A face from the past

Emelie

I have drawn many, many faces in my life so far. It started with copying manga in my childhood, tracing the lines of each strand of hair and each eyelash. I practised drawing eyes over and over, the massive girly eyes with stars and moons in the iris, the long and sharp menacing eyes of the evil characters, the eyes always fascinated me. My school notebooks would often have pages filled with drawings of different faces, eyes, and hands, although I did also practice on desks in various classrooms. I always did erase them after the class, though, unless I was exceptionally proud of a particular creation.

Later on it was photographs of models and actresses in fashion magazines that drew my attention. I would leaf through magazines and suddenly be transfixed by a face with mesmerising eyes. I would stare and stare and stare at a photo, trying to take in as much of its beauty as I could. Sometimes a photo would be so captivating that the only way for me to feel I’ve spent long enough with the photo was to draw it. My manga copying skills came in handy. With all that practice I had learned to copy photos with pretty high accuracy, first just black and white and then moved onto colours. I would draw the outlines of a face, layering on the details bit by bit — hair is hard work and takes forever, the shape and angle of the mouth is critical to the expression, the proportion of the nose requires precision; but the eyes — the eyes are just pure fun. I cherished every bit of the eyes, the subtle folds of the eyelid, the intricate patterns within the iris, the shadows created by the eyelashes under the eye, the delicate colouring of the white of the eye. I would use the finest brushes, going over every lash to create layer upon layer of complexity. Finally add the light reflection on the iris, which often requires a final touch of a dot of white paint. Once that’s done suddenly the eyes are looking where you want them to look. Sometimes my heart would start to race in anticipation of this critical moment.

I wondered why I was interested in the eyes. Probably because with ordinary eyes, a painting would just be a straightforward copy of a face. But with some attention to the eyes, suddenly there is a story, there is a character. It probably has to do with growing up with manga. I often imagine that the people I draw are some manga characters, with dark past and mysterious powers. I try to tell their stories through the eyes, to make them otherworldly, to make them extraordinary, to make you fell the chill looking into those eyes.

Watercolour on paper c. 2007
Watercolour on paper c. 2007
Charcoal on paper c.2010

At some point I became fascinated with makeup as a tool to add the same sense of drama and mystery, to transform a person’s face, their demeanour, and even personality. I enjoyed putting dramatic, dark makeup on my friends over the years, instantaneously changing them into enigmatic characters. I had a lot of fun painting my friends’ faces, taking photos and drawing pictures. There was Yoshie my Japanese friend who had the sweetest, kindest personality and a pretty, childlike face, and within whom I was determined to find darkness and bring it out through the darkest eye makeup. There was Linnea, a fiercely funny tomboy back then and never put a trace of makeup on, and I put as much makeup as her face could take to turn her into an imagined femme fatale. There was Jess, who just looked fantastically evil in certain lights with her yellow-tinged eyes. I thought my friends just tolerated my somewhat childish hobby in the name of art. It was years later that I realised that the process itself could offer some value to my models that I had not understood.

Acrylic on paper c. 2013
Acrylic on paper 2015
Oil on canvas 2015

Emelie came to mine after breaking up with her longterm boyfriend, and we had agreed to do our planned session. She was still very much shaken, eyes swollen from crying, her face pale and tired. We did two looks. As I put makeup on her, I think we talked her relationship, together with our friend Lamia, although I can’t quite remember. But I do remember her tears, her laughter, and I remember the stillness and silence as the room got darker and darker and we had to move around the flat to find light. I remember getting lost in the process of making up a character who was not her and not there. I don’t know if her sadness had influenced how my paintings turned out in the end. I had in mind the mood of her character, but very much let the process of makeup and photograph took me. I had wanted the paintings to appear blurred, faded, and slightly distorted like a screenshot of an old videotape. I wanted it to be like someone’s memory of a person from the past, whatever memories associated with that person slowly fading, leaving nothing but gentle melancholy.

Oil on canvas c. 2013
Oil on canvas c. 2013