musings about identity and the way you represent yourself on a layout

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musings about identity and the way you represent yourself on a layout

Hi there,

I hope this topic belongs in this forum, otherwise mods please move to chit chat...

I'm making some photoless (artjournal) layouts where I visually want to tell a story. While looking for elements/symbols that represent that story, I also wanted to have something that represents myself. I was thinking of a female figure, for instance a silhouette of some kind. But the pictures that I already had in my stash did'nt speak to me because they do'nt look like me. Most of them were of young tall thin white women with long straight hair.

Now I could start a google search for clip art of 40 something year old short curvy black women with short curly hair. But then I thought, if I want to represent my house in a layout I don't need an element that is an appartment building with the exact same size, number of floors. I need a square with some windows in it, and on top of that a triangle with a chimney on it. A symbol of "a" house. It is important that the symbol that I choose conveys the meaning I contribute to it and fits visually in my layout, not whether it's an actual representation.

So why would I need a picture of a 40 something short curvy black woman with short curly hair, if what I'm looking for is a symbol of me? So I started to ask myself some questions and I thought I would post them here and perhaps spark a discussion. This is purely about identity, the things that you use to define yourself and are less subject to sudden change, contrary to things like emotions, events, accidents etc.

When you're choosing a symbol to represent yourself, is it important that it looks like you? Are certain characteristics more important then others? For instance: gender, etnicity, age, weight etc.

What about things that perhaps are more on the inside but are of equal of not more importance to your identity? For instance: religion, sexual orientation, health, profession, economical status etc.

Do you use other symbols then a human figure to represent yourself?

Is it nessecary at all to have a recognizable symbol of yourself in a visual story about yourself?

Shanti in the Netherlands, off to ponder...

Interesting questions Shanti...

Here's my take on them. I think when choosing a symbol to represent yourself (myself), I first think of what's MOST important to me and how to easily convey that. I am a new mom (three under three) so although that's not the ONLY thing I am, at this point in my life it's the most important thing, even before being a woman, a wife, a salesperson, a crafter, any of the other descriptors I use for myself. I'm not saying this is right. I actually struggle with this identification regularly because I don't necessarily want my children to be the primary focus of my life. It's just the way it's working out right now.

With that said, I don't think it's important that the symbol exactly represent your appearance unless that's what you want.
I could represent "mom" in a lot of ways but it's finding the version that conveys what I'm trying to "say" the closest.

If you can find that drawing you're referring to, it will convey more aspects of your person, sure. A silhouette of a woman will say "she's a woman" The picture that you're looking for will say "she's a curvy black woman with short curly hair", like you said. Do you want the viewer to know that about you?

You could use the female symbol as well. Or even a string of pearls. Or even the picture of woman that goes on bathroom doors.

To sum up, I think just finding whatever is the most important thing to you will tell us a lot about who you are. Whatever that may be.

Marisa- I see a layout challenge coming out of this: Describe yourself in symbols...

Thanks so much Tiffany for your thought provoking reply.

Perhaps this issue comes up now because at the moment I am struggling with how I am defining my identity. And if you do'nt know who you are how can you choose any symbol to represent you? A layout challenge would be fantastic, the best thing for me right now would be to use multiple symbols/layouts smiley


So weird, I've been trying to reply to your question, Shanti, but I keep getting a message that I'm being blocked by pixelscrapper's web security. Perhaps there is some keyword in my comment that is setting off a filter? It's an innocuous enough comment smiley I'll send you my response in a private message, because it's a great question!

Updated: Nope, won't even let me do that. I've written to Jordan to see what's going on.

@Violet: I hope it gets fixed. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, too!
@Shanti: Very interesting question you pose! I think for me. It would just have to speak to me at the moment as far as art journaling. Sometimes, this may lean more towards she art or just random symbols, something ambiguous or even real photos (nature or candids not necessarily front on facial types) at other times... or painting, misting, and journaling. It seems for me it could differ even from day to day, what ever strikes my fancy at the moment.

excited to see others thoughts on the subject!!! thanks for asking Shanti!

Hi Shanti!

You can make a silhouette of yourself to use!

I mostly use Photoshop and don't know if that's what you're using. I think you could do it with most
programs that use shapes.

Find a picture of yourself, extract it from the background, then fill it with your paint bucket to whatever color
you want and save it as a shape. Then you'll have the exact silhouette that you want without the photo to mess
up your art journaling. It's just an idea, but might be worth a try! smiley

There are so many thoughtful replies but I thought first of a silhouette too! I think it would make a nice signature piece for your journal.

Another vote for the silhouette. If interested I can explain how to do it in Inkscape (Free software you can download). This is a sample of one of My Great Grandsons. Of course you could do a full body silhouette.

Wow, the personalized silhouette thing is a great idea! It would be a cool idea for someone to offer as a service, like the way some font designers offer personalized fonts. You could send in a full-length photo and someone with extraction skills would turn it into your very own art journal silhouette! That could be a good challenge here for us, too.

I'm going to try leaving my original comment again, in case the site is less picky today. smiley

Shanti, that is such an interesting question, thank you for asking it. I love art journaling and I notice I am completely uninterested in any of the many person-silhouettes and "art dolls" out there (even freebies! and I love freebies!) because I don't currently make pages that are about things other than myself (some people like to illustrate a quote or whatever) and none of them ever look like they'd represent me. Just brainstorming now about what I might use to represent myself other than a photo... Maybe an artistic representation of hair swirling across a page (I currently have very long brown/sometimes burgundy hair). Maybe a cool image of an animal that represents whatever part of myself I'm journaling about in that particular layout (caterpillar in a cocoon, fierce jaguar, etc.). Maybe a really abstract face - like just a line drawing of a circle with very elementary features in whatever expression conveys the mood of the layout. Maybe a collage, made up of pieces of images that represent parts of me - like long hair from one place, different body parts like you'd cut out of a magazine, swirling mass of chaos for a brain, etc. Maybe an eccentric vintage stamp of a woman who I have doing something particular - like falling off a cliff, say - because somehow that feels far enough removed that it could symbolize me. I'm white, though, and so are most vintage stamp ladies. When I consider it, I could definitely see myself using a symbolic woman of another race to represent myself as long as my symbol person is doing something meaningful, so that the action is more what is representative, as opposed to the appearance of the woman herself. But I'll totally admit that I have specific aversion to the art journal silhouette ladies and the art dolls because they are all young and skinny and usually wearing flirty dresses, and to me that feels like someone's idea of what women should want to be, or something, and I don't want that anywhere near my work, if that makes any sense.

I don't have any conclusions to draw so far about this. I totally get what you mean about the difference between symbolizing house and symbolizing self. I have not so far tried to symbolize myself in an art journal page, but it's something I will be thinking about from now on!

Edited to add: Yay! It let me post it! I had the words house and self in quotes in the original, I don't know why but they must have set off some kind of filter.

Dear Violet, Shawna, Kathy, Kate and Brenda,

Thanks for the thoughts and ideas! Just quickly replying, I will respond tomorrow when I have more time and a clear head...


@Kathie: thanks so much for the Great tip!!!


I have Inkscape on my computer and have been watching some tutorials on youtube, but have not tried to work with it yet. I do have a little illustrator experience but that was 10 years ago lol.
If it's not too much trouble I would love it if you would explain the process, or point us to a tutorial.

I do'nt know if this is a tradition in North America, but I still have this framed black paper silhouette that is cut with scissors of my younger sister and myself made in the late seventies/early eighties, pretty cool!


Violet's reply gives me a lot of ideas to try in my art journaling. Also: I'm now thinking that I should not try to represent myself too literally. And finally: maybe if we, the users, let the designers know that we feel the images that are made now are too stereotypical , we will see more diversity in bodytype, race etc. I think the designers would welcome such feedback.


It was a tradition here... and believe it or not is making a come back. Only in a slightly different way now. People are cutting them out of vinyl on their Cricut-like machines (wishblade, silhoutte, cameos, etc), and then putting them on the back of the glass inside the frame. So a sort of modern day twist on an old craft/art form. smiley

I do'nt know if this is a tradition in North America, but I still have this framed black paper silhouette that is cut with scissors of my younger sister and myself made in the late seventies/early eighties, pretty cool!

****First of all, excuse my English on this message. I´m used to write in English about day by day matter, but sometime it´s hard to write about more philosophical things - it´s not my first language, and nowadays, I only use it on digiscrapping forums, so I´m not that fluent.

@shanti: I guess letting the designers know is very important. I have a feeling that sometimes the designers design for white skinny Christian woman with children that lives on Northen hemisphere. There are some black skinned dolls over there, but they usually portray children, and it´s really difficult to find kits for hollidays that are not celebrated on US/Canada (like Chinese New Year), from other religions and seing only the opposite side kits from the weather you are is really annoying when you live in Southern Hemisphere (I can´t stand seeing fall kits anymore! Here it´s spring/beginning of summer... And, anyway, fall colors in my country arent those oranges and bright greens)...

Well, back to topic: All your questions are very interesting, specially if you think that what we´re doing is a kind of contemporary art, and art and design representations can have deeper implications that sometimes we don´t realise - and they build what everybody think about how the society is. For example, isn´t it scary that always that a person is drawn in a comic stripe and don´t have this skin colored or that a writer don´t refer to its hair color, most of people imagine this character as white? For me it is. Also, if you really stop to think about bathroom signs, you´ll see how our society still is male-centric.

About self representation: When I leave notes to my husband or my friends, sometimes I leave some doodles too. So I have a fast doodle for myself (that I can show you later - just need to either find one of my doodles and scan, or draw it on my pen tablet), but I only used it in a kind of comic way, never seriously. In the doodle my hair is shorter and isn´t tied - I almost always use it tied like in my profile pic.

But I think another great representation of one´s self can be the use of totemic animals - which is to relate yourself as an animal that is known by the same characteristics as you have (or that you´re trying to represent on that specific layout): Do you protect what is yours like a lioness? Is wise and see far away even in the darkest night as an owl? is a hard worker like an ant? Is a loyal person that is always there for your best friend as a dog? has a community sense as a bee? shows your beauty here and there as a butterfly? runs away from your problems like a chicken? Is slow as a slug? (well, everybody has good and bad features, right?)

You can also asign for you a color, or a color combination, that represents you. Or a letter (maybe the first letter of your bride´s name?) or even a combination of shapes...

@Lorien: I love your answer to this question! It's so thoughtful and I love your astute observations about the art we're creating and the implications inherent in various design tropes. That bathroom sign article was amazing! I feel so happy that I can come to Pixel Scrapper and talk about digital scrapbooking and also talk about real, deep stuff. What a great community!

And great initial question, of course, Shanti; you started it all. smiley