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#HowlAtHome: Activity 3
Self-Portrait Photography

January 22, 2021

January 22, 2021

Creative Art Activities in a Time of Social Isolation

The Art of Portraiture:
Gail Thacker Leads Activity #3

We’re putting together arts activities inspired by our signature Vega Arts Workshop Series. Anyone can do it! No background in art-making is necessary to complete these activities using simple, low-cost materials found in your home, or easily acquired at essential services locations as well as online retailers. A new activity will be shared every two weeks.

Whether at home or at the theatre, I always look for inspiration outside of the everyday or “normal”—a starting point for the image of myself I want to capture. First, what is my idea? I find inspiration by looking at paintings and photography—work by masters like the painters Titian and John Singer Sargent, filmmaker and photographer Steven Arnold (a protégé of Salvador Dalí), or 1920s avant-garde photographer Claude Cahun. I draw from fine art with the thought of creating a one-time scene for the camera or a fairy-tale-like character. This is only the beginning; it is truly the power of play that turns the idea into your own. Allow yourself to explore without fear of what someone else will think. Approach it like a smart child: fearlessly. —Gail Thacker

Tag photos of your artworks on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #howlathome and #howlhappening to share your creations with us and connect to everyone who Howls at Home! Please email an image of your final project to Katherine Cheairs, Howl education director, at katherine@howlarts.org.

Activity #3—Self-Portrait Photography
Identify a theme for the portrait. Select a prop, garment, or setting that tells a story or creates a character from your imagination. Think about how lighting and the position of your body can create a mood and add to the portrait. Should there be props or personal items in the foreground or background that can help tell more of the story? Choose a photographic method with a timer. Take a few practice shots with yourself in the frame. Take a closer look to identify adjustments, additions, or changes that might enhance the portrait. You may take many images before landing on the one that resonates most, so have fun!

Key Themes: Imagination, Mythology, Play

Pro Tips from Gail Thacker:
What kind of visual mythology can you build with what you know and have seen? What can you cut or draw on? What would you dare to wear that is fantasy-based? I draw from early black-and-white films with lighting that has long shadows or only illuminates one side of the face. I move my light source, place a lamp on the floor with the shade off for effect. I use wigs, and I’ll draw on my face using makeup, or put layers of nylons over my head to create a character. Self-portraits can reveal something surprising. Feel! Don’t think too hard. Have fun.

Polaroid, film, DSLR, or smartphone camera with timer capability
Tripod or flat stable surface for camera placement
Light source—sun, clip light, lamp (with or without shade)


Compelling use of a key prop and camera angle to communicate a story.
Gail Thacker Self Potrait w bike Polaroid
Using a prop, mask, object in the foreground, and angle of the body to shape a compelling narrative.
Gail Thacker and Tabboo! portrait
The full-body portrait with dramatic key lighting from the side.
BW Photo of Reclining Figure
The facial expression, the gesture of a hand, a glint of light across the shoulder create high drama and affect.
Gail Thacker, Jorge Clar for #howlathome
Makeup, balloons and diffused lighting mark the essence of play.
A compelling garment and diagonal lighting from the side plays with the interior and exterior mood of the subject.


Gail Thacker, Rafael Sanchez at Home, Raw light bulb front left Polaroid 665, 1997

Gail Thacker, Self Portrait with Bike, Double exposed, clip lights R & L front, Polaroid 665, 1996

Gail Thacker, Stephen Tasjian (Tabboo!) at Home with One Clip Light, Fuji 3000, 2015

Gail Thacker, Walter on Bed with Clip Lights, Polaroid, 2012

Gail Thacker, Our Blood of Yuko on Couch, 2-minute exposure with one clip light with no other light source at night, 2004

Contributing Artists: Terry Arts, Silvia Sanza, Susan Supercharged, Joyce Miller, Sal Schiciano, Nicole Bliss


January 22, 2021
Gail Thacker, Jorge Clar for #howlathome