What I Learned from Creating a Word Art Self-Portrait

I am always on the lookout for tools that can help us dig deeper and get clarity about decision making.

Recently, I tried a simple art project that turned out to be a the perfect blend of creative expression and self-reflection. In this post, you’ll hear how this tool can help you develop a strategy for business or professional growth.

In my daughter’s middle school Humanities class, the students were recently asked to draw a picture of themselves using words that describe them.

This may sound like an easy assignment. I decided to help her by trying it out, both in solidarity and out of curiosity.

I quickly realized that using words in art is not as simple as it sounds.

What Is a Word Art Self-Portrait?

This type of project can be done in several ways. While looking for examples online, I found a great Word Art Self Portrait by artist Mariel LaBrecque.

word art, self-portrait, Mariel LaBrecque, hand drawing, artistic talent

Another nice image is Calligraphy Art by Achyut Palav, featuring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s name as the lines of a side portrait.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Calligraphy Art, word art, Achyut Palav

Simply put, Word Art is an art piece that is composed of words.

You could use any methods you want: hand-drawn or with computer graphic design; plain pencil or colored pencils; Sharpies or markers.

Regardless of the method, you will likely find that this particular method is fascinating because it is constraining: it forces you to shape the picture using ONLY words. No lines, no free-hand drawing. Every aspect of the drawing contains visible words.

Here are the steps I took to create it.

Step 1: Re-Color

I started with a digital photo and pasted it into Microsoft Word (you can use any desktop site or photo editing software).

In Word, I went to the Format/Crop column and selected Crop to reduce the photo to a 4” x 4” square.

Then I went to Color/Picture Color Options and changed a few settings:

  • Recolor (Black and White 25%)
  • Presets (I picked the left row, 3rd column with Brightness -40%, Contrast 0%)

Here is what the contrast version looks like:

word art, word art photo, black and white photo, high-contrast photo

You can use whatever picture settings you want, but I found that the best outcome was a very high contrast (dark black and bright white).

Step 2: Collate

Next, I printed the contrasted picture and cut around the edges.

I took a separate sheet of plain white paper and used Scotch Magic Tape to attach the contrasted square on the white paper (ink facing the paper).

Then I taped the white sheet to a sunny window. This allowed me to see the contrasted image through the white paper.

Step 3: Trace

With sunlight behind the image, I started to fill in areas of the picture with the words using a sheet of pre-selected terms. You can use any other descriptive word lists or create your own. Here are the words used in my picture:

Thoughtful Ebullient Amazing Adaptable
Problem-solver Loving Introverted Wry
Dedicated Wise Intuitive Aware
Interesting Capable Active Fair
Energetic Forgiving Grateful Supportive
Thorough Focused Cautious Athletic
Respectful Disciplined Practical Original
Adventurous Down-to-earth Sensitive Hospitable
Analytical Responsible Wise Natural
Creative Frank Dazzling Bubbly
Strong Positive (the “O” is my eye’s iris) Honest (the “O” is my eye’s iris) Happy
Brainy Introvert Credible Fantastic
Upbeat Dedicated Generous Joyful
Mindful Kind Cool Warm
Brave Modest Reliable Fearless
Innovative Optimistic (the “O” is an earring) Funny Patient
Clever Talented Reliable Fast
Passionate Audacious Positive Talented
Playful Smart Patient Helpful
Elegant Self-reliant Open-minded Jubilant
Artistic Writer Strategic Independent
Bold Clever Versatile Futuristic
Intellectual Focused Reader Prompt
Persuasive Activator Easygoing Idealistic
Communicator Straightforward Quirky Bubbly
Optimistic Practical Friendly Includer
Healthy Empathetic Productive Motivating
Decisive Warm-hearted Gracious Inspiring
Straightforward Uncompromising Hard-working Dependable
Methodical Good listener Effective Sympathetic
Brave Dedicated Inventive Welcoming
Witty Persuasive Caring Genuine
Authentic Dedicated

Here is what the final version looks like:

word art, art project, self portrait, self analysis, creative drawing

Step 4: Analyze

Once I finished my drawing, I found it helpful to do a quick analysis.

I scanned the picture and noticed patterns. I looked for correlations between terms and where I had placed them, how large and bolded the font, and other characteristics that stood out.

Another thing I did was to type the list (see above), organized it into 3 equal columns, and sorted it alphabetically. This provided some great insights, because it allowed me to process the words through the typing process. It also helped me to see which words I had used more than once.

In my drawing, the words I used twice or more included:

  • Brave (stepping into situations that are scary)
  • Bubbly (happy and enthusiastic)
  • Clever (thinking of new ideas quickly)
  • Dedicated (I used this word 4 times; perhaps it’s because I am totally committed to working hard toward my goals)
  • Focused (certain I will reach my goals)
  • Introverted (my personality is more quiet; I get energy by being alone)
  • Optimistic (seeing the best in situations)
  • Patient (can endure difficulties with confidence)
  • Persuasive (have the power to influence others)
  • Positive (a hopeful and confident attitude)
  • Practical (taking real action instead of just talking about it)
  • Reliable (able to be trusted)

This project allowed me to do some self-reflection on why these particular words were important. I also noticed that several words were displayed more prominently:

  • Frank (which means forthright; Frank is also my Grandfather’s name)
  • Innovative (I definitely like to try new things)
  • Writer (a passion I have been putting more effort into)
  • Bold (speaking up about issues even if they’re controversial… about Multi-Level Marketing, Starbucks, and unconscious aggression)
  • Artistic (with projects like this one!)
  • Mindful (see my Minimalist Manager Challenge)
  • Generous (I’m making an effort to give sacrificially)
  • Talented (accepting praise and choosing to focus on my strengths, rather than apologize for my weaknesses)

And one word on the bottom, “Sympathetic,” followed a stripe in my shirt; so it looked more like “Sym” and “pathetic.” This was interesting to note. Perhaps there’s a subliminal message that can be explored further.

Tips for Doing This Project

Recently, I have been experimenting with a variety of artistic and creative projects. The transcendence of this creativity has been really fun to apply in my professional work.

This project forces you to consider the qualities you like about yourself. So there’s some internal work to accepting and receiving praise from yourself. I found that it became an act of self-love to say words that describe myself, and use them to represent who I am.

For this particular project, here are some things I recommend.

  • Use a picture with high contrast. You can easily add contrast to any photo with a basic software program.
  • Keep the original on hand for easy reference while you’re working on your drawing.
  • Make your word list BEFORE you start. It’s really hard to think of words while in progress.
  • Be careful with the eyes, nose, and mouth and take the time to use small or prominent words for those features (such as an “O” for the iris of your eye).
  • To get crisp outlines and sharp edges, use small all-CAPS letters.
  • I prefer pencil because it allows for grayscale (lighter and darker lines), and because it’s easily erasable.
  • Try experimenting with lighter pressure, different sizes of words, lowercase and UPPERCASE, serifs and sans-serifs, cursive and calligraphy, and stretched out words.
  • Consider that this can be more challenging than it seems at first, because the letters in words have a variety of shapes that don’t always fit the negative space in a photo.
  • It can also be difficult because of how the process forces you to reframe yourself and see yourself as others perceive you.
  • Most of all, have fun with the process and don’t be hard on yourself. The final result does not have to be perfect. Step back and look at your drawing from a distance; it will seem more realistic from far away than it will from close-up.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was very pleased with how my picture turned out. This process was also surprisingly self-reflective, which I was not expecting (and why I wanted to share the steps).

Although I used a photo of myself, you could choose a picture that has significance to you. If you own a business, you could draw your company logo or a picture of your staff, or the façade of your workplace.

If you’d rather focus on professional growth, you could use a picture of your favorite or ideal vehicle, a favorite place to visit, or a dream goal (such as travel). Any of these subjects would still make this project accomplish the same goal of applying words to a visual image.

Happy art making!

Are you feeling frustrated with running your service business? Schedule a free 30-minute consult today so we can discuss your challenges.

Grace LaConte is a Strategic Risk Expert who helps service business owners find and fix organizational vulnerabilities. Using her experience as a Risk Officer in the healthcare and technology fields, Grace shares a refreshingly honest approach to uncovering hidden risks and opportunities. Learn more at http://laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Twitter @lacontestrategy.

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