To start, invite each person to place the paper in front of them and hold the pen.
Instruct each person to look only at their partner and draw their face, head & shoulders on the paper.
The entire drawing experience must be completed without looking at the paper.
Allow 30 to 60 seconds to complete the portrait.
When ready, invite each person to share the portrait with their partner.
Invite your group to reflect on their experience.
How To Play Narrative
This is a classic partner experience that packs a lot of punch for its simplicity.
Your first task is to equip every person in your group with a clean sheet of paper and a pen/pencil.
Divide your group into teams of two to form pairs. Take a look at Getting Into Pairs if you’d like to use a fun, random way to do this.
Invite each partner to face the other, perhaps sitting down and laying the paper in front of themselves. As there will be drawing, it will be necessary for people to lay the paper onto something solid, like a table or a stiff book. Make sure people are prepared in this manner before you continue.
With pens in their hands, facing their partner, instruct each person to draw the likeness of their partner’s face, head and shoulders onto the paper.
But, the most critical aspect of this task is to complete the portrait blind, that is, without looking at one’s paper as the drawing is accomplished.
To be clear, every person must remain fixated on looking at their partner and drawing their likeness as best as they can without ever looking down at the paper to see what they are doing.
You can expect a lot of initial groans and exasperations, but very quickly your group will settle into their task.
Allow 30 to 60 seconds for the artwork to be created and then invite people to stop and look down at their paper for the first time. The room will be filled with bursts of surprise, laughter and awe.
The pairs will need no prompting to share their experience with their partners. As some of the chitty-chat starts to calm, return your group’s focus back to you and facilitate a guided reflection of what just happened.
You could present the exercise as just a fun, two-minute energiser to quickly raise the energy of your group.
Or, if you can find a few extra minutes, choose to lead an insightful conversation with your group perhaps starting with some of the questions described in the Reflection Tips tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
Pencils and pens work best because they can be used to draw the finer elements of the subject. To this end, discourage the use of textas or thick markers.
Observe the groans in the room when the group realises that they are about to draw a portrait of their partner. It is rare for any person to relish this experience often because of the narrative we hold inside our heads that says we are not artists.
This is a wonderfully fun exercise to enjoy and to heighten our group’s observational skills. Quite honestly, I think most of us cruise through life on auto-pilot with ever really noticing what’s going on around us. Take a look at some of the optional exercises described in the Variations tab to explore this topic further.
As a nice way to conclude the exercise, ask each person to write three words on their partner’s portrait that describes this person in a positive way. For example, my most recent blind portrait – drawn by Phil Brown from High 5 Adventure Learning Center – added the words Engaging, Kind and Funny. Thanks Phil 🙂
You could integrate Blind Portraits as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of others as much as build positive, trusting relationships.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Build Positive Relationships
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The study of one object – at the expense of all else – is the very essence of mindfulness. For some members of your group, this will come easy, while for others they may report that they found it very hard to not look away from their partner. There are a variety of reasons for all of these circumstances, so take the opportunity to invite your group to reflect on useful strategies to build their mindfulness muscles.
Also, as noted in the Social-Emotional Learning tab, the nature of this partner exercise is so intimate, you may discover abundant opportunities to explore certain social and interpersonal skills such as vulnerability, intimacy, self-expression, and compassion.
For example, this exercise could spark a conversation about empathy for others insofar as how one responds to seeing an image of themselves drawn by a partner, ie some people may be sensitive to the way certain physical characteristics are portrayed by their partner. Observing social cues and navigating tricky situations will all be ripe for the picking.
One At A Time: Form small groups of 3 to 5 people. Taking turns, one person is nominated to be the subject while all others draw their portrait. Enjoy the wide variety of styles generated for each person.
Random Objects: Display any object in full view of your group, and ask each person to draw this object on their paper. Start with very simple line drawings of a house, for example, and build up to more complex objects such as the classic bowl of fruit.
Never Leave The Page: Instruct each person that as they draw they cannot take their pen off the page, ie the entire portrait is created in one continuous drawn line.
Truly Blind Portrait: Turn each pair back to back with each other. Then, armed with pen and paper, repeat this exercise in one of two ways – with and without looking at one’s paper.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, describe the task and then allocate each person to a small breakout room of only two people. Instruct each person to switch or pin the video of their partner on their screen, and allow up to 60 seconds to draw the blind portrait. Clearly, an honour system applies here because as the facilitator, you can not know if someone chooses to sneak a peek at their paper or not. Upon returning to the large group (or before, depending on the size of your group) ask each person to hold the portrait in full view of their camera for all to see.
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Useful Framing Ideas
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you believe this? Here’s an exercise that will put this notion to the test because it will challenge you to relay what you’re seeing onto paper…
There is something powerful about the task of transforming ideas that rattle in our head into words on a paper. The process which our brain undertakes to construct these thoughts into words can be extremely difficult and sometimes, revealing. Let’s explore this difficult process in our next exercise…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun partner drawing game:
What did you first think when you realised you were about to draw your partner’s likeness?
What was the most challenging part of the whole exercise?
Were there aspects of your partner that were difficult to capture accurately?
Did you surprise yourself at all?
Do you think your portrait looks a bit like you? What elements capture your essence?
Where did you primarily focus your attention?
Day to day, do you think we notice things around us much? Why? What’s the impact?
The inspiration for Blind Portraits was first sourced from my experience at an international camp conference. I still have my partner’s portrait of me and no, it does not look anything like me! Click here to view a more recent portrait.