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Draw a Portrait of Your Inner Self

Create an image of how you feel, not how you look

Throughout our Expressive Drawing classes, we've seen how our paintings can be about intangible things, such as emotion, psyche and spirit — things you can't see or explain in words. In that way, all expressive drawing is a kind of self-portrait: It reflects your inner self. 

 But in this class — the final one for the semester — we are going to take the "self-portrait" concept a step further. This exercise will help you create a portrait, not of what you look like, but rather what you feel like. Read through the steps below and dive in. But first, make sure to watch the above video. It's designed to inspire you to make drawing and painting a permanent part of your life.

 What you'll need

  •  A drawing/painting surface of your choice (if you're used to working large, continue to use that scale)
  • Drawing/painting materials


What you'll do

  •  Try to tap into your innermost thoughts and subconscious mind and take stock of the state of your world right now. Begin by identifying a shape that feels like "you" at this moment, one that serves as a metaphor for you in the drawing. For example, if you feel peaceful and settled, you might choose a circle, round and fluid. If you're feeling anxious or nervous, you might choose a pointy, angular shape, such as a diamond or triangle. These are simply suggestions to get you into this concept.


  • Before you draw or paint the shape, realize that where you place the shape will also represent how you feel. If, for example, you are feeling strong and powerful, you might instinctively place your shape higher in the space, a naturally dominant placement. If, on the other hand, you're feeling calm and settled, the shape might be near the bottom of the space. The orientation of your shape will influence its feel, too. If it is horizontal, it can convey a tranquil feeling; if vertical, it can feel sturdy; if diagonal, it might read as dynamic or assertive.


  • Once the shape of "you" is drawn, choose other elements to surround it, expanding to convey other people or issues in your life. Are you feeling supported? That might take the form of a long shape beneath "you." Feeling under pressure or depressed? A dark shape on a diagonal on top of your shape might indicate that. These are merely suggestions, and you will most likely come up with your own shape language.


  • Add color and texture, as you wish. Fiery red can read as angry, passionate, invigorated. Blue is often associated with calm, peacefulness or even sadness. Agitated marks can convey angst, while sweeping strokes might feel calm. Again, there are no absolutes; this is your interpretation.


  • Once the drawing is under way, take it in and begin to respond to the overall feeling and composition. Cut loose and continue to convey your experience of your world. As in our last session, keep in mind that you can edit by covering things up and add other elements. Look at the drawing as a whole and continue.


Once you're satisfied that the drawing as a whole expresses what your world feels like, then you'll be done. Don't forget to upload your drawing in our online community and comment on the drawings of others. The first 25 artists to present their work in the community will receive a complimentary copy of my book, Expressive Drawing.

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