The Autobiographical Figure

Pete Hocking, Sometimes I Drink Like A Boy, 48 x 48 inches, oil on panel, 2001.

This page has been created to support my online painting workshop, The Autobiographical Figure, offered during the week 21-28 January 2023.

Over the course of this workshop, we’ll look at the work of many artists who are using the figure to tell stories from their lives and we’ll also make some paintings. The point of this workshop is not to complete assignments, but to begin a process of considering how to use the figure in dynamic and exciting ways. This page is intended to provide resources and some prompts for making paintings this week. However, if you’re already working on a project you want to continue or have other ideas of what you want to accomplish in the workshop, I encourage you to keep with it.

I titled this workshop ‘The Autobiographical Figure’ because I want its subject matter to come from the lives of participants. Very often, figure painting workshops work with an anonymous model, focusing on the human body as an object rather than as a person. But I also understand that the word, ‘autobiography,’ may be too narrow for my intentions — referring too specifically to the idea of self-portraiture. While self-portraits are certainly part of this workshop’s focus, I’d like to invite you to think more broadly about how paintings can convey stories from your life that involve people. I’d like to encourage you to think about the past, present, and future. Can you create a body of artworks that act in the way that a photo album does, documenting experience and relationships? Are there ways that ‘figures’ can be suggested by other objects — the belongings, symbols, or spaces that refer to you or people you love? I’d also like to invite you to think about the idea of memoir — which is the art of memory. ‘Autobiography’ can imply trying to get the facts down, but memory is often more poetic than accurate depiction.

Some Prompts:

  • Make a self-portrait of how you’re feeling right now.
  • Make three paintings of people in your neighborhood.
  • Make three self-portraits that refer to your past, your present and your future. Or paint yourself as you were five years ago today.
  • Using 2-4 figures in a space, create a painting that conveys the emotional relationship between the people you depict. 
  • Using objects only, create a portrait or self-portrait that conveys the subject’s personality.
  • Using family photographs, create a painting that tells the story of what was happening three minutes before or three minutes after the photo was taken.
  • Make a portrait or series of portraits of someone who is no longer part of your life due to distance or death.
  • Paint yourself or another person in each of the four seasons.
  • Paint yourself as a ‘character’ from history, culture, media or literature that conveys something of how you see yourself.
  • Paint a dream that includes people.
  • Make a painting of a space that refers to a person.

I’ve created a number of artist resource pages, with quick biographies, examples of artwork and links to resources. Some that might be of interest in this workshop (and who I may present this week) include:

I’ve also created a general ‘back to basics’ resource page for technical information on materials and painting.

Finally, this workshops isn’t intended to make specific artworks. It’s intended to inspire experimentation and exploration. Even more, my hope that it fuels us for ongoing work in the studio. Let’s have fun!

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