Friday, March 7, 2014

The "Unselfie" Project: Process Pictures & Questions Answered

The response to The "Unselfie" Project has me excited, nervous, thrilled, anxious, giddy...  All good things, I think, when you're working on something new and something you're passionate about.  In addition to observations and critiques, I have been receiving lots of questions through comments, messages, emails, and phone calls!  I love the questions because they challenge me to focus on my intent and provide me with an opportunity to see things through the viewer's eyes.
So, since there are many questions that keep popping up, I thought it would be a good idea to put the answers to the "frequently asked" all in one place...

The layers of "Stevie"

What is The "Unselfie" Project?  
How did you come up with this idea?
The "Unselfie" Project is:
The unselfish desire to see beyond the "selfie"... To learn more about the layers of personality behind the photo.

This project was born from the idea that everyone wants to be seen, not just looked at, but really seen.  This project is a way for me to combine my passion for painting with my passion for kindness.

The layers of "Casey"

Where do these faces come from?
With a few exceptions, the faces come from "selfies" that were posted to either instagram or facebook.  (I also feel it's important to mention that I ask permission to paint their picture.)

How do you come up with the words that go with the paintings?
The words are a very important part of the project, they work in tandem with the painting.  People are so much more than what you see on the outside, or in a single photo.  The words describe the things you may not be able to see, but that are (some of) the qualities that make the person unique beyond their physical being. 

The layers of "Lisa"

What size are these paintings?  Are they on canvas?  What is your technique?  What medium do you use?  How do you create your backgrounds?
All of these paintings begin on an 8" x 8" square piece of 140lb. watercolor paper.

I begin each "unselfie" by writing (with an ordinary graphite pencil) about the person who I am painting.  It is a way for me to set my intentions for the piece, and they are the same words that accompany the finished painting.  After I am finished writing, I start adding some colors that remind me of the person (usually with watercolors or watercolor crayons).  Then I start playing while still thinking about the person... Just as each person is unique, so is the process.  Some of the techniques I use in my background layers include:  drippy writing (of more words inspired by the person), finger painting, stamping and stenciling (I like to cut my own stamps and stencils whenever possible), collaging papers that mean something, more painting...  I just like to build up lots of layers.

The face is painted using shades of paynes gray (acrylic).  When I paint a face I start with a quick sketch (in graphite if the background is light, or white charcoal pencil if the background is dark).  Then, I roughly paint in the values using a (fairly wide) flat brush.  I keep going back in with successively smaller and smaller brushes until I'm finished.  (Adding detail to the eyes is always the very last thing I do.)

The layers of "Patience"

What is the point of creating so many layers if you just cover them up anyway?
I love this question!  The layers add depth, both literally and figuratively, to each painting.  Just like it takes many layers of personality to create a whole person, it takes many layers to create each painting... Sometimes the layers peek through and you get a glimpse, other times the layers are hidden beneath the surface...

The layers of "Jenny"

Why aren't the faces in color?
When I was in college (many years ago!), I was taught that paintings should start with an underpainting (a monochromatic value study).  My professors explained that the better the underpainting, the more depth the subsequent painting would have.  We always added color, sometimes limited color, but we always added color on top.

It wasn't until very recently that I realized there is a beauty in the underpainting all on its own...  And for this project, leaving the underpainting "as is" seemed very appropriate...  The "exposed" portrait in shades of gray set against the vibrant background layers creates a contrast that adds even more depth to each painting.

Thank you so much for all of your comments (and questions!) about my paintings... I am so excited about this project, and all of your interest helps keep me motivated!


  1. I loved the Q&A on your post today, Kristin. As for your portraits, a finer artist could not be found, I'm sure. You do such beautiful work.

  2. So interesting! Thank you so much for sharing your process. Each stage of your paintings is a work of art in its own.How do you choose your subjects? Are these people you actually know, or do you select them based on their look or what they tell about themselves in their posts? Are you planning to have these beautiful works in an exhibit? (see...more questions! ;))

  3. What an unusual and interesting technique. That's really cool.

  4. Hi Kristin,
    This post was quite informative and I enjoyed learning what you studied in school. I think your take on leaving the faces in shades of grey really does create contrast and depth to the complete portrait. I also love what you said about knowing a person's total character is not not only through their visual appearance but through their soul within. By keeping a check list before commencing the work helps to not forget to leave out some important characteristic features that are the make up of their unique portraiture, makes them real!

    Annabelle : )

  5. Ok - this is very cool. I think your project is such an interesting twist on the ever popular selfie. By adding depth to the individuals through layers in the background makes these portraits so much more meaningful. I personally love how layers add history and stories to paintings and I love that you capture the essence of the person by writing about them and specifically building the individual's story in the background. It makes it so much more interesting. AND, keeping the portraits to monochromatic is the icing on the cupcake :) Love what you are doing here and I'm excited to see the progression of the Unselfie Project.

  6. Wonderful project, really cool. Valerie

  7. Your portraits are amazing Kristin. Great learning techniques. Thank you. Happy PPF.:)

  8. fascinating project and concept Kristin!! Beautiful paintings and faces. Thank you for taking the time to explain it all.

  9. wow thank you for the Q&A, your portraits are totally fabulous Kristin, whoever knew Paynes Grey could look so fab.......well it certainly does when you use it. Happy PPF, Annette x

  10. love that you are kind, we need more people like that in the world! Neat idea with these unselfies.

  11. What an amazing project! Really enjoy seeing the stages of your paintings. Beautiful!

  12. Normally a selfie is thought of as a shallow pic of someone - thanks for making the "deeper" part of these individuals more evident! Gorgeous work as always - I'd never heard of underpaintings until I found your blog some time back (I don't get out much - har har) - Great work!!

  13. What a fabulous project! I love the are so right! People are so much more than their selfie...I love how you are keeping the underpaintings..they are so beautiful...every portrait actual speaks to us...Each face emotes something different. You have captured empathy, love, happiness, pensive well done! Thanks for sharing... I hope you get a show for this project! Really wonderful!!

    Hugs Giggles

  14. Hi Kristin! What an awesome project! I love it! And yes there are always so many layers...great that you write your intention prior to the paint. Can't wait to see more. Beautiful!

  15. Fabulous and wonderful! Layers and layers in everyone and your artistic vision bringing them out--- what a concept! Your work is so inspiring. You've given me more to think about...

  16. So wonderful to read about your process and see it in pictures as well! thanks for sharing!

  17. What a wonderful artist (and person) you are, and it's so good to have kindness praised as a value ... Much needed. And what you say about finding the person behind the face illustrates your own kindness.
    Thank you for showing all those stages in the paintings, so much goes into them. Wonderful post.

  18. This is so awesome! I was at an art store watching an artist paint and he was talking about painting the values in grey first and now with your post I "see" what he was talking about. I need to learn more about this! Thank you for giving me the terminology to even "google it".

  19. Hi Kristin, these portraits are amazing, beautifully done and I admire your painting technique, very inspiring. Also it is a great idea for the project! Thank you very much for hosting PPF, I met there so many lovely, talented and inspiring people. It is a great venue!

  20. really awesome project! i loved reading about it! i'm tempted to make an unselfie my journal :] loving your blog! ~ashley

  21. I am absolutely loving this project and the adventure you are on. Cannot wait to see more, more, more!

    p.s. ...they way you answered the layers question was awesome.

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