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

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In Which Order Should Family Drawings Be Made?

Institute of Projective Drawings

This family drawing was prepared by a 9-year-old girl. In the drawing, the mother (left) holds a cane in her hand and wears a stern expression. The girl ("Manó") identifies with her father instead of her mother: they are standing next to each other in similar stances, the direction of the arms, the form and direction of the shoes and the bows are all similar.

One Drawing Is No DrawinG

A fundamental principle of interpretation is that ”one drawing is no drawing” (see Sehringer, 1992, p. 58). It means that more than one drawing or paintings should always be made.

The more pictures that are made on different occasions the better the chances are of finding a specific psychodiagnostic meaning.

You can find  art diagnostic and therapy techniques here with video recording and explanations.

In subsequent pictures, look for similarities of form or content, as well as contradictory, changed characteristics.

Family drawing of a 6-year-old depressed girl. The figures are not only tiny, they are also close together and only occupy a small part of the sheet. Note the low quality of the human figures and the very basic depiction of the arms (Vass, 2012).

Always look for the following:

  • Similar formal-structural features
  • Similar motifs, partial motifs or content
  • Contradictory, opposing features
  • Signs of continuous transformation

Fortunately, there are several family drawing techniques which you can apply in a sequence.

Enchanted family drawings by a 14-year-old boy, sent to the psychology clinic by his school due to his aggressive behavior. The first figure is a purple octopus (his brother). Next: a carnivorous plant (his father), followed by himself as "Swamp Man". The last figure is his mother, the scarecrow (Vass, 2012).

Before going into the analysis, you need to know in which order the subject should draw the family drawings.

The Recommended Sequence Of Various Family Drawings

  1. Traditional Family Drawing
  2. Enchanted Family Drawing
  3. Animal Family Drawing
  4. Projective Mother And Child Drawing
  5. Kinetic Family Drawing
  6. Animal Kinetic Family Drawing
  7. Kinetic School or Kindergarten Drawing
  8. Bird’s Nest Drawing or Tree Family Technique

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For adults, instead of the above, use the Regressed Kinetic Family Drawing – one of the most interesting and revealing technique (coming in the next chapter).

Now It's Your Turn

  • Download the instruction sheet below.
  • Start collecting different types of family drawings.
  • Try them also in colors.
  • Which are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!


Sehringer, W. (1992). Principles for the Psychodiagnostic Analysis of Children’s Drawings. In: Jakab, I., Hárdi, I. (Eds.). Psychopathology of Expression and Art Therapy in the World. Budapest: Animula, 46-81.

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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online course:

Institute of Projective Drawings