35 Years of Self Portraits — Growing, Learning, and Healing as an Artist

Karen Espig - karenespig.art
5 min readNov 23, 2022
Detail, “The Mask Is Behind Me” — Karen Espig, 30 x 15 inches, oil on canvas (2019)

I have been creating images of myself for 35 years and I do not plan on stopping any time soon.

But why do I do it?

I believe it is inspired by the desire to find, understand and embrace my particular beauty; and to express my unique voice. In art I feel I may be fully seen and heard. Outside of art, I have struggled to communicate who I am.

The practice of self-portraits is not new. In fact, artists have been creating self-portraits for centuries.

The first self-portrait I ever created was a photo of my reflection, in a full-length mirror, wearing a very simple lace body-suit I had just purchased. I felt so good in it, I felt compelled to record it, to make it real. This was the first time I remember feeling that I looked beautiful. It was 1987 and I was 20 years old. I still have the B&W image that I printed a few years later.

In 2001, I created my first painted self-portrait The Artist’s Repose. It is simple in style and technique, but I love it. That summer, I participated in a 5-day workshop on self-portraits, which cemented this particular relationship with myself.

“The Artist’s Repose” — Karen Espig, 12 x 24 inches, oil on canvas (2001)

In 2019, I painted a self portrait, entitled Now which is meant as a companion and contrary work to Then, created in 2007. Then was painted at a difficult time in my personal life. I was embroiled in a confusing (and in retrospect, toxic) relationship. I was finding it difficult to be creative; so, to resolve this, I painted my feeling. In this portrait my face is turned away from the canvas on the easel, gazing out of the painting space. The cool blue tones and minimal texture speak to how I was feeling–empty, confused, and alone. The canvas represented on the easel is unpainted.

“Then” — Karen Espig, 18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas (2007)

When I re-launched my professional art practice in 2019, the first self-portrait I wished to paint…

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Karen Espig - karenespig.art

I am a contemporary figure painter. I am also a Canadian Expat currently in Albania. I write about expat life, relationships, and online dating.