‘Portrait Session’ Is A Drawing Game That Keeps Kids In Stitches

The worse you draw, the better.

by Brett Ortler
An illustration of a man drawing a child

Portrait Session is an impromptu drawing game where everyone in the room sits for a hastily drawn “portrait” on a whiteboard or scratch paper. It is art at its most frenetic and hilarious, especially if the grownups — and kids — are less-than-stellar artists. The activity will heighten your child’s interest in art, get them drawing on the regular, and most importantly, let everyone have a good laugh at the inadvertently Cubist drawing of mom that dad just made. It’s one of the best activities for kids who are creative (and those you want to encourage to be more creative).

Prep Time: Just enough to find markers that actually work

Entertainment Time: 10-20 minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Moderate

What You Need:

  • A whiteboard and dry-erase markers, or an easel with poster paper and markers/crayons
  • A few people (kids, parents, friends, the family pet) to stand in as “models”

How to Play:

Start by determining who is going to draw first, and who will stand as their subject. You’ll want to tilt the easel out of the line-of-sight of the person being sketched, as half the fun is seeing what the final portrait looks like. It’s often best if a parent draws first ⏤ that way they can set the tone, crack jokes, and make the game lighthearted.

I make a big production of telling my subject how and where to sit, though naturally, you’ll want them to be comfortable. To make things more fun, I often have them tell me what to add to the picture — recent requests have included pirate ships and lightsabers. The sillier, and more difficult, the better. Even if you’re a great artist — and I’m certainly not — the point is to serve as a fall guy and set the bar very low. That gets them giggling and excited to show off what they can do.

Try to draw your portrait quickly, within a minute or two. As you draw, preface the big reveal with a running commentary of just how goofy things are looking. I tend to apologize profusely and say things like, “Oh man, this looks terrible.” Not only does it lead the kid to expect a bad drawing — as well as encourages them to laugh — but it also helps them avoid taking the final masterpiece literally/personally when you make the grand reveal. In true Richard Lewis, self-deprecating fashion, I turn the easel around and they usually crack up wildly (or at the worst say, “What IS that?”). If you’re playing with more than one child, switch “subjects” after the first portrait and quickly do another sketch. Don’t want anybody left out.

Now, it’s the kid’s turn to play da Vinci. Once they are comfortably situated behind the easel, strike a funny pose — or two or three. You want to make sure it’s one they want to draw and that you can hold until they’re done. And while you deliberately drew poorly, encourage them to do their best but give them free reign to make the portraits silly. When they’re done, “ooooh” and “ahhhh” over their accomplishment and giggle at any eccentricities, but be sure not to criticize them or make fun of their work. You’re not looking for artistic mastery here, after all. Plus, after a few rounds, you might be surprised just how much better their work looks than yours.

Wrap Up:

Portrait Session is a quick, fun way to get your kids drawing and thinking creatively. And if you’re as bad of an artist as I am, it’s a fun way to use your lack of artistic talent to keep your kids in stitches.