Life-Size Self-Portrait: Encourage Self Expression through Art

We live in an age of social media, which can make it easy for us to lose sight of who we are and more, importantly, appreciate the fact that we are all unique and special. Everyone struggles with self-love, and constantly comparing yourself to others doesn’t always help. This can be especially difficult during the teenage years.

One way to encourage both creativity and self-acceptance in kids is to ask them to look in the mirror and draw themselves! Self-portraits are a wonderful exercise in art exploration and can be created with many different mediums, not just pencil and paper.

Although many people are quick to decry the current trend for ‘selfies’ as narcissistic, in reality, they are nothing new – artists have been doing them for centuries. Everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Rembrandt, Frida Kahlo and even Vincent Van Gogh has painted themselves at some stage in their careers – sometimes even more than once!

What’s more, child behaviorists and psychologists will tell you that the act of doing a self-portrait is actually a very important element of personal and psychological development for children and young adults, encouraging introspection and self-awareness.

In actual fact, self-portraits have the potential to:

  1. Help shy children open up more.
  2. Encourage overly extroverted children to become more aware of their feelings and inner world – their likes, dislikes, hopes and fears.
  3. Give children an outlet for self-expression, especially if they are naturally creative or are working through some difficult emotions or circumstances such as a divorce or death in the family.
  4. Help teens with body dysmorphia and children with disfiguring scars or disabilities to come to terms with, and accept their appearance more.
  5. Boost confidence levels by encouraging self-acceptance, and build empathy towards others.
  6. Recognize children’s artistic abilities, thereby also boosting their self-esteem.
  7. Teach children about anatomy and biology and also offer a great way to facilitate discussion around topics like gene inheritance and diversity.

According to Art Therapist, Mallory Denison:

“Connecting inward is an absolutely core exercise for people who want to work on their self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and happiness.”

And what better way to do that than getting your child to look in the mirror and paint or sketch themselves. So why not get some art supplies together and encourage your child to have a go at drawing themselves.

Creating Life Size Portraits

Of course, this type of self-exploration doesn’t have to be restricted to pen/pencil and paper. In recent years, ‘big process art’ has become something of a trend. But what exactly is it? In a nutshell, it involves groups of children producing large scale artworks from unconventional materials in an unstructured and open-ended way, whether this be block printing, pasta art, wood work to collage art and mural-style art projects.

There’s a reason why it’s become incredibly popular with moms and teachers – not only is it fun for children, but it also teaches them a whole host of social, linguistic and conceptual skills, from team working to creative thinking and productive collaboration. Big process art also engages the gross motor skills and large muscle groups in the limbs – especially important during the early years.

Combining big process art with portraiture provides a great way to get the best of both worlds. Not only do life size portraits enable children to see subtle differences in people’s physical biology, but they also encourage them to become more accepting of the fact that people’s bodies come in a vast array of shapes and sizes.

Group Project Idea

One way to go about this is to get children to trace the outline of their own – and friends or parents’ – bodies onto large sheets of paper or cloth which can then be used as patterns to create some wonderful large scale art – or even a life size tapestry or quilt.

The Self-Portrait Project: Picture Yourself

The self-portrait project gives your child the opportunity to explore and create their self-image by using different mediums and materials, and then decide what visual presentations are true to themselves. Your child will express important aspects of their personality and sense of self, and reflect on what they have discovered about themselves which will create meaning in their artwork.

You will need a canvas, paper, paint brushes, acrylic paints, marker or pencil, a palette or paper plates, glue, collage material, paper towels, pencil, glue, pastels, chalk, decorative paper, magazine images, scissors and mirror.

Encourage your child to find a quiet and comfy place where they can sit in front of a mirror and view themselves. Instruct them to begin by sketching the outline of their body or face with a pencil before moving to other materials. Emphasize that their image does not need to be 100% true to life – the idea is to get them to spend time getting to know themselves more intimately without judgement and to enjoy the process of being creative and experimenting with different materials and art mediums. The most important thing to remember is to have fun!

If they are a bit older, you might want to take things a step further and get them to write down in a journal what the process was like for them and explore their feelings around what it was like to see themselves as an art form.

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