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Friday 9 September 2011

Painting with Bug Blood, Week VIII: Self-Portrait

Back in great number
The bugs are back! After a mysterious absence, they suddenly reappeared in great number on my backyard fence. I can only assume they are returning to winter in my office wall, but are catching a little sun beforehand. I scraped a fat cluster into a yogurt container and was back in business.

Some background: it's been awhile since bug shortages imposed a hiatus on the Painting with Bug Blood series, so not all readers may be familiar. Last March, I tried to turn an infestation of box elder bugs, also known as the maple bug, to my advantage. I did so by crushing them up with mortar and pestle and teaching myself to paint with their blood. I stormed through Chinese calligraphy, twee folk art, landscape, still life, abstract art and more, before concluding that my efforts had forced the maple bug into extinction.

Handsome weasel hair brushes
I was wrong. But the wait has not been in vain - in the intervening time my Japanese connections furnished me with the finest Kumano weasel hair brushes. So famous are these brushes there is a brush festival in Kumano every year, where painters thank their brushes for a lifetime of service before burning them and releasing their spirits into the sky. I can barely wait to do that, but I'm going to have to paint a hell of a lot of bug blood before that time comes.

A few famous self portraits
Good thing I could paint with bug blood and the hair of Japanese weasels all day. One subject all serious artists need to touch on at some point is the self-portrait. Heck, you can see a bunch of famous examples at right at right. I had this feeling that mine would turn out as good or better. With the materials in hand, all I needed was the right reference photo.

I tried taking a casual candid shot, but it lacked a strong thematic element and emotional centre. I played dress up all morning, but the results never seemed to come out as I'd imagined them. You can see a few of my attempts below:

All by myself and without a tripod, I was unable to strike the right note. I turned to my archives to see if I could find anything I liked. I landed on one from a trip to Chiapas that captured the depths of soul I needed. Night has fallen; I'm sitting under an umbrella with my arms crossed. My expression is reflective - pensive? I have only a few days left in Mexico, where I've been living and working, before I must return to boring old Canada. The conflict is internal - I stare into the darkness and find no answer. You can see it all in the photo:

The model

I knew I'd have trouble capturing the photo's delicate chiaroscuro effect in bug blood, but I hoped to capture something of my essence anyway. I was immediately taken with the results - it's true what they say about choosing a subject you're passionate about. And no joke, the Kumano brushes gave me an unprecedented level of control over the notoriously runny bug blood. I'm less impressed with my attempt to capture the dark jungle around me, but I got the important parts right. I'll be back with more bug blood images as long as the supply lasts, but here's the latest:



  1. can't stop looking at these photos. omg.
    soooo good.

  2. I'm glad you managed to keep both your ears. I assume you did anyway...only one of them is in the self portrait.

    If wherever you're at in Canada decides to make a statue in your honor, it's definitely got to be modeled after the pose you've got with that brown jacket.