Creating a mixed media self portrait

“A portrait affirms; it gives the gift of self to its subject. It says, ‘Yes, you are worth spending this time over, your story deserves to be told, you should be recorded for you will not pass this way again.”- David Goatley

Hi guys! It’s Riet here and today we are going to enter the powerful world of self portraits. Self portraits allow us to go in depths, give rich layered emotions a canvas, acknowledge our shadows and see our light- the accumulation of who we are. I believe since the selfies self portraits seem to be only reserved for the tortured artists who cut their ears off or live their life with greatest pain (sorry, Frida!) or involve a lot of work but I believe they are a powerful tool for introspection and self understanding. They are for all of us and today we are going to connect our past, present and future with different mediums in one self portrait. Self portraits can be made of many different things: from collage to sculptures, from photographs to wire… so why not in our art journals, right? Let’s jump right in!


  • your art journal of course
  • water soluble pen/ink
  • water filled spray bottle (if you don’t have one you can drip water with your paintbrush)
  • 2-3 colors (can be your favorite colors or colors that appear in your ephemera)
  • your favorite black pen to write
  • glue
  • optional: thread
  • my favorite part: your treasures. Go through your photographs, old notebooks or letters, favorite poems, scraps of paper or fabric, found objects and pick everything that inspires and reminds you of yourself

Before we delve in the past, we will first start to write in the stream of consciousness style – without structure and editing. You don’t need to plan this. It can be a letter to yourself, thoughts about your self portrait and the task ahead of you or just let you hand take the lead. I used a water soluble pen so I’ve been able to spritz water on it. I love when ink bleeds! It’s not important that the journaling is readable! This is just to get into the mood for the process and getting rid of the blank page! Side note: I prepped my page first with gesso and I recommend you do the same.


“Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.”- Chuck Palahniuk

Now that we have a first layer and a base it’s time to think about our past and what details we want to include in our portrait. Is there a story you want to tell, a story about who you were, what shaped you, what made you who you are now? It can be an old photograph that you love, an entry from your journal/diary, a letter that you wrote or a letter that you received, or even the story of an old object that you kept. If you don’t have any of these you can go through a magazine and see if there’s a picture that reminds you of your past. Don’t restrain yourself at this point. Collect everything that inspires this story of you and collect it beforehand! Even if you don’t end up using them all in your spread they can give you ideas and help to stay open minded. I decided to tell the story about the complex and complicated relationship between my absent mother and me. How it shaped me, what it means to me and how I feel about it. I chose three things. One journal entry when I was a child, one when I was a teenager and a letter from a couple of years ago that I never sent off. Honestly they are all very raw and I don’t like reading them often. But I decided to include it nonetheless. This isn’t about showing the best of me. It’s about the ugly truth. I photocopied the journal entries since tearing them out would very likely destroy those old notebooks. I recommend you to do the same. It’s cheap and this way you can preserve the original and alter your copy as much as you want. Time for your action. You can add far more than this. You can go through your memories and pick a special one. You can add photographs of your ancestors or of you as a child, poems or even fabric that reminds you of/are from your past. Maybe you even have an old drawing from your childhood? Don’t overthink this point. If you feel a spark when you hold something from your ephemera in your hands, add it! Trust the spark!


“Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?” – Pablo Picasso

How did my experience shape me and how does the past influence my present? Who am I today? I wanted to choose a picture of myself.  I’ve always been obsessed with self portraits and photography and spent most of my younger years taking pictures of me and studying myself from every angle; studying what I wasn’t able to see in a mirror.  Thus I have plenty of photos to go through. But there wasn’t one that felt right so I decided to go with a blind drawn self portrait. Vanessa showed us how to do it in this tutorial, take a look if you want to do the same! Now it might be a good time to add paint, don’t you think? Since my letter had a bit of pink on it (due several altering processes) and my background was black/grey I decided to stick with those colors, choosing a light peach tone and Payne’s gray watercolor for covering some of my words. You can also use the paint to highlight some words or sentences from your writings! Is there something that needs to stand out? Staying with only 2 or 3 colors (in my case light peach, Payne’s gray and dark blue thread) helps to achieve a cohesive look. Still, I felt like something was missing. I missed a real photograph. Now I know not all are comfortable with photographs. I’d like to encourage you to make an exception for this very personal and layered portrait. I think there is real magic to find in one’s face and it’s very powerful. I went through my photographs again when I found a series of pictures I took from parts of my face when I was 16 or 17 years old. That’s not what I would call present time. But I resemble my mother so much on those pictures and I saw them very fitting for the spread. This is a fluid process. If you feel like “going back”, adding more, then do it! See, that’s the first connection between my past and the present time. Resemblance. As much as I would like to deny it, it’s there. I cut the pictures and glued them down, connecting them with stitches to the word “Mutter” from one of my journal entries, which is the German word for mother. I chose thread instead of pen lines because my mother used to be a tailoress when she was my age in the pictures. It’s also the one thing she was never able to teach me but we enjoyed cross stitching together for many years. So it’s not only finding similarities in a negative/hurting sense but also in a positive. Where can you connect your past and present on the page? Is there a memory that still has an impact on your current life? Further I added this crochet piece since the way of my mother showing me that she cares for me has always been with crocheted gifts like mittens, blankets and scarves. Same with the book pages I added as books are a hobby we share. In the end I also added a bear illustration. For many years I dreamed of bears which I later learnt are a dream symbol for mothers, both positive as negative. I would have definitely used a magazine clipping but bears where nowhere to find! Symbols are a rich tool to tell a story without words. Your favorite animals, animals you feel drawn to or symbols that occur to you in many shapes and forms- they are all linked to you. Make use of them! Now it’s time for your action. If you don’t like to use a picture of you, you might want to add a handprint, just your silhouette or a drawing. Look at the treasures you collected before you started- is there a recurring theme, symbol or imagery? How is it possibly linked to your story? Find your connection. Maybe you want to take notes, add more paint or images you collected. Ask yourself which pivotal moments in your past shaped the person you are today. Are you grateful for these? Remember that positive as negative feelings are both part of your story and they can live side by side at the same time.


“A good portrait ought to tell something of the subject’s past and suggest something of his future.”- Bill Brandt

Now it’s time to think about who you aspire to be. Who do you want to be? We are all work in progress. There are still and always will be ways to improve, to learn. What can you take from your past and present into the future? Which lessons? I decided to choose what kind of mother I want to be to and for myself- the one I needed and still need. I can’t change the past, I can only deal with the present time and decide what I want and wish for myself. I am the one who can provide what my soul needs but also to find a kind of closure. I printed my journaling out to fill some of the blank spots. You might want to add your own handwriting or use magazine clippings to show your future! In my Intuitive Painting tutorial from earlier this year I talk briefly about personal symbols. I added my spirit animal, the raven, asking for his guidance and help but also the all-seeing eye for clarity. Now it’s time for your action. Who do YOU want to be? What wishes do you have for your future? Do you want to free yourself from some chains or find peace in the process? You might want to find magazine pictures that portray what you wish for, how your dreams look like or find a poem that tells exactly what you want. Are you ready to accept your past, acknowledge your present and be open minded about your future? It’s literally in your hands now! Go finish your self portrait! A couple of last words: Your portrait doesn’t need to look nice or pleasant. You are not obliged to cover everything in nice paint. Instead I encourage you to invite the ugly, the truth and the unpleasant in your process. If you feel like tearing your photographs, or adding curse words and black paint- do it! There might be just something that wants to get out in order to heal. On the other hand if you feel like painting flowers in your hair, telling the story of your favorite days spent in nature and want to add lots of glitter- do it, too! I encourage you to find the truth, the essence of who you are and keep remembering that you are very rich and layered and there are many, many stories to tell about yourself! This portrait is just one of many. Much inspiration to you, lovely artists!


Create a self portrait including something from your past, present and future!


Riet lives with her husband near the coast in North Germany where she enjoys capturing her memories and feelings in journals and albums. If she isn’t covered in paint and glue she writes stories or photographs the nature outside her door.


  1. Laura Rahuba

    Wow. You blow me away with your introspection and self-awareness! I’m nervous and excited to do this project!

    • Riet

      I’d say those are exactly the emotions you have when you are about to do something GREAT.
      Thank you, Laura. As always your words mean so much to me!

  2. Kelli CRESWELL

    Wow! I love you page and your process! Beautifully done.

    • Kelli CRESWELL

      *your page

    • Riet

      Thank you so much, Kelli! Will you give it a go? xo

  3. Claudia Anabalon

    I can’t wait to try it and work through the process.

    • Riet

      Enjoy the process, Claudia! Hope I’ll see what you create!

  4. Christine Welch

    This seems like it could be fun…but difficult, we’ll see how this goes!

  5. CIndy Jacobs

    I’ve loved working on this!