The Imperfect Portrait Experiment

I’m all too familiar with Imposter Syndrome. The feeling that I am doing something that I really am not qualified to do and that it is only a matter of time until somebody finds me out!  However, whilst I have to a certain extent made friends with this nagging self-doubt in most areas of my life, it still catches me out once in a while.

“Are some lines self conscious?” My main exhibit at the Finding Lines exhibition

In the summer of 2017 I was delighted to be invited to exhibit some of my artwork at the fabulous “Finding Lines” exhibition at Derby Museum and gallery.  The exhibition was to be a celebration of making marks and featured pieces from the likes of Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso and one of my art heroes David Shrigley. As well as displaying some of my doodles I had been commissioned to draw a 6 foot piece directly onto the wall of the gallery.  On the 10th July, 5 days before the exhibition opened, I found myself with pen in hand, staring at a blank wall as a photographer took photos of me self-consciously fumbling my way through creating my piece.  As I worked, museum staff and talented fellow exhibiters wandered through to take a look at my work.  As I made marks on the wall with my permanent acrylic pens, all I could think was that finally they were going to realise that there had been a mistake and that I wasn’t really an artist who should be exhibiting here!

Whilst I’ve always loved drawing, I never really felt I was any good at it. However, as I have got older and recovered from art lessons at school, I’ve started to realise that the purpose of drawing is simply to indulge in the experience of making a mark, rather than creating something to be judged or rated by others.   Ironically, through the practice of creating art for nobody but myself my drawing has improved and others have liked it more.  It seems that self consciousness is allowed to fall away when there is not a self imposed standard to be met.  I still, however, find the idea of drawing portraits of people incredibly cringe-worthy and a practice that feels laden with risk, embarrassment and shame, both for me and for the poor person who I am attempting to draw.

I decided the only way to investigate this further was to go into the belly of the beast.  So, on the 31st July 2017, I headed to London’s Trafalgar Square ready to draw portraits for anyone who was brave enough to request one.  What would happen if I intentionally put myself in an experience of intense imposter syndrome? What would happen if I simply tried to enjoy making marks on paper to represent my experience of the other, rather than trying to draw them accurately?  What would happen if I publicly celebrated my imperfect attempts to draw others, rather than hide them away in the shadows?

My good friend JP Flintoff (who previously helped me with the Busking Book Launch Experiment back in 2014) came along with a camera to help film and direct proceedings.

Here’s what happened:


Derby Museum’s Finding Lines exhibition is on until the 3rd September 2017.  Entry is free and there are some other fantastic exhibits and collections to explore.
I would like to acknowledge Willy the @antigram who I met at Cannes Lions.  It was his wonderful portraits that inspired the idea for this experiment.