YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Reflecting on a new self-image

Columnist gets a new look courtesy of artist Randy Glass.

March 07, 2009|SANDY BANKS

Yes, that's the new me you're looking at. And no, I didn't get a nose job or a new hairstyle. My transformation was cheaper and far less painful. I was treated to a redraw.

It wasn't my idea to add illustrated mugs to our columns last fall. A newspaper redesign led the bosses to order up new photos to be converted into line drawings.

I knew the photo we relied on wasn't my best. I'd skipped the salon and left home without makeup. The photographer said "smile" and I complied, unaware that a broad grin can make a nose look wide.

When I saw the drawing in the newspaper later, I cringed. My middle-aged vanity made me want to hide. It didn't take long for my personal crisis to become some readers' obsession.

"You look 20 years older, and you need a comb," e-mailed my neighbor. My daughters' former school principal was more tactful: "That drawing doesn't capture how attractive you are."

I braced myself at every public event for some version of "You don't look like your picture" from the audience. And my co-workers were, of course, brutally blunt. "What's with the schnoz?" asked Duke. "It's huge."

I can defend my writing, but my looks? There's no editor with an airbrush for facial flaws.

Fortunately, my bosses heard the snickers and asked artist Randy Glass for a do-over.

Glass was working on my eyes when I called last week. "I've been staring at your face all morning," he said. "I can tell you exactly how many eyelashes you have."

This might be a wonderful phrase to hear from your lover, but not from an artist paid to draw you, warts and all.

If Glass was counting every eyelash, surely he was also noting every wrinkle and mole. My only hope was to pay a visit and charm him into believing I'm beautiful.

Glass is a master of "stipple" portraits, a technique using tiny dots to simulate facial contours, color and shading. The Wall Street Journal pioneered its use in newspapers; Glass spent years drawing the paper's celebrity head shots. His website -- -- is like a Hollywood pantheon.

I had no idea how much work goes into each tiny drawing. Glass studies a photo, makes a detailed freehand rendition, then spends hours filling it in with dots at calculated intervals.

When I got there, he was four hours into my drawing. He had re-created my "beautiful eyes," was working on my "clear skin," and had yet to tackle my "interesting hair." But I liked what I saw.

I'd feared that Glass might be insulted because I didn't like his original drawing. I worried that I might seem vain or shallow. But he understood my discomfort.

"I do faces for a living," he said, "and I don't know anybody who's not self-conscious about their appearance. We should get to choose what we want our image to be."

We draw our self-image from our mirror reflection. And it's laden with our history; in our mind's eye, we carry snapshots of all the people we used to be. I grew up a skinny kid, with frizzy hair and a nose that made my middle school pictures resemble Tiny Tim. Did I overreact to Glass' first drawing, projecting my childhood insecurities?

I've pinned a copy of my new drawing to the bulletin board in my home office. When I glance at it as I work, I feel smarter and more confident.

This picture is prettier than me, I think. Maybe it represents who I want to be, just as the shot with the unruly hair and broad smile captured a different version of Sandy.

I know now, from readers' reactions, that photos matter. I also know what I'm risking, putting my new face forward. How will I feel if readers who meet me now say, "You look nothing like your drawing."


Los Angeles Times Articles