces of what you’ve already done, or leftovers and make something new and beautiful out of it.