How to understand drawings and paintings: Online course by Prof. Dr. Zoltán VASS

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Family drawings: Six things you should know

Institute of Projective Drawings

Who is missing in the picture? The father – because “he has gone to work” (according to the child). The omission of individual family members is a proven indicator of conflict with the person concerned (e.g. Corman, 1965, 1970).

Family drawings should always be followed by a post-drawing interview (just as many other projective tests). During the discussion, the therapist discusses the drawings with the client.

It is an important rule that we should ask the client about everything that we do not understand in the drawings. 

With children’s drawings and paintings, the therapist needs to ask a great deal more than with the picture by adults because with them, it is increasingly true that pictorial expression is only a fragment of behavior, and hence it only possible to interpret it in its individual context.

With family drawings, it is compulsory to ask about the identity of each figures.

Corman (1964) asks the following questions:

  • tell me about the family you have just drawn,
  • where are the family members and what are they doing there,
  • the name everyone on the drawing,
  • the roles of all the figures in the family,
  • their age.

Corman also suggested four simple but ingenious questions:

Corman's Four Brilliant Questions That You Should Always Ask

  1. who is the nicest in the family,
  2. who is the least nice,
  3. who is the happiest,
  4. who is the least happy.

Try them and for each answer, also ask the reason!

Finally we also need to know who the child would prefer to be in the drawn family. In all cases, after the drawing has been completed, the following should be recorded:

Six Things You Should Absolutely Know Before Assessment

  • the order the figures were made
  • the names of the figures
  • their role in the family (e.g. mother, brother)
  • their age
  • in the case of any symbolic family drawing: the name and meaning of the symbol for the child
  • in the case of kinetic drawing: the illustrated activity (in the subject’s own words)

For any picture in general (drawings, paintings, scribbles etc):

  • ask the client to give a title,
  • ask for the client’s description of the picture,
  •  what is most important about the picture,
  • how it speaks about them?

Don't worry if you are feeling overwhelmed by information –you can download every questions below.

Check The Sixty-Second Drawing Technique (SSDT): A new and original method in adult, child and “baby” versions.

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Now It's Your Turn

  • Download the instruction sheet below and start experimenting with it.
  • Make a habit of always discussing the picture with the client.
  • Are there exceptions that prove the rule? Let us know in the comments below!


Corman, L. (1964). Le test du dessin de famille dans la pra que médico-pédagogique. Paris: P.U.F.

Vass, Z. (2012). A psychological interpretation of drawings and paintings. The SSCA Method: A Systems Analysis Approach. Budapest: Alexandra.

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  • Prof. Zoltan Vass, PhD is University Professor of Psychology and Head of the Faculty of the Psychology of Visual Expression, Károli University, Budapest.
  • He has published over 20 books and 400 scientific articles in 7 languages.
  • His method of Seven-Step Configuration Analysis (SSCA) awarded several scientific prices.
  • On SSCA, 7 scientific symposia were organized.
  • It has led to the establishment of 3 accredited clinical trainings and a postgraduate faculty with a total of 1622 participants.
  • It is taught or referenced in 152 courses in Hungary, Romania, Germany, France, Russia, China, Israel etc.

International appraisals of the SSCA Method

Prof. Dr. Diane Waller MA(RCA) DPhil, FRSA, OBE

Emeritus Professor of Art Psychotherapy, Goldsmiths, University of London

“This is an extraordinary work
different from the work already in the public domain in that it proposes a new, much more complex approach to the interpretation of drawings and paintings"

“It opens up avenues
on the long-debated efficacy of projective drawing as diagnostic and therapeutic tools"

Prof. Catherine T. L. SUN

Professor & Head, Department of Counselling and Psychology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Prof. Dr. Carlos R. Hojaij

Clínica Psiquiatria Biológica Brasil, São Paulo

“Fantastic (!!!) ... No doubt it does deserve a world wide publication, for it will be very useful to so many professionals researching and working in art therapy and any one interested in expression and psychology"

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Institute of Projective Drawings