How being a portrait artist made me hypercritical of my face
I love to draw. There are few feelings more magical than seeing your art-work come to life. Teasing out someone’s features with a pencil, and capturing their spirit in a few calculated strokes is amazing. Drawing people is my particular favorite. I often find myself searching for interesting faces: Weathered, aged, scarred, freckled, hairy, lopsided, crinkled. All the qualities that might disqualify you as a catalog model are what make you interesting as a subject. Sometimes, just through the look on their faces, you can sense sadness or hope or passion. It’s an amazing thing.
This hobby (which makes gift-giving a breeze) has taught me everything about facial aesthetics. In my art class, we learned the generic proportions that a face supposedly has: oval face, eyes halfway down, nose halfway down again, mouth one third down from there. Ears should be lined up from the eye to the mouth and the neck drops down from the lobes. It’s a mathematical formula for a perfect face. The problem is that my face doesn’t look like that. Yours probably doesn’t either.
Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in a window or stood in the mirror to apply my makeup, I am reminded of my structural imperfections. My forehead is too big. My eye-line is uneven. My upper-lip is too short. My nose is slightly upturned. My gums consume my smile. My cheekbones are lopsided. The crease of my eyes are unsymmetrical. My pupil is too small the white of my eye. My skull indents too much at the bridge of my nose. Suddenly, every part of my face becomes a flaw, and it consumes my thoughts because I know I can’t change.
It’s easy to point to photo manipulation as the culprit for low confidence, or for having issues with the way you look. But my issues stem from the old-school kind of media, portrait art. It’s rare to come across a face which fits that proportional principle. It doesn’t make drawing a face any less enjoyable that the nose is slightly higher, the mouth not exactly in line. It shouldn’t matter. But I found myself not quite being able to apply the joy I took in drawing unusual faces to my own features.
It took a while for me to stop looking in my reflection and seeing how it differed from the model in art class. But slowly, as I drew more, I learned how to be friends with my face. All those “flaws” might be there, but there’s a lot I like about myself too. I have great hair and eyebrows, my ears are damn near perfect and my skin is relatively blemish-free after conquering puberty.
But really, art isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being interesting. You know who else knew that? Amy Poehler. “Symmetry is pleasing but not as sexy,” Poehler said in her memoir Yes Please!. “Einstein is cool but Picasso knows what I’m talking about.”