Anatomy of a Self Portrait

Anatomy of a Self Portrait

pencilsSo, in the lead up to Christmas I stumbled upon a drawing set I’d been given as a present the previous year; a neat shallow tin of sketching pencils. A really nice gift, I thought, and the kind of nostalgia-laden offering that, for me, had conjured up notions of taking stock and adjusting my lifestyle, i.e.,

‘I used to really enjoy drawing. I should get back to doing some sketches. How long has it been since I’ve done any?’

To which the answer was – half a lifetime ago. I hadn’t picked up a sketching pencil since I was 15 years old.

So when I discovered the set in a draw a few weeks back and realised a further 12 months had passed without my having used it, I decided it was time to do my future self a favour and commit, this year, to rekindling dormant hobbies and carving out space in the diary for some long neglected creative pursuits – drawing, painting, photography, playing music etc. – stuff I’d once enjoyed and yet had somehow unwittingly decided didn’t belong in adult life, or at least my adult life.

So, the image you will find below is my first stab at that.

Micah Yongo Self PortraitIt’s a self-portrait, of course, although a somewhat surrealist one (click on the image for a closer look).

I’d grown a little bored of my blog header and so wanted to create a hand-drawn image that would better reflect me – my interests, influences, inspirations etc. – and then figure a way to incorporate it into this website’s banner (something I’m still working on).

The three guys at the top of the drawing from left to right – for those of you curious enough to wonder – are David Foster Wallace (writer), Saint Athanasius (4th century theologian), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (18th century French philosopher), who have all, one way or another, inspired and informed my thinking in some way since my early twenties (highly recommend their writings).

The roses are Lancashire roses, which are emblems of the county I live in. The cityscape is of Manchester, my hometown. The headscarf is in the colours of the traditional Nigerian dress of my family’s tribe (a rural warrior/farming tribe known as Tiv). And there are various other elements in the picture that I’ll leave unexplained. A little bit of mystery is always more fun, I think.

I took some pics of the drawing at different stages of progress throughout (see below).

side portrait
And this, ladies and gentlemen, was the first part of the sketch I attempted. The result of my first time putting pencil to paper since the age of 15.
I’m a big fan of the artist, Joshua Mays. His stuff was definitely a big influence on this portrait.
David Foster Wallace (left). Athanasius (middle). Jean-Jacques Rousseau (right).
The Hilton hotel, the tall building toward the left of my cityscape, is one of the more notable parts of Manchester’s skyline.
I mostly used pencils and coloured pencils. And then used pens for some of the bolder outlines.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up the hobby through the year as well as rekindling one or two others (click here to check out my photography). So far I’ve been finding the variety to be a really useful way to refresh my creative energies and break up the writing workday. And I’ve sinced learned there’s plenty of research out there to suggest doing this kind of thing can up your productivity considerably.

In fact, according to one Carol Kauffmann, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, taking up a hobby can enhance your creativity, help you think more clearly, sharpen your focus, and improve how you perform on your job.

In other words, hobbies don’t just make you feel better, they help you work better too.

So, what about you?

What hobbies or talents have you drifted away from? And why?

Have you too been neglecting your passions?

And are you willing to bite the bullet and commit some time to valuing them again?

Choosing to do so could be the best thing you do this year so feel free to share your thoughts or experiences below.


  • I LOVE this! Keep drawing, writing, taking photos and drinking in all that life has to offer us. Take time to be still. Take time to dance and run and skip and jump. Take time for those hobbies 🙂 Cheers!

    • Ha, thanks Kaarina! That’s definitely gonna be the aim. A little more childlikeness, and a little more openness to fun, learning and passions is never a bad thing in my book. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Wow, Micah this is beautiful. You are multi-talented! I have zero artistic talent. I do love to decorate our home, and I majored in music (keyboard) in school. I still enjoy playing. In recent years though my love is writing. You’re right hobbies are good for us. Blessings to you!

    • Thanks Deb!! What do you mean you have zero artistic talent – decorating the home IS artistic, as is keyboard playing (something I’d definitely love to learn to do). I’m glad you’ve not allowed your hobbies to slip as I did for a while. It’s so easy to think of them as unimportant but the more I learn and look into it the more I discover about how far reaching the benefits of practicing a fun hobby can be. So I hope you keep doing them, the writing especially (as I get to benefit from that one as well as you ;-))

  • DS

    Enjoyed hearing about what the images represented. As far as a past hobby – for me it’s been exploring new hobbies. It’s energized my life, which is priceless. I hope you can find the same in yours.

    • Thanks DS! New hobbies are definitely a good thing and, like you say, can be so energizing. Some I hope to take up in the future include learning a new language and to play the piano/keyboard. Whether we succeed or not I think it’s the exploring and learning that really enlivens things.

  • Wow! You got some serious skill! Good for you. It’s so amazing that we have to enlist discipline to do the things that bring us pleasure and gratification.

    I’ve been pondering picking up my guitar and keyboards again, but haven’t accomplished it in over five years… but in fairness to me they are in my game room some twenty feet away from where I write and watch TV… sheesh…

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thanks!! But man, Floyd, you’ve gotta dust off those instruments!! They’re such great talents to have and it will surprise you (or at least it really surprised me) how much those activities we think of as merely recreational are actually genuinely productive in the impact they can have on the other (so called) more important areas of life – work, responsibilities etc. I mean, your writing is great now, but you’ll find yourself with so much more energy and inspiration for it with a few guitar breaks here and there 🙂

      But I really like what you say about using discipline in our approach to the things we enjoy. It captures it perfectly for me. In fact, you know what? I think I may have unconsciously believed that being an adult meant not playing or having as much fun as I did when I was a kid (unless with my nephews, niece or godchildren), and that my focus should mostly be working to pay bills etc., but perhaps the only difference between being a grown-up and a child is that as adults we’re supposed to be disciplined and intentional about play and recreation, rather than stop prioritising it altogether. It’s something I’ve been pretty slow on the uptake with but am hopefully learning to appreciate more this year.

  • Lea

    Wow, I don’t know what your work looked like when you were a kid, but it doesn’t look like you lost it.

    I used to draw myself when I was a kid. I still have the sketch pad as a matter of fact. But the last time I made any art was in a college art class. I still have some of the supplies, I know they must be rather dusty.

    Best of luck on perfecting the right header for your blog.


    • Thanks, Lea! Amazing you still have that sketch pad, it must be pretty incredible to leaf through the pages and see the things you did, perhaps even remember where you were and the things that were going on when you did them – sort of like time travelling.

      I definitely think you should dust off those supplies and put some time aside for having fun with the art stuff. I’m finding it can have quite a few unexpected benefits.

  • Wow. I love it! You’re a great artist. Thanks so much for sharing. Have a wonderfully blessed 2016.
    John 3:17

    • Thanks TC!! I really appreciate that 🙂

  • Micah,
    Wow…you’re very talented. Thanks for sharing your artwork and process and I hope you continue to enjoy your creative gifts. Praying you have a joyful and blessed year 🙂

    • Thank you, Dolly! That means a lot 🙂

  • Good job, Micah, for jumping back into an old hobby/art form! It was fun to hear all the details behind the men in the background, the Nigerian head-dress, roses, city-scape, etc. Thank you!

    My daughter loves to draw and is working hard on an AP class portfolio of 24 pieces. She draws for hours and hours.

    I agree with the research that investing brain time into other creative pursuits flairs renewed vigor into the others. Exciting. huh? Hmm, I’ll process that more in my own life…

    Did I tell you I’ve lived in West Africa too? Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

    Jennifer Dougan

    • Thanks Jennifer! That’s great news about your daughter, I hope she sticks with it! Even though I strayed from making it for a little while I’m always a big fan of art and artists. There’s just something noble about it to me and I love how they can make us see and feel things we wouldn’t be able to any other way.

      The research on the hobbies thing is pretty amazing. I’m still discovering more about how potent an impact it can have to engage in recreational activities of one kind or another, especially the sporting or creative ones.

      I had no idea you’d lived in those countries! That’s amazing. How long were you in each for? Was you there for professional reasons?

  • Badass! I can barely draw funny stick figures to accompany stories I tell to the students in my classes sometimes if I have time leftover, haha.

    As far as hobbies that I let slip away, music in general, even listening to it, I used to sing more, I used to sometimes write verses or choruses or full songs, or just get caught up on a melody or instrumental and sing whatever came to mind. Then there’s creative writing, specifically short stories. It’s been a long time since I finished my last one. Years. Perhaps it’s time to bring the persistent ideas that I have to life.

    • Thanks, Ragnar! And definitely, man, you’ve gotta do it, short stories are such a cool thing and songwriting is such a cool talent (what kind of music/songs did you write?)

      I can tell you from experience that although it may be a little tricky reawakening those old muscles to begin with you’ll be amazed by the impact doing those fun things can have in other areas of life, work productivity especially. Like Einstein said, ‘play is the highest form of research’.

  • WOW! What a gift. You are no casual artist. Amazing!!

    I also cycle in and out of some hobbies depending on what else is going on in my life. What I always think about isn’t just the ones I have done but the ones that I haven’t even discovered yet!

    • Thanks Skip!! And you’re absolutely right, there are even more benefits to discovering new interests and hobbies (I’ve been blown away by the science on this of late). I guess which ever way it’s looked at, when we’re engaging with unfamiliar activities and exploring new things it can provide a huge upside to how we perform in those skills and practices that are already familiar to us.

  • David

    Very nice, Micah. You’ve been holding out on us! 🙂 I’m glad you decided to pick up those pencils again and thanks for sharing your gift with us.

    My oldest brother is a really good artist but hasn’t done anything for years as far as I know. I would love to see him get back into drawing/creating. As for me, I’m pretty much relegated to the stick figure and “wandering-mind” doodler department. I do play the piano and used to play with a couple of worship groups at church several years ago. I really do miss playing music with others but at least I still play for my own enjoyment. I’ve toyed around with writing a bit – but toying around is all I’ve done …

    • Hey, thanks David!! I really appreciate it. I’m beginning to discover how prone we can all be to failing to prioritise this kind of stuff. I guess we sometimes (very wrongly) feel these recreational activities aren’t a big enough deal to warrant the time, so it’s great you’ve managed to maintain the piano playing (have always wanted to learn that instrument) as valuing activities like these in the way you have is exactly the kind of mindset I want to adopt for the foreseeable future.

      I’m curious about the writing you’ve been toying with; is it music, songwriting, poetry, fiction? Which ever it is I hope you’re able to find a way to take things a step further. Exercising those creative muscles is always a cool thing, and one with so many surprising benefits.

      • David

        After reading Floyd’s comment and your reply below and I think the answer to the toying around issue for me is discipline – or actually, lack there of – not to mention the struggle to stay focused.

        As far as your question about what form of writing the answer is – all of them.

        I often make up my own stuff on the piano but don’t know how to transcribe it into musical notes on a page short of buying digital equipment and software that I simply have no room for in my “budget”.

        I have written many poems over the years. I’ve actually left a few poems in the comments section of some blogs (including Floyd’s) that were inspired by the author’s post. I’ve even had one published in a book put together by a poetry website. Just think, if I could marry the poetry and music, I would have a song!

        I was mainly talking about writing fiction, either a short story or a novel, in my comment above. That’s where the struggle with discipline and focus really comes into play …

        • I hear you on the discipline front. It can be so tough. I swing in and out of it. There are times when I find I’m able to really be productive and focused, and other times when I’m less so. But the thing I’ve been fortunate to experience and learn over time is the value of bitesizes, especially, for me, when it comes to the writing. I find when I make my goal something like; I wanna write 1-400 words a day, as opposed to I wanna write a novel or short story, it really helps me produce way more than I normally would, and more than I’d have thought myself capable of.

          That’s so cool about the music and poetry, and I was thinking the same thing about the songwriting as you were describing how you’d dabbled in each of those two things – I mean there’s no way you don’t have a song or few (or probably many) inside of you, waiting to come out.

  • Molly Cook

    Hi Micah…thanks for stopping by “What Would Steinbeck Do?” I’m impressed by your art as well as your writing…I’m an art fledgling ( You’re an amazing fellow!

    • Wow! Thanks Molly!! And thanks for the link too! I’ll be checking that out 🙂