Qalballah #sketch52 week 1: self portraits

The wonderful homeschooling homesteading blogger Mama who pens at has launched a 52 week sketchbook challenge – wanna come play?


I am an art school dropout.  It was fun until I realised that everyone was really taking themselves 100% seriously, really all the time.

The penny dropped about the limited future earning potential of the average sculptor, and seeing as although whilst at school I might have been “good” at art, in a specialist college I was scraping “OK” at best, and I wasn’t going to be the next Damian Hirst.  I was going to be poor.

I don’t like art that much.  So I decided not to turn up at my hard-fought-for place at Glasgow School of Art, my father went purple and said “Tesco’s checkouts…” followed by various other rage-filled doom-laden proclamations…

…a few weeks later, I started on a graduate scheme in Fashion Buying and Merchandising.

Pencils and paint were replaced by a calculator and a tape measure, grotty studio by West End offices, transport cafes by Michelin restaurants, charity shops by sample sales.  Full wardrobe, monthly salary, the beginnings of access to credit, dates with men with money… Good decision.

But that was then.

Now I’m a homeschooling Mummy, I have a super bright seven and a half year old to nurture and inspire.  This sketchbook challenge really appealed to me as daughter, husband and I can all do it together, giving daughter a different type of group learning and experimenting experience.  Daddy is a fantastic fast cartoony sketcher.  Lots to discuss, plus the associated Facebook and Flickr groups give us access to many more contributors for comparison and contrast…

So here’s our week one efforts – challenge theme: “self portrait”:

Self Portrait: Daddy #sketch52
Self Portrait: Daddy #sketch52
Self Portrait: Mummy #sketch52
Self Portrait: Mummy #sketch52
Self Portrait: Girly #sketch52
Self Portrait: Girly #sketch52

Blimey, squint and I look just like Ed Milliband, how pertinent for today (in my portrait not real life!).

I am also going to using the weekly theme as another catalyst to get daughter to also express herself via some kind of writing challenge on the week’s theme.

She can be VERY still waters run deep, which when combined with the Aspergers way of assuming everyone knows what you know, it’s sometimes hard to work out exactly what’s going on under the lid.

I know she’s only a kid so I’m not expecting outpourings, it’s more that due to her sensory problems and what she has to ‘accept’ and put up with in that way, she is prone to believe that nothing can be changed about how she feels and ‘put up and shut up’ is the only way.

I’m not a “let’s talk feelings” type of gal generally but when you’ve had a kid who has self-harmed, you talk feelings. Regularly.

As her Mum and her teacher learning facilitator, I know that if daughter reads a question on a piece of paper asking her to write something, she will share things that she would resist sharing verbally, almost without realising.  Or maybe she realises but she doesn’t mind as a written response is complete and finite rather than something where she’s opening herself up to be further explored and questioned as in a conversation.  Not sure.  Pen and paper just seems to illicit a better naive openness.

I also benefit from formally testing out how I communicate with my little Aspie girly and spending dedicated time trying to appreciate better how she views things.

I won’t share all of these, but today’s worksheet to accompany the self portrait is quite  interesting…


When I asked daughter to look in the mirror and describe her face, I couldn’t get her particularly interested in using words like ’rounded’ or ‘pale’, her response was to describe her face quite abstractly as “an amazing intelligent thing of earth, a crazy weird and unknown thing of earth” referring to the concept of a human face and how it has evolved the way it has.  I would have been happy with chubby and filthy dirty.

Next attempt – outside and inside – was a bit better more what I expected, but for one enchanting comment: she said that on the outside she looked ‘sneaky’ and when I asked her why she said that it was because you can only see her skin and it hides all the amazing clever things going on inside her body, like her bones, veins, organs etc… plain smooth skin hiding all that complexity and wonder – sneaky indeed eh?

It is fascinating that she is completely adamant that her friends would not use different words to describe her than she would use to describe herself and disappointing that ‘a lot of problems’ still features and merits outlining.  She said the words she used to describe herself were the words her friends had used to describe her… not sure if this is to do with the lack of theory of mind that Aspies are claimed to have, or an age-appropriate lack of self awareness or opinion about herself?  Being a problem is part of the school playground legacy which still affects her deeply.

My turn, I deliberately chose to say she was golden and peachy (referring to that sneaky skin) as these are abstract describing words, and I had barely finished writing before she pointed out she is literally neither.  However language like that amuses her greatly once she is clear what is meant.

This was a great big leap forward in our long slow journey back to health and happiness, she held onto a pencil for at least an hour without having a meltdown that it felt bad when it got too warm; when she couldn’t get her nose right, she got very angry but she didn’t destroy the picture and she got herself back under control very quickly and patiently made several attempts; and for the first time ever, she loudly and happily proclaimed that learning at home is the best.

Roll on week two: the sky!

6 thoughts on “Qalballah #sketch52 week 1: self portraits

  1. I miss art in today’s schools! That’s what’s missing in America’s public schools. Did ya ever notice that when art was cut dropped, school shootings popped up all over the country? hmmmmm


    1. OMG! Do you really not have art lessons in US public schools? That is AWFUL. Fortunately, to my knowledge, art clings on in the UK national curriculum but the full therapeutic and pastoral benefit of creativity is not at all understood by government… x


  2. Wow!

    I’ve not read your posts for a while as life has conspired against me in many ways over the last few weeks. Plus I have another distraction on top of work-related stuff…

    Off to talk to some publisher-types next weekend re something I’ve had on the back-burner for years – prepping for that is a bit scary plus taking up quite a bit of time I’ve found I’ve not got, having lost a good friend in the last month and trying to do my best to be a good neighbour and friend to my mate (it was her hubby that passed away).

    Will get sorted before I have to head into London next Thurs as I just have to…

    Totally got this one, even if I don’t have any Aspies contact in my own life 🙂

    Good on you for finding something you can connect to with your daughter: it must feel so brilliant when something clicks 🙂

    Just keep going and finding things that work for the two of you: at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

    Good luck xxx


    1. So sorry to hear about your friend, but very exciting that you are off to meet with publisher types – don’t be scared – as my Mum always says: remember we all go to the loo 🙂 good luck!!


  3. I love the way your daughter described herself. It makes perfect sense to me and she was very logically perceptive I think.

    What a great project for your whole family to work on. 🙂


    1. Yes, daughter’s way of looking at the world always has me nodding in eye-opened agreement…

      I think it’s a great project for any family to work on! There’s a few families who’ve already taken up the challenge and the drawings are great to see.

      Liked by 1 person

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