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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

Sense of Self/ A Self Portrait

During the second semester of my senior year, I took a drawing class. I had always wanted to learn how to draw but, and not for the first time in my life, my fear of failure had continuously caused me to back out of pursuing a creative endeavor. I knew that I would probably never have the time nor the resources to take an art class again after I graduated and so, I decided to sign up for the class. It met twice a week for three hours down the hill of campus.

The first three weeks of the class were equal parts stressful and cathartic. I didn't have any skill whatsoever and I had assumed that we would be taught step by step technique. Instead, we were given a medium, an assembled sculpture of rotting fruits and vegetables, and three hours to just draw. I was super frustrated. How was my picture ever supposed to look good if I had no idea what I was doing? Besides, I didn't want to sit there forever and draw the most intricate details of a potted plant and a hundred ivy leaves.

Eventually, the amount of hours I had spent on the fruit and vegetable sculpture lent themselves to a half-decent rendition. Sure, the perspective was very 2-D and the lines were either rigid or sloppy. But, I had actually begun to enjoy the process of not being great at something. It somehow took the pressure away from ever having to be perfect. Of course it was not going to be perfect, I could barely even discern a straight line from an angled one.

After several weeks and too much fun with charcoal (my favorite pastel sweaters definitely saw some things), we were tasked with completing a self-portrait. Not just a self-portrait, but a personal manifesto about ourselves. Well, you see, that was going to be hard for me. Because how do you write about yourself when you don't necessarily know if you even understand yourself?

My first attempt at a self-portrait was nothing short of heinous. If I had thought charcoal was my friend, I would be surprised to learn it had betrayed me. I looked like the sleep paralysis demon version of myself. My face was a big puff of roundness, my eyes were squinty, and my nose was upturned like voldemort. But, the problem was, I thought it was what I looked like (hello body dysmorphia.) I sent it to my sisters slightly proud of what I had done and they were like...babes....! Honestly, prepare yourself. It was really haunting.

Yeah, so, I had to start over. Again, I was frustrated. How was I going to make a realistic version of myself without any talent or perspective. Ryann called me and explained a few things. First, she told me. "You need to go based of a picture." Second, "You need to use graphite." Fantastic, with her wisdom I set off to start again.

The thing is, I am an impatient person. I wanted it to look good and I wanted it to look good now. I knew about proportions and such, but I just wanted to do things my way. When I started with just my left eye, Ryann told me I was beginning at the wrong place. But, tbh, I have always done better when I can figure things out for myself and so the process was already on its way.

Clearly, this looks terrifying as well. I thought about starting over, but I knew I needed to see if I could carry it through. I took painstakingly careful and thoughtful time to work on every aspect of my face. One by one placing them where I thought the perspective made sense. My friend Devyn giving me tips on how to use your pencil to see angles. By the end of the three hour class I had something that actually looked like me. It was the first time my friends in the class had seen a drawing of mine and I could feel them get excited for me. It was super fulfilling, but even more so, it proved to me how important perserverance and trust were.

Am I ever going to be a fantastically perfect artist? No. Will I ever be a fantastically perfect person, either? Of course, not. But life is all about making mistakes and growing from them. The process of art taught me that more so than anything else. Because patience is the most important factor, but so is the ability to acknowledge when you need a different approach or a different tool.

Anyway - there is my self portrait when I first started it. And you know what? It looked the best when it was a work in progress than it did when it was completely finished. I think there's a lesson to be learned there. But, of course, everything in life is a lesson. At least if you're introspective enough to overthink it.

Here is my self-manifesto I wrote last minute on my notes app before the portrait was due. Because that is so classically me. Maybe it was a little self-aggrandizing, idealistic, and overly sickly sweet. But you get what I give you these days.

Alex's Personal Manifesto

Big smile, a Taylor Swift mirrorball, “I’m still doing everything to keep you laughing at me”. Cotton-candy heart, twizzler brain. Always daydreaming, reading, writing, rewatching comfort shows. A pastel-wearing, sunset-watching, “this song made me think of you”, means it when they tell someone they want to get lunch, red heart emoji proponent. Mirrorball, “never been a natural all I do is try try try”. Reflective, shiny, spinning, spinning, spinning

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