"Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style" 10 by Nina Katchadourian

“Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style” from Seat Assignment, 2010 and ongoing, #10, by Nina Katchadourian.

Nina Katchadourian, American Artist

American artist Nina Katchadourian used to give herself an artistic challenge each time she took a trip by plane. She had to make art, at her seat, without bringing along any special supplies. She did things such as taking little things from her purse, like a breath mint, and having it interact with photos in a magazine.

On one particularly long international flight, she got really bored, and she began to take photographs of herself in the airplane bathroom mirror, using only items found on the plane as her improvised costumes. You’ve probably seen paintings in museums, or online, where the people in the portraits are wearing ridiculously large neck ruffs, or bonnets that to our modern eyes look funny.

Katchadourian made her neck ruffs and head gear using airplane pillows and toilet seat covers, among other things. She gave herself the creative constraint of limited time: the length of the flight; limited materials: whatever happened to be available to her on the plane; and limited subject matter: inspired by Flemish portraits.

As I’m writing this, we’re experiencing the global pandemic of 2020. Wherever you are in the world, dear reader, you may also have limited materials available to you. Even if you can get quickly out to the store to buy art supplies right now, it’s a good challenge to our creativity to find a way to use what we have on hand.

To make art inspired by Nina Katchadourian, choose a style or portraiture from history. You can explore the work of artists at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the blog posts about artists here on this site.

While you could choose one specific painting to replicate, if you instead choose a period of time and painting style, you’ll have more chances to make multiple works of art, photos, in this case.

Visit Nina Katchadourian’s website to see her “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style” from the series, “Seat Assignment.” http://www.ninakatchadourian.com/photography/sa-flemish.php

Will you give your series of photos a title too? What objects will you limit yourself to? Nina had available to her: paper towels, eye mask, inflatable pillow, toilet seat covers, and her own clothing. That’s about six items.


Choose the time period and style of paintings you’ll take as your inspiration, then get dressed into your base layer of clothing and select about 6-8 objects or materials that you’ll use to make your “looks.” Notice that to create the look of the famous portraits, it’s very important how Katchadourian is holding her hand (just one hand, because the other one is taking the picture), and the expression on her face.

Elaine Luther is the blogger and podcast co-host for Being Bold. As a kid, Elaine’s mom gave her the book “Girls are People Too,” sparking her interest in women’s rights and the untold stories of women. She is a writer and artist whose work has been published in national magazines and online. Her art has been shown in galleries nationwide and libraries across Chicagoland.