Watch this video to see 'Surrealist Free Drawing Introductions' in action...

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The purpose of 'Surrealist Free Drawing Introductions'

Creative take on doing intros that can help students to know one another and challenges perfection paralysis.

Activity description

  • Useful for
  • Preparation
  • How to do it
  • Duration
  • Adaptations
  • Examples

Building community online, recognizing different ways of knowing and creating, kicking off a creative project.


  • Ask participants to bring paper and pen(cil).
  • Decide which constraint(s) you will give.

Start with a short description of free drawing and be very clear that this is about looking at things from a different perspective - we are not going for perfect portraits. You can give examples from surrealist automatism and surrealist techniques. You may also want to share examples of surrealist portraiture but note that those examples are often more polished than what would be expected in this exercise. 

Share your screen with visual examples of these and draw conceptual connections to free writing, as many may be familiar with this. The surrealists were known for using a variety of methods and techniques to get their results; so next, you will describe a technique for your participants to use in their portrait drawing. Techniques often introduce some element of constraint to the process. You can use one technique or layer techniques together. Some ideas for techniques can include: 

  • A short time limit
  • Drawing with your non-dominant hand
  • Drawing without lifting your pen/pencil 
  • Drawing with your eyes closed

Next, decide how your participants/students/artists will be divided by pairing people up, grouping them off, or having them do self-portraits. If the group is very large you may consider using break-out rooms.

After having completed the drawing, have participants share their portraits of one another by holding their drawing up to the camera and talking about their process. This can be done during the session so that real-time reactions from the participants can be captured, afterward in a discussion board/semisynchronous space like a Slack or Discord chat, or in a hybrid format where some are shared in real-time and some are shared afterward.

  • Surrealist demo: 3-5min 
  • Drawing time: 1-5min
  • Report out: 0-15min

Estimated total time 4-25min

Time for this activity can vary depending on the size of the group; if time is used as one of the constraints; if the debrief is done in the session or online afterward.

Here are some adaptations and alternative tools: 

  • Instead of just doing this as a one-off activity to get to know one another consider doing it at the beginning of every class. Mixing up partners and using different techniques each time. 
  • If one/some student(s) do not have a camera
    • If there are a large number of students with this limitation consider self-portraits 
    • Have all students shut their camera’s off and draw one another based on descriptions that they give to one another
    • Have students who are partnered with someone who do not have a camera draw symbolic representations of the person’s name
    • Have the student who does not have a camera put a picture in their profile which will show instead of the camera
    • To share the image that they draw have students without a camera
      • Take a picture of their drawing and share the drawing in the chat
      • Describe their drawing and share it later in a discussion board or in a semisynchronous chat space.

Example prompts for each quadrant:

  • You can create content-based prompts for each quadrant. E.g. after a class reading, students can reflect on a key thing they learned, a big question they have, a word or quote they enjoyed, and how the reading made them feel.
  • List 7 things you’ve seen, heard, felt/did, and compose a small drawing.
  • What have you noticed & observed, so what seems important about that data, now what’s needed next.
  • In times of grief/trauma: Yes it is true that [Affirmation]… It is hard because [Despair]… I will always remember/I will never forget [Reconnection]… Now that I have shared my loss, it may be possible to [Active Hope]…
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How do I use these resources?

We have created a welcome video and some introductory text that explains in detail how to use these resources. You can also find answers to some key questions below. 

Yes you can. We have included descriptive text and slides that you can reuse / adapt for this reason. We have suggested some variations for activities to help you make adaptations.

We show how much time an activity should take and what resources you need to help you make a decision.

As we include more resources over time you will have a greater choice of activities and more information about the different contexts within which they work best. 

Any technique can block some people out, make them feel unwelcomed, or be used in a way that privileges some and makes it harder on others.

All of these techniques should be used in conjunction with pedagogies of care and what we call Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

If you try an adaptation of this activity, or try it as is and have interesting results to share, please contribute your adaptation/reflection in the comments or get in touch through social media / email.

Coming soon: there will be room to discuss these activities in private discussion forums in OneHE’s.

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