Expressing your current mood through a painted selfie

Jenny Sehlstedt

Jenny lives on the West Coast of Sweden with her husband. When she isn’t spending time in her very messy studio or at work, she sings in a church choir and loves reading speculative fiction, such as, but not limited to, Sci-Fi and fantasy. She is a lifetime Messian, loves single-drawings, and lots and lots of layers!

Hi, dear Messians! Jenny here, it’s such a privilege to get the chance to share a tutorial with you. I love this group so much, it’s such an awesome melting pot of ideas, creativity and friendships.

I thought long and hard on what to share with you and decided, to show you how I use self-portraits to express my current state of mind. I started doing this more consciously during the Season of Story when I was working through some rough patches. We will also create a background with fluid media and use our own “failed” sketches as ephemera.

I am using my favourite colours for this page, for me, it is one way to incorporate myself even more in an emotional way.


  • Old, yellowed book pages
  • Some of your own discarded sketches
  • White gesso
  • Clear gesso
  • Tools for spreading out gesso such as an old credit card, silicone brush or similar.
  • Fluid paints, I am using acrylic inks, acrylic high flow paint and fluid watercolours in colours you are drawn to
  • Acrylic gold paint
  • Gel pens and acrylic markers for decorating the page
  • Something to write on the base layer with, like a waterproof fineliner or a pencil
  • Watercolours – one or two hues, most importantly a really dark colour that you like. I use Payne’s Grey
  • A spray mister
  • A watercolour brush
  • Alphabet stencils for your journaling
  • Scissors, glue stick, I also use a wide, cheap double-sided tape


Tear out some old book pages and spread white gesso thinly over them. The text should be visible but quite muted. I usually gesso some extras in case I make mistakes. Let them dry.

I use gesso on my journal pages too, if I have a pattern or some paint on the background already I use clear gesso on areas that I want to peek through on the page. Let it dry thoroughly!

Now it is time to pour your heart out. Write about all that is currently on your mind, cover the whole journal page with scribbly, messy writing. Write across and over your writing if you need to. For me, this is usually in the form of a prayer. Take note of how this process of getting the feelings out feels in your body and face.

Get your smartphone out and try to really express your what you felt when you were writing in your body and face. How does anger or sadness feel in your body? How does joy feel physically? How do you hold your shoulders? How do you hold your mouth, your eyes and your brows? Take several selfies of yourself in this posture until you feel that you have captured the feeling. This is not the time for taking the most pleasing or pretty photo, feelings are raw and honest. I have added a collage here with some of my emotional selfies, some of them are right out freaky, to help you to be brave! My writing and photo were about my terminally ill mother-in-law and how I am reacting to this situation.

Use the selfie that you choose to draw a simple self-portrait with your dark watercolour on one of the gessoed book pages. We are using a water brush which makes it hard to add fine details, that is good because we have to let go of perfectionism. Just try to capture the main features, it doesn’t matter if the portrait looks totally like you or not, just try to capture the feeling. How do the eyes look, your mouth, the eyebrows? I usually add some colour on the cheeks and mouth. Don’t you just love the texture watercolour makes on gesso? Leave your portrait to dry.

Now it is time to create a fluid background. Mist the journal spread lightly with water, add 2-3 drops of acrylic ink and mist on the drops. Tilt the journal in different directions to spread the colour around. Add some drops of another colour, mist the drops and tilt. Repeat with another colour if you like. Let it dry – naturally or with a heat gun. I also added some drops of liquid after the page dried, using the same process (I didn’t have ink in the hues I wanted) and let it dry.

Look through your scrapped sketches and see if you find one or two that captures your eyes and your current state of mind. Even really “failed” images work, you can always tone them down on the page with gesso or paint. I found a woman that I wasn’t totally happy with at the time, now I quite like it. She represents my mother-in-law as a younger, stronger woman. If you are using wide double-sided tape: roughly cut them out along with your selfie, cover the backs with the tape and fuzzy cut them. (If you are using a glue stick you can fussy cut directly). Try out the images on the page, move them around until you like the composition.

If you want to add some gesso, gold paint or similar before you stick your images down, now is the time to do so. I muted the page down with both gesso and white fluid acrylics. I also added a patterned napkin to add more colour and texture. Stick your imagery down and consider if you need to add some more colour to create contrast. I added some Payne’s Grey watercolour on parts of the page. Keep working on your page, adding marks with gel pens, acrylic markers and paint until you are happy. Save a space for your journaling.

Take note of how you are feeling now when your page is almost finished. How can you express that in your journaling? I usually am in a more positive state of mine when working through my feelings through art. I felt grateful that I have such a wonderful mother-in-law and that I want to celebrate her life. That’s what I added as journaling with an alphabet stencil.

Today we have explored our feelings in writing, in our bodies and in a drawing. We have enjoyed the magic and randomness of fluid paint and used our own discarded sketches and ephemera. I can’t wait to see what you create, please tag me if you post them online.

For inspiration, here is another page I have created with this technique.

Action Steps

Get all your feelings out in writing, take note of how you feel in your body while doing this. Take selfies of you while you are expressing this feeling physically and use these as the reference for your self- portrait.
Have fun and play with fluid colours.