“New year, Same You”//A Creative Self Portrait Exercise

“New year, New Same You”

Ah, the New Year slippery slope of change. Resolutions. Diets. Words of the year. Workout challenges.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a fresh sheet of paper or a blank canvas. And that’s exactly what a new year can feel like. A fresh start.

But it can also feel a bit like a waiting game. We’ve turned the page on the calendar year, done all of our intention setting, and mapped our goals. And then, the end of the first week of January comes and we’re still .. us.

Dangit!

Ok. This is all a little tongue-in-cheek. I do some of these waggle dances during the new year season too. But after my years of unblocking my creativity, and thus my passion, sense of purpose and a deeper spiritual calm, I do things a bit differently now. I’ve learned that the NYC ball drop doesn’t give me a new me. But it does give me a bookmark in the story my life is still writing. It gives me an intentional stopping point to reflect.

Reflection shows me that at the end of something–a journey, a year, a course, a friendship–I’m still me, but I’m me with some new tools in my fanny pack.

I remember when we sold our house and moved into our 32 foot trailer for a year of travel. I thought that I would automatically be different. More outdoorsy. More fit. More fun. More creative. I quickly learned that the problem with this way of thinking was that I was still taking one piece of luggage along on the journey … me.

This year, as we moved from 2022 to 2023, I felt the pull of the new year, but in a different way. Instead of feeling like I needed to set a baseline of intention to move forward, I felt like I wanted to begin in a backwards-looking posture. One of gratitude, honesty, and even celebration.

A lot can happen in a year! And if you’re like me, without some tools to tangibly look at where I’ve been, where I’ve grown and what I’ve learned, I can have a deep case of amnesia. I quickly forget all the back roads of the 12 months in my rear view mirror that led me to who I am today. If I begin with reflecting backwards, the journey ahead feels a lot more sturdy and a lot less daunting.

And, on a side note, after nearly 5 years of intentional creative unblocking, I believe that this work makes these sort of transitions a bit more gentle. Why? Because my creative spiritual work leads me to do this kind of reflection on a regular basis. I don’t feel like I have a backlog of unexamined experiences, emotions, mindsets and motivations heading into a new year, because I unpack these on a regular basis, both by myself and in community. That right there takes a huge load off of feeling like I have to have all my “ish” figured out before I head into a new season.

So there’s the backstory. You ready to jump into this creative self-portrait exercise? Let’s go!

I recently led this exercise for my Artist’s Way Alumni Group. These creative self portraits ask you to look back over 2022 to gather words which you will then interpose onto an image; a self-sketch-that will represent what 2022 felt like for you. After looking backwards, you will look forward, choosing some hope words for 2023 and interposing these onto a separate image.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A journal or piece of paper.

Any photo, calendar or journal apps on your phone.

Some paper and any medium you’d like to use … colored pencils, crayons, water color. One of my participants even did this in collage form.

You can use a blank sheet paper to draw your self portrait, or download and print one of these forms:

https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/FeNk5TRgSy8kyBGm4Iq3

https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/PEowo3xCScSdYsZs73yL

  1. Before we start, stand up and take a deep breath in. Then take a few minutes to shake your body out: arms, legs, bounce, wiggle. Whatever feels good to you! We know that movement helps us connect to memory, so we want to activate that part of our subconscious before we begin gathering words. Now sit down and take one more deep breath.
  2. Grab a journal or piece of paper. You’re going to spend about 20 minutes collecting words to represent each month from January-December of 2022. Take a look over each month through pictures, your calendar, your journal app and write a word/phrase/impression to characterize each month. If the month was full of grief or confusion or struggle, donโ€™t shy away from it. Write it down in a word or phrase that feels true to you. If the month was full of joy, travel, adventure, and growth, write that down. This is your sketch; your visual map of 2022. I also recommend that you turn on music while you do this. Limit yourself to 20 minutes.
  3. After we have gathered our 12 words or phrases, we are going to begin to overlay them on our self portrait through imagery. This could be in her clothes, in her hands, in whatโ€™s around her, in the larger scenery. If you unpacked a lot of baggage one month, you may want to draw an overflowing suitcase. If you had a month full of joy, draw a sun above her head. If your year felt heavy, put on some black sunglasses. Her clothes, surroundings, environmentโ€ฆ itโ€™s all up for grabs. Spend about 20 minutes on this.
  4. Next, letโ€™s begin to set some hopes for 2023. Take out a new, blank model form page or blank sheet. In your journal, Write down 12 words of hope for 2023. Here is a question you can ask yourself as you write: โ€œWhat are my favorite things about being me?โ€ You know the best parts of you. The parts that get activated when you are in flow. The parts that show up for other people in health and with joy. The parts that are deeply connected to something bigger than yourself. The parts that serve through your work with excitement. So as you write your words, ask yourself โ€œWhat are your favorite things about being you?โ€ and set your 12 words of intention from there. Take no more than 10 minutes for this. Speed kills the censor, so you want to be quick.
  5. Now represent those 12 words on your second sheet. Does your sketch need a flower crown or a passport? Does she need to be surrounded by books or bubbles? You decide. Let the words guide you to imagery. Donโ€™t overthink it. If an image comes, draw it. If you feel like you’re no good at drawing, draw it anyways. This is a sketch for you, not a piece of art for public consumption.
  6. Take a look at your two self portraits. What do you notice about each? What do they show you? You may want to take some time to journal as you reflect on each image.
The beautiful, creative women in my “Artist’s Way Alumni Group”

This is a great exercise to help you see how far you’ve come and all the ways you’ve learned, grown, fought, wrestled, served. It’s so easy to forget the highways we’ve traveled that have put fresh wind in our hair.

When I did this exercise, my 2022 self portrait looked forced and chaotic. I used the model form I provided above and the drawing felt rigid. When I did my 2023 self portrait, I freehand drew and the picture came out so rounded, colorful and full. It now sits above my desk as a reminder of what I hope for in 2023.

Some of the women in the Alumni Group represented themselves through shapes. Some through a torn out picture. Some through drawn words and even intentional rips in the page.

This can be whatever you want it to be! Let the experience take you where it wants to.

And if you can gather a few other women and do it in a group as we did in the Artist’s Way Alumni Group, it can be really powerful to see what others come up with and share as you reflect and dream.

I hope this creative exercise helps you move into this new year with hope, showing you that you are the same you, just with new tools, new insights, new experiences to help you shape 2023 into something beautiful!

And if you feel like you need a community to move into 2023 with creative intention, my Artist’s Way Winter Cohort begins February 2nd.

Come join us!

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