Creating self portraits through blind drawing

Hello lovely Messians, Vanessa here for the last time in 2016. What a year it has been, no? For me it was a year of change, of adapting to new surroundings, of letting go of certain things and embracing others. Transition years like this one are difficult for me. But they also help me learn a lot. I am curious to hear how your year was? Was it similar to 2015? Did 2016 bring new connections, changes and opportunities or simply more of the same?

Let’s take stock of our year. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the past and what it has brought us. To bring us closer to our feelings, to really be in touch with ourselves, I propose we do a blind drawing self-portrait. Blind drawing can definitely seem daunting at first, but it quickly becomes an interesting and intuitive was of documenting your feelings. Most artists use blind drawings in their work as a way of loosening up before making their paintings or other forms of art (see the work of Caitlin Metz as an example).

We are going to be thinking of this year’s gifts when we draw our faces. So let’s start with a tissue paper background. If you know me you know I love to do this! Just pick out some colours that go with the emotions you want to convey and cut or tear out a few pieces.


Since we are in December, I added a few tissue papers that go with the season! Layer them onto your page and glue them down using matte medium (or Modge Podge if you like that better). It’s important that you use a wet glue that can seal the tissue paper because we will be drawing on it afterwards. You can also use a coat of clear gesso to seal the tissue paper.


Once it is dry we will be doing our self-portrait on it. Now, if you have never done blind drawings before, I recommend you try it out on a loose sheet of paper. Because you may not like what you make at first, you might not want to go ahead and do it in your journal without some practice. You can do these drawings with a variety of tools.


To show you how this works, I am using pieces of scrap paper that are leftover from the journals I make. The tool you use gives a different effect so to compare I photographed them side by side. My way of doing things is to dip the water soluble pencil in water and start drawing.


Here is how you do a blind drawing: you put your pen/pencil down on the page and draw a face 1- without ever looking at your page and 2- without lifting the pencil/pen off the paper. This takes lots of practice but is so much fun to try. Sometimes you really get some happy surprises, sometimes it looks awful!


I love the wet/dry parts of the drawings. The more you do of these, the less stressed you become about not looking at your page when you draw. Also, remember that once it is done, you can add to your portraits. You eventually develop a go to method of working. In my case, I always start by drawing the left eye, then the nose, mouth and then I come back up for the face and right eye. Experiment with different ways of going about drawing your face.


Take the time to try different pens or pencils. I also tried it with a graphite stick. Once you’ve loosened up and tried different media, it’s time to draw your self-portrait in your journal. In my case, I am using a huge A3 journal. That is a lot of blank space! So I decided to use a big graphite stick for thicker lines. I placed it in the water and did my main portrait. Here is the result:


As you can see, I didn’t stop after my main figure. I wanted to illustrated the many faces of me. 2016 was a year of transition for me; some good, some difficult, some ongoing. So all of these faces are me.

gm-vol-drawblind-8They are my reactions to all of the events of the last year. As I was drawing each one, I was holding the idea or emotion I wanted to convey in my mind. This way you let your intuition guide you as well as your other senses since you are not using your eyes. The main figure holds her blessings in a flower crown upon her head.


I love the surprises that this method gives you. It allows for mistakes, for ugliness that becomes beautiful. I definitely prefer working small when I am drawing these faces. Even with the big graphite stick, working big wasn’t as fun as drawing these small figures.


Once you are done, you can go back into your portrait with a black pen or another tool and add to your faces. In doing that you can put emphasis on certain parts of the drawing and highlight elements that speak to you. Try adding water to some parts of the face if you are using a water soluble pencil. Or use the side of the pencil instead of the tip. Have fun with it but also take a few moments to reflect on the gifts that 2016 has given you.

One of my greatest gift was the opportunity to interact with you in the Get Messy community. It has been a true pleasure and honour to be here and I hope that you have found inspiration in these tutorials throughout the year. I am thankful for all of you! Now, to your journals!


Vanessa is an archaeologist and an artist. She oscillates between these two poles of her personality and explores the many iterations of her reality in her art journal. She loves to share her art and process with others.


  1. Melody Willoughby

    since i was first introduced to blind portrait drawing i have been fascinated. it really helped with “getting over” perfectionism.i especially love the way you speak of being aware of how you feel and drawing.

    • Vanessa Oliver-lloyd

      It is really a great exercise, it even loosens the muscles for painting!

  2. Katie Smith

    I tried, V, but i just couldn’t bring myself to draw without looking! 😀

  3. karen davis

    I loved it! It is addictive 🙂

  4. S Thoolen

    LOVE THIS! I’m in love with this blind drawing technique and love the idea of the blind drawing selfportrait. This is the first tutorial I read on get messy and it got me thrilled and ready to get creative again! Thank you!

    • Natalie Strong

      This was also my first getmessy tutorial! So great, right?!

  5. Natalie Strong

    I just tried this for the first time… instant addiction!!! I’ve been looking for a way to get abstract about faces. Now I have one!!

  6. janepierrepont

    Flippin’ LOVE this! Absolutely brillian! I think this could become an addiction for me! Thank you so much for the tutorial x