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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Self-Portrait Contour Drawings

Self-Portrait Contour Drawings
This Intervention Plan was inspired by Elizabeth Layton, "Grandmother of the U.S.", and Bob Ault, ATR-BC. Elizabeth Layton cured herself of a 40 year clinical depression by doing self-portrait contour drawings with her non-dominant hand coupled with very emotional and personal content.


            12 x 18 (approximately) sheets of white stock paper (one per participant, per sitting)
            # 2 lead pencils
            Colored Pencils
            12 x 12 mirror tile with cardboard backing to help prop up (edges taped for safety)

            Nearly any population:                       
Families                                   Physically Ill
            Children                                  Individuals                              Younger populations
            Adolescents                            Trauma and abuse                   Elderly

Number of Sessions:   Can be done in 1 session, or two.

            Part I – Drawing the actual portrait, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to complete. The more someone is self-conscious or self-critical, the longer this process can take. Be patient with the person drawing the picture and let him take as long as he needs. Give unconditional support and encouragement where needed.

            Part II – Drawing the images around the self-portrait, usually goes faster for the artist than Part I. This process takes about 30 minutes to complete. Often the artist will want to write words instead of images. Encourage him to draw the images that go along with these words. The power of the images can be more significant than the words themselves. They can put in to form what words cannot describe.

            Part III – Coloring the whole picture can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete. This process seems to be soothing for the drawer, so encourage him to take as much time as he would like.

            Part IV – The drawer can become very reflective during the sharing part of the drawing. Allow him to have a few minutes to reflect and then share as little or as much as he would like. Always end with an acknowledgment of how well he did in the whole process.


Creating self-portrait drawings in this way helps to process and then release emotion and stress/anxiety related to a particular memory or experience. The more detailed these drawings become, the more processing and release occurs.


1.  Participant(s) will learn to follow instructions to make the self-portrait contour drawings.

2.  Participant(s) will learn to create their own visual representations of problems. These metaphors act as a conduit for release and the problems then have less emotion tied to the issues.

3.  Participant(s) will also be able to create words that will express their emotional state(s) associated with the objects, facilitating further processing and release of negative emotion.


Part I:     Prop up the mirror to the side of the person who will be drawing. Put the paper directly in front of the drawer. Give instructions on how contour drawing works. Have the drawer switch to using their non-dominant hand for this part of the procedure. Using a # 2 pencil, draw from the top of the head all the way down to mid top-arm (a bust). Ask them to go slowly, take their time. Explain about the ‘inner-critic’ and how for this process we ask the drawer to put it away or let it go. Also, ask the drawer to think of a stressful issue or anxiety-provoking thought while drawing self. Point out the lines that are on the face (this may be necessary only at first.)

Part II:   After the self-portrait is completed, put the mirror away and ask the drawer to switch back to using his or her dominant hand to finish the picture. Ask the drawer to now draw images or objects (can be some words or phrases) surrounding the self-portrait that convey to the viewer what the drawer was thinking about while drawing the portrait.

Part III:  Have the drawer put down the #2 pencil down. Switch to coloring with the colored pencils. Ask the drawer to color in every part of the drawing, including the background, etc.

Part IV:  When finished with the entire drawing, have the artist write a statement describing how the process was for him and/or how he feels after completing the drawing. Invite the drawer to share with you (and the group when done in group setting) about his experience by using words.

(Note:  The use of drawing with both hands, and sharing verbally will be vitally important in maximizing the positive impact of the process.)

Expressive Outcome Possibilities:

            1)  Participant(s) will be able to be creative and expressive.
            2)  Participant(s) will be able to explore and experience art-making free from judgment.
3)  Participant(s) will be able to become more aware of themselves/their feelings/emotions.
            4)  Participant(s) will be able to become aware of and then explore their wants and needs.
5)  Participant(s) will be able to release negative emotion surrounding memories, traumatic experiences, and/or current stressors/anxieties.


Self-portrait contour drawing, self-image, self-awareness, creativity/expression, metaphor, insight, etc.

General Limitations:

1)  Getting the mirrors to prop up so that they do not fall down can be a challenge.
            2)  The drawer must have fine-motor skills in order to control the pencil(s) for drawing.
3)  Concept of self-awareness and “self-image” may be hard to grasp for some populations. However, it is not necessary for the drawer to understand these concepts in order for him/her to get value out of the experience.
4)  Some people may not have the patience to sit down in one sitting to complete the full drawing. For adults the average time it takes to complete the drawings is an hour and a half. Processing time may take up to an hour or more.


1)  With very young children (1 to 5 years of age), this activity could require more coordination than they currently exhibit.
            2)  Some populations may need more encouragement to participate in this activity than others (especially if they are high functioning – want to ‘look good’).
            3)  Children with hyperactivity may not enjoy this activity and could get distracted easily if not fully engaged at each moment.
4)  Some people may respond with anger or tears because of the emotional content the symbols can bring up; be prepared for this and have the necessary supports available for the drawer(s).

Adaptation(s) to be used with Different Populations:

1)  With young children, think of doing smaller groups or one-on-one sessionsin order to help them with the details of this type of project.
2)  For those populations with cerebral palsy (or any other muscular or neurological dysfunction); consider having a partner who can act as their hands.
3)  You can make the issues as big or small determinate on what the client is prepared to share and/or deal with.

Group Processing Questions:

            1)  What is a “self-image”?
            2)  What is a problem you are dealing with right now that bothers you?
3)  Why do you think turning off the inner critic can be so important?
            4)  What are some ways you can turn off that inner critic?   
            5)  What does your inner critic say about you?
6)  Do you like your self-image or would you want to change it?
            7)  What would you change your self-image to, if you could change it?

(This mural is located at The Legends shopping mall in Kansas. Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton is considered a State Treasure, and a blessing to all of those who struggle with self-image/depression/etc.)


  1. This is wonderful! Can I share it in Grandma Layton’s FB page?

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