Geometric “Self-Portraits”

Ummmmm, self portrait? Geometric? Like, cubism?

No. This activity is not about pretending to be Picasso (although that would probably be a fun activity!). These “self-portraits” are not (or at least not necessarily) a likeness of your face. Perhaps it would be better to think of them as a way of taking your creative pulse.

A geometric self-portrait is a way of responding to the question: “How does it look to feel like me right now?” 

Artists have created self-portraits for ages, probably more for what the artists discover about themselves than as a way to create a likeness to show to the world. As with most things in Creative Energy Journaling, this activity is design to give you some of the benefits of the exercise of creating a self-portrait, without having to know how to draw or paint, and without spending hours and hours staring into a mirror.

As usual, the structure of this activity is to create first, analyze later. This can be a little difficult, because you know you’re supposedly creating a self-portrait, and that must mean some sort of representation of yourself.  So, the temptation is to try to think your way through it. And also, to try to present yourself as you want to be seen, rather than represent yourself as you are in this moment.

One antidote to over-analyzing is to work fast on a task that requires some attention. Hence, the “geometric” part.

Before I describe how it works, I want to remind you that in Creative Energy Journaling there is no requirement to “finish” a page! I try to show examples of work that has progressed far enough for you to get the idea how to do each activity, but remember, they may not have been done in one sitting! (Usually not!)

The first step of this activity might be done one day, and you might continue working on it on other occasions.  What about the “how do does it feel to be me right now?” thing? Don’t worry about it. I promise it will still work out.

In fact, the first stage of this activity might be done as a Creative Seed, and then you might wind up using it for something else. The whole “self-portrait” might wind up being a Creative Seed.

And, by the way, you don’t have to start on a blank page. This could be something you add on top of an earlier Creative Seed or other work.

I’ve described this activity (and others) in a step-by-step way, but you certainly don’t have to do them that way! Feel free to skip forward, go back or work however fits for you.  Your journal is for you, and you get to decide how you want to do things!

Here’s how I create a Geometric Self-Portrait:

Collect some shape-making “tools”.

To start this activity, gather some “shape-making” tools. If you have been doing this sort of thing for a while you might have a collection of drawing templates, rulers and compasses, as I do.

A collection of drawing templates, straightedges, and compass.
Shape-making tools you can buy (at office supply and art supply stores).

But any sort of flat-ish object you can trace around will work. Your pantry, kitchen, and desk are good places to start looking.

Draw a series of overlapping shapes and curves on your journal page.

As quickly as you can, while still working neatly, draw a series of overlapping shapes and curves on your journal page. Try not to pause between one shape or curve and the next. No stopping for reflection, no dithering! Just pick something up, plop it down and trace.

You don’t need to trace all the way around a shape. You can use just a part of it, and you can use more than one object to make a shape. Let some shapes overlap and let some lines just wander.

If you love curved lines, either look for curved objects to trace (it can be a challenge to find noncircular ones), make some curved templates out of cardboard or plastic, or invest in a set of french curves (office supply and art supply stores have them).

One good way to make curved templates is to print out an image that has a curve you like, glue or tape it onto a piece of cardboard and then cut out the shape you like.

Use the geometric shapes and lines as the “bones” of your work.

Add watercolor, crayon, colored pencil or marker. Use your shapes as the base for doodling, or fill them with pattern or collage.

Yellow and orange ellipses and purple triangles and waves.
I didn’t draw too many shapes before I got excited and started adding color. I’ll probably add more shapes on top of this It’s more of a Creative Seed at this point.

Choose your materials, colors, techniques, etc. according to what calls to you in the moment. There’s really no need to ask yourself overtly, “How does it look to feel like me right now?” Your brain is smart enough to retain an awareness of that. All you have to do is just “go with the flow”.

Green and blue circles and curves.
At this stage, I’ve returned to the page on four different occasions. I’ll probably continue to add to it.
Return to the page to work again, as much as you like.

Don’t worry about whether you might be feeling different on a different day. No doubt you will. The activity can still be done. Just think of the earlier work as a Creative Seed for today’s work. Revise, embellish, emphasize, obliterate.

Grey "egg" shapes with green curves and dark background.
I’ve worked on this page several times. Initially, there was just one “egg” shape and a lot of curves. That shape appealed to me, so I repeated it in a later work session. I’m sure I’ll return to work on this page again.

You could use this activity as a way to record your moods over time. Even though I encourage you to work on any page in your journal rather than starting at the beginning and working in a linear fashion, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it as a chronological record. You can still date pages! 

If it feels important to you, you can date the page each time you work on it.  You can also write on the page, or a nearby page, if there are insights or related thoughts you want to record.  If you are worried that you will lose some important insight by working on a page again, you can always takes photos as the page develops.

But honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about “losing” important insights. The same things seem to surface repeatedly in any journaling practice, especially things that need your attention!

I also wouldn’t worry if you find that you end your journaling session feeling quite different than when you started. That’s a sneaky part of the point. Allowing your brain a chance to be in a diffuse, relaxed, open-ended but absorbed state can be restorative.

It can also put you in touch with situations or feelings you have been trying to ignore or avoid. Simply sitting and ruminating may only make you feel worse, especially if you are dealing with one of those life issues that doesn’t really have a “solution”.

This sort of activity may be a way to be present to those feelings or aware of a problem that is bothering you, but without having enough attention to spare for churning through the same old discouraging thoughts.

Recent research shows that time spent in an open-ended, diffuse, “wandering” state of mind enhances creative problem solving abilities. Who knows? The solution or understanding you seek might find you, while you’re busy filling the page with pattern and color.

As always, I’d love to hear how it’s going. What activities have you tried? What have you enjoyed the most so far?

You can leave comments (including pictures, if you like!) at the end of each article.

Thanks for joining me again this week, and happy journaling!