Orange graphic with the words "Andell Family Sundays Anytime"

Andell Family Sundays Anytime—I See Myself In You

December 13, 2021

LACMA is one of my favorite places in the galaxy. Even though it’s right here on Earth, it’s where my imagination soars! When I was a kid, I lived near the museum and the bus didn’t cost much to get there. I only needed a few quarters and a promise to be transported to someplace special. Somewhere inside of myself. I looked at art that I didn’t always understand, but this never stopped me from coming back again and again. Even now, when I am looking at a piece of art online or in person, I let go of all of my worries and lose myself within a brushstroke, the line and light of an artist. I love so many kinds of art, but there is something very special about a portrait. Sometimes I can see myself in the expression, in the feeling that I imagine the artist created. Inspired by the incredible Black American Portraits exhibition, I would like to share the magical journey of creating a self-portrait. 

But first, I have a confession—I am a poet. Usually, words were enough to paint pictures in my mind, but then along came March 2020. I needed something more: more color, more imagination. Something to calm me, to smooth all of the rough edges inside. So, like so many of us did, I found a few tutorials online to try something new. A face. I wondered if I could learn how to draw a face. And to my surprise, I did! Just a few lines and curves, a swirl here and there. It was amazing.

Then the colors came. Blue, purple, green. I love using these colors more than realistic ones: they are so much more fun. And even though the faces I drew looked like they came from another planet, they weren’t—they were me! If I was happy or sad, I could see those feelings on the faces, bright as a nebula. I guess that every portrait I paint—no matter the color—is a mirror. Just like the faces in Black American Portraits. I am looking at people I have never met, but through their expressions, I feel as if I am looking at myself too. Won’t you join me? 

A Portrait in Ten Easy Steps

Step 1

Gather your supplies. Simple stuff—chances are, you have everything that you need already.

  • Paper
  • Pencil 
  • Eraser 
  • Optional: a few cotton swabs to add shadows and to soften lines
  • Optional: watercolor or mixed media paper (basically, thick white paper) 
  • Optional: watercolors, markers, or crayons (if you would like to add color)

Step 2: Head

Draw an oval: flatter on the sides, pointier at the bottom. Don’t worry about making it perfect—the more imperfect it is, the more personality it will have!

Step 3: Eyes 

In the middle, draw two ovals. Add curved lines on top (these will be eyelids). Then draw half-circles and darken them for the pupils. Add half-circles for the balls of the eyes.

Step 4: Eyebrows

Add eyebrows. No big deal—just a few scribbles will do.

Step 5: Nose

Midway between the eyes and the chin, draw a half-circle. This will be the nose.

Step 6: Mouth

Midway between the nose and the chin, draw a line. On top of the line, draw a half-circle. Now, below the line, draw another half-circle. 

Step 7: Neck

Draw to curved lines to create a neck

Step 8: Smudge and Spice

Rub the cotton swab over your drawing to add shadows and soften your lines. Give your portrait some personality: darken some of the lines, smudge the lines to add shadows, add eyelashes, ears, glasses, lots of hair, earrings, doodles, words—have fun! 

Step 9: Color (Optional)

Add color with paint, markers, and/or crayons—whatever you have on hand.

Step 10: Do It Again!

Keep practicing and having fun while you do. Just relax and explore the faces that will appear—and they will, I promise. It's magic!

If you share your artwork on social media, tag us at @lacma! We love seeing your art!

Check out other Andell Family Sundays Anytime activities on YouTube and Unframed

Imani Tolliver (she/her) is an award-winning poet, artist, educator, and producer. She is the author of Runaway: A Memoir in Verse.