“The portrait is generally a form of description, and like all descriptions it is a particularly enjoyable device to reread. Anais Nin is the master of descriptive portrait in the diary. Nin made an effort to be fair and free of malice in her word-portraits of friends and acquaintances, though she was aware of weaknesses as well as talents of those she described. In writing portraits she tried to include as many details as possible about herself and the other person”.
Tristine Rainer The New Diary.

‘The Hand’ is a device I have repeatedly used in writing classes. I have people place their hand on their notebook and draw around their fingers. Then I suggest that they lay down some cards. The card for the thumb is the primary figure for this word-portrait. The other four fingers represent people and events that have impacted on this persons life.

  • Carefully look at the pictures. Make sure to take in as much detail as possible. It is important to look very closely. 
  • What are the different elements? Plants? Buildings? Flowers? Animals? What is the landscape? Are there people in the card? What is the person in the picture doing? What objects do you see? Why do you think they are there? What’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? How do all of these different elements come together into a coherent story?
  • Notice every small and large detail and make a note of it. Absorb the entire card into your mind.
  • Now set your timer for 20 minutes. And start writing remembering that you are not in a writing competition.

“Remember that a portrait done like this is never really finished. You can always recolour it, revise it, contradict it, add to it. The mobile,  evolving quality of the portrait makes it a useful tool in recognizing the psychological process of projection. Rather than just seeing the person on his or her terms you are likely to see a mirror reflection of yourself and gain insights about yourself. By writing portraits you begin to see if the face you are describing is your own”. Tristine Rainer The New Diary